Congress considers 'cap and trade' bills

A bus exhaust pipe in San Diego, Calif.

KAI RYSSDAL: Back to the president's speech for a minute.

He acknowledged last night that burning carbon-based fuels — that's coal and gas, for instance — is contributing to global climate change.

As it happens, the new majority in Congress is looking at passing limits on those green house gas emissions. The White House and most industries worry pollution caps might slow the economy. So to cushion the financial blow, lawmakers are looking into an idea that's already being tried by some other countries and some states, too.

It's called cap and trade. Companies that clean up their acts earn credits, which can then be sold to utilities or factories that need more time to cut their use of fossil fuels.

Hearings on Capitol Hill started today, as our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale reports.


JOHN DIMSDALE: There are at least four cap and trade bills in the Senate alone. One of them is sponsored by New Mexico Democrat Jeff Bingaman.

The Department of Energy reported this morning that Senator Bingaman's pollution limits would only trim a tenth of a percent from economic growth.

Bingaman says he was focused on protecting the economy.

JEFF BINGAMAN: If you cut emissions too quickly, if you put too high a price on the ability of folks to continue producing power the way they've produced it and operate as they have . . . then I do think you can have adverse effects on the economy. I do think we can design a system that avoids those adverse effects, and that's what we're trying to accomplish.

But some think Bingaman's proposal doesn't go far enough in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Daniel Lashof is with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

DANIEL LASHOF: It's clear that Senator Bingaman's proposal would allow for uncompromised, continued robust economic growth. The problem is that it would also allow global warming pollution to continue to increase, although somewhat slower than without it.

Bingaman's bill would cut pollution an estimated 14 percent by 2030. A lot less than California's goal of 25 percent by 2020.

Environmentalists say it'll take substantially more greenhouse gas reductions to turn the corner on global warming. Bingaman agrees, but he's not sure a tougher bill could survive a presidential veto.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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