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Historic vote on global warming

A U.S. Senate committee is scheduled for an historic vote on a global warming bill this week, perhaps as early as Wednesday.  Environmental groups are planning a flurry of press conferences tomorrow (12/4/2007) to try to influence the vote.

Meanwhile, in Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley's advisory Commission on Climate Change is scheduled to meet tomorrow to discuss possible steps to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emmissions. The 22-member goup, headed by state Environmental Secretary Shari T. Wilson, is looking to recommend that the state adopt laws to cut greenhouse gases by 25 percent by 2020, and then move aggressively to slash the pollutants by 90 percent by 2050, according to a draft report. To achieve these goals, the state should tighten its energy efficiency standards, strengthen building codes, require more clean energy generation, among other steps.

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"As a coastal state with extensive low-lying land on the Eastern Shore and around the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland is exceeded only by Louisiana, Florida and Delaware in the percentage of its land vulnerable to accelerated sea level rise," the draft report warns.

On the Federal level, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday is expected to debate amendments to a bill proposed by Sens. Lieberman of Connecticut and Warner of Virginia that would create a "cap and trade" system designed to cut total U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. These systems require industries to pay fees when they emit carbon dioxide or other greenhouses gases above a set limit, with the money going to reward cleaner businesses.

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland is a co-sponsor of the bill.  A group of Maryland environmental groups recently wrote a letter to Cardin (see below) urging him to strengthen the bill. They praise the proposal as a good first step, but they want to end the bill's free giveaway of pollution credits to power companies and amend the legislation to create a more aggressive target of an 80 percent cut by 2050.

"This is the first time ever a Senate commitee is voting on a globval warming bill, and that's historic," said  Brad Heavner, director of Environment Maryland.  "There is some reasonable expectation that this will get to the floor, but the big question is will it get stronger or weaker?....We think it needs to be stronger."

As this blog reported last month, Europe tried a pollution credit trading system to curb carbon dioxide emissions after it passed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, and power companies worked the system to make billions in profits.  Electricity customers paid higher bills, thinking they were contributing to a cooler planet.  But their money just went into the pockets of the electric companies, which didn't end up actually cutting down on their carbon dioxide emissions.

On the other side of the political spectrum from these environmental groups, most Republicans on the committee are unlikely to vote in favor of the bill's current requirements, according to the online journal Grist.

"Right now, there's little reason to expect that any Republican on the committee other than John Warner (R-Va.) himself will vote for it. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) spoke critically of it at the first subcommittee hearing last week, and Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) took to the podium of the National Press Club two days later to pillory the bill.

Voinovich said: 'I have significant reservations about the bill. I have recently heard the concerns of a variety of constituents, including both industry and labor representatives, who are especially concerned that the bill presents an overly aggressive first phase of emissions reductions that will hit well before we can reasonably expect commercially available technologies to deal with the problem.'

Without the support of more Republicans, it's unclear if the measure will make it out of the full Senate -- not to mention survive a veto by President Bush, if he chose to use that power.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit Pew Center on Global Climate Change is releasing a report  tomorrow on the impact of global warming on the Chesapeake Bay.  Environment Maryland tomorrow morning is releasing a report on changes in local rainfall expected because of climate change.

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