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KAI RYSSDAL: Tomorrow, the latest version of what's called a cap-and-trade plan is set to be introduced in the Senate -- a cap on the amount of CO2 companies can spew out, a trade system to create a market for, and put a price on, those quotas.

Big utility companies have been lobbying furiously for a version they can live with. This afternoon, they petitioned the Senate for special relief. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sarah Gardner reports.

Sarah Gardner: Over the past year or so, a growing number of energy companies has endorsed the idea of cap-and-trade. And most would prefer passing legislation this year, before the possibility of an even tougher bill if a Democrat is elected president.

Utilities are now calling for a so-called "safety valve" provision that would allow the government to put a ceiling on the price of those emissions credits once they hit a certain level. Tom Williams at Duke Energy:

Tom Williams: By putting an upper-end limit on how much those allowances could sell for, it really prevents price spikes in electricity -- and particularly those regions of the country that are very dependent on coal.

Utilities argue a safety valve would make prices more predictable, so companies could better plan long-term investments. But environmental groups oppose a safety valve... Let the free market work, they say. If carbon prices go up, that will spur new clean-energy technology.

Frank O'Donnell, executive director of Clean Air Watch, says the point is emissions cuts, not price controls.

Frank O'Donnell: If you have a so-called safety valve, essentially it would neuter the legislation. It would be gutting any attempt to have an effective global-warming plan.

The bill scheduled to be introduced tomorrow offers a compromise of sorts: Under that legislation, a board of experts could tinker with the system if they determined carbon prices significantly threatened the economy.

I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

Follow Sarah Gardner at @RadioGardner