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US Senators edge toward carbon cutting consensus

Heel-dragging committee gets industry kick up the behind

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US Senators have made baby steps toward introducing federal carbon caps on the back of evidence from industry. Bizarrely, some electricity firms pleaded for the politicians to speed up the process.

Energy giant Exelon's Elizabeth Moler said: "It is critical that we start now." She also noted that Congress had first taken testimony on global warming back in 1978.

Industry chiefs haven't come over all Rainbow Warrior though. Instead, they're interested in the cost savings and market advantages that replacing the current hotch-potch of state laws with an integrated national carbon scheme would offer. The regulatory framework needs to be in place, they say, before investment can be made in carbon-reducing technologies

WalMart corporate strategy VP Andy Ruben told reporters: "We believe this is good business."

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is tasked with balancing the increasing need for electricity in the States with mounting international pressure to cut fossil fuel emissions after George W. Bush withdrew from the Kyoto protocol.

Ironically, the front-running regime emerging from Tuesday's hearing is a Kyoto-aping 'carbon market', where overall emissions are capped, but firms can trade their rights to them. The idea is that as well as the stick of capping firms are encouraged to cut their emissions with the carrot of being able to sell unused quota.

The EU's implementation of carbon trading has suffered a troubled birth however, with predictable squabbles over who gets what.

Political machinations in the States may also nix efforts to curb the greenhouse effect sooner rather than later. This is an election year for the Senate. Committee chairman Pete Domenici said legislation would be “impossible” in 2006. He described Tuesday's hearing as a “starting point” for discussions.

That collective paralysis has left a politcal open goal for other proposals.

Republican presidential John McCain hopeful wants to flaunt his green credentials with full Senate vote this year on a his own cross-party carbon capping bill. Forbes reports Energy and Natural Resources Committee top Democrat Jeff Bingaman will go ahead with his own bill soon too.

Of course, there are those that continue to, and will always, oppose any restrictions in the US. Coal-reliant firms in particular favour the "but China and India aren't" school of economic doom-saying. ®

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