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US: Consortium proposes climate-protection plan

A consortium of 26 corporations and five environmental groups has asked federal policymakers to enact what it terms as "a regulated economy-wide, market-driven approach to climate protection"

In testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on 15 January, representatives of the US Climate Action Partnership (Uscap) presented A Blueprint for Legislative Action – a detailed plan for reducing greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions by 80% from 2005 levels by 2050, which, it says, are "aggressive emissions-reduction targets that can be achieved at manageable costs to the economy."

The group proposes achieving this goal through a mandatory cap-and-trade programme that would allow refineries, power plants and other industrial facilities to comply with federal emissions limits by buying and selling allowances to release GHGs. Under a cap-and-trade programme, federal regulators would assign allowances adding up to a specified total to the regulated companies. Companies that decrease their emissions below that level can sell their remaining allowances to other groups that have been unable to achieve compliance.

Companies also could offset some of their emissions by reducing emissions in developing countries. A Carbon Market Board would be established to set yearly limits on the amount of emissions allowances businesses could use.

The plan would limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants permitted after 2014 to no more than half the emissions now considered normal and would require plants permitted from now on to be able to be retrofitted to meet that standard. In addition, Uscap recommends creating a fully funded federal technology research, development, demonstration and deployment programme for climate-friendly technologies.

Two years in the making, the proposal seeks to balance the conflicting demands of protecting the environment, economy and consumers, James Rogers, chief executive of Duke Energy, told the committee. "The song lyrics 'You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you might find, you get what you need,' is not only a great line from a classic Rolling Stones song, but I suspect it is the feeling each of us have had as we created this Blueprint for Legislative Action," he said.

Consortium members are calling for quick action from Congress. According to a Uscap media release, every year of delay in controlling emissions "increases the risk of unavoidable consequences that could necessitate even steeper GHG reductions in the future, at substantially greater economic cost and social disruption." Said Rogers: "Our fear is that many in Congress will look for reasons to postpone action on climate legislation this year."

Moving forward with the plan would help address industry reluctance to spend money on clean technology without knowing what Congress would require. Said Republican committee chairman Henry Waxman at the opening of the hearing: "US industries want to invest in a clean energy future, but uncertainties about whether, when and how GHG emissions will be reduced is deterring these vital investments."

Meanwhile, National Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke argued that "strong climate legislation can generate revenue for investment in new technologies, create million of new jobs and jump-start our economic recovery".

The consortium, formed in January 2007, represents a broad cross-section of the country's largest manufacturers, ranging from car makers to pharmaceuticals companies to financial-services firms. Energy companies in the group include ConocoPhillips, BP America and Shell, as well as power suppliers Duke Energy, Exelon, FPL Group, NGR E ergy, PG&E and PNM Resources. Environmental groups in the coalition include Environmental Defense, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Nature Conservancy.

"The health of our economy and the safety of our climate are inextricably linked, except nature doesn't do bail-outs," said WRI president Jonathan Lash. "Uscap has redefined what is possible. If the diverse membership of Uscap can find common ground, Congress can agree on effective legislation."

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