Named after its sponsors, Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and John Warner, R-Va., the legislation called for a “cap and trade” system that would limit harmful emissions and reward environmentally friendly companies by forcing polluters to buy credits from greener industries.
Democratic leaders fell 12 short of getting the 60 votes needed to end a GOP filibuster on the measure and bring the bill up for a vote, prompting Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada to pull the legislation from consideration.
The move pushes the climate debate to next year to be dealt with by a new Congress and president.
The bill aimed to impose new regulations on industry to lower overall emissions to the 2005 level by the year 2020. By the middle of this century, the bill would require greenhouse gases to be cut by 66 percent.
The bill’s major tool for enforcing the cuts was also the biggest obstacle to passage — a cap-and-trade system, allowing companies to continue releasing greenhouse gases into the environment, provided they buy the right to do so in the form of carbon credits.
The Senate’s 48-36 vote fell short of a majority, but Democrats produced letters from six senators — including both presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain — saying they would have voted for the measure had they been there.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who is recovering from cancer surgery, were also absent, but they each sent a letter supporting the bill.
Even if the measure had gotten 54 votes, it would have fallen short of what would be needed to overcome concerted GOP opposition.
“It’s just the beginning for us,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a leading sponsor of the bill, according to the Associated Press. “It’s clear a majority of Congress wants to act.”
Debate focused on bitter disagreement over the expected economic costs of putting a price on carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas that comes from burning fossil fuels. Opponents said it would lead to higher energy costs.
“It’s a huge tax increase,” said GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a prominent coal-producing state. He maintained that the proposed system of allowing widespread trading of carbon emissions allowances would produce “the largest restructuring of the American economy since the New Deal.”
Boxer retorted that there is no tax increase, rather that it would provide tax relief to help people pay energy prices. And supporters disputed that it would substantially increase gasoline prices.
Both Obama and McCain have called for capping carbon dioxide and other emissions linked to climate change. President Bush has opposed such measures and said he would have vetoed the Senate bill if he had received it.
The vote broke largely along party lines, although Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, Mel Martinez of Florida, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Olympia Snowe of Maine and John Sununu of New Hampshire joined with the plurality of Democrats, the National Journal reported.
Meanwhile, Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana sided with most Republicans to essentially kill the bill.