Climate legislation reaches the Senate floor

[UPDATE: 12:33 p.m. Do read Andrew Revkin’s post on the NYT’s Dot Earth Climate blog for some other thoughts about the debate and political wrangling going on with the bill.]

After many months of behind-the-scenes work, the first piece of comprehensive climate legislation reached the floor of Congress this week. The Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act is currently under consideration by the Senate, with a decision possible by the end of the week.

There are much finer points about the bill which you can read about in great detail elsewhere, but here are the nuts and bolts of it: The bill would set up a system to cap our total greenhouse gas emissions, and then (mostly) auction permits to emit carbon, in effect setting up a new market for the right to emit carbon. Companies and sources that pollute would either have to buy permits from the government to do so, or let this newly created market drive them towards efficiency and less pollution. The money generated by the permits (estimated to be as much as $6 trillion by 2050) would be subsequently invested in a number of programs and technologies to reduce emissions through more transit, cleaner cars, cleaner fuels, and alternative sources (as well as aid money to help industries and strapped consumers deal with the transition from dirty to clean energy.)

The San Francisco Chronicle reported yesterday on the debate thus far on the bill which, for the first time, is focused not on whether or not global warming is a threat, but what will be the best approach to dealing with it.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., complained that this new spending would be the “mother of all earmarks.” He suspects the bill’s sponsors are seeking to win support by “spreading this money around to various interest groups around the country.”

But sponsors of the bill say the critics don’t understand the approach: By putting a price tag on carbon, it would give major emitters a strong incentive to cut emissions, but the flexibility to choose how best to reduce them. The bill also offers more than $1 trillion to industry to shift to low-carbon technologies and energy efficiency.

“To call it command-and-control is rather a joke,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. As the legislation was being written, “We specifically rejected a carbon tax and we allow the free market to set a price on carbon.”

The bill will likely be filibustered, meaning that Senate Democrats will need 60 votes to move it to a vote, and it’s not clear if they enough votes at this time. Opinions are mixed, even among environmental groups, on whether or not this bill goes far enough to restrain our carbon output. Look for updates here, in the news, or on C-Span day-by-day.