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Energy Bill Debate

The Senate on Wednesday agreed to voluntary emissions reductions, rather than mandatory cuts, while debating a broader energy bill. Following a background report, analysts discuss the pros and cons of the energy bill and the next step for the Senate.

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  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The debate over global warming gathered steam in the Senate this week. As part of a broad energy bill, members began considering several amendments aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions and other heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming.

    Today, after three hours of debate, the Senate rejected the most stringent of the amendments, which called for mandatory reductions on so-called greenhouse gases. It was offered by Connecticut Democrat Joseph Lieberman and Arizona Republican John McCain, who was resigned to his amendment's fate even before the vote.

  • SEN. JOHN McCAIN:

    Two weeks ago, a scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action. It's vital that all nations identify cost effective steps that they can take now to contribute to substantial and long-term reduction in net global greenhouse gases.

    Mr. President, I don't think that it's likely that we'll win this vote, but I can tell probably what's going to happen in our vote counts. All I can do is assure my colleagues that the first time Senator Lieberman and I came to the floor, there was no document from any scientific group that was as definitive as issued two weeks ago by the National Academy of Sciences.

    And the next time that Senator Lieberman and I are on this floor — and we will be back — there will be even more definitive statements by the world's scientific community. There'll be more manifestations of this terrible calamity that is besetting this great world of ours, and over time we will win.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The McCain-Lieberman proposal would have required U.S. industries to cut carbon output to 2000 levels by 2010. Idaho Republican Larry Craig argued government shouldn't mandate what industry already is doing.

  • SEN. LARRY CRAIG:

    The Hagel-Pryor amendment that was voted on by a bipartisan broad majority is consistent with where this administration and where our initiatives have been going now for well over a decade. And we're beginning to see the results. And we haven't created a huge federal bureaucracy. We haven't created a carbon czar. We haven't picked winners and losers.

    We've allowed the Duponts and the other major companies of this country to recognize the value; we've even incentivized them to some extent, but more importantly America recognizes that if we use our markets and our technology we can be much cleaner than we are without commanding and controlling and creating a federal bureaucracy that just might get it wrong.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Craig was referring to another amendment by Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel that was approved yesterday. It seeks voluntary measures to cut emissions, but requires no mandatory limits. Instead, it encourages new technology to reduce carbon gases. Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor was a cosponsor of that measure.

  • SEN. MARK PRYOR:

    The business and the environmental sectors do not have to be mutually exclusive. With this amendment we treat them as partners brought together through innovation for the common and necessary good.

    A third partner in this relationship is the government whose institutional leverage and funding mechanisms will help spur industry to create technologies targeted at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In a nutshell, we're encouraging American ingenuity, partnerships and above all progress.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The Hagel amendment would grant tax breaks to U.S. utilities, refiners and manufacturing plants that develop technology to limit emissions of carbon dioxide. A third proposal, stronger than the Hagel amendment but also more modest than the McCain/Lieberman plan, was offered by New Mexico's Jeff Bingaman, Democratic manager of the energy bill.

    But it was abandoned before it got to the Senate floor when fellow New Mexican and Energy Committee Chairman Pete Domenici dropped his support for it. That happened after Domenici met with Vice President Dick Cheney and other Republicans.

    Whatever bill passes the Senate must be reconciled with a House version of the energy bill, which has no provisions requiring emissions limits.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Margaret Warner picks up the debate.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    And early this evening debate began on a non-binding resolution from Senator Bingaman. It states that greenhouse gas build-up is causing climate change, that human activity is a substantial cause of the buildup and that mandatory steps will be required to curb the growth of emissions.

    To assess now what the Senate did and didn't do on climate change, we turn to: Steve Miller, president of Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, a trade group funded primarily by the coal-based electricity industry; and John Stanton, vice president for air programs at the National Environmental Trust. Its biggest funder is the Pew Charitable Trust, which is also one of the NewsHour's funders. And, welcome to you both.

    Steve Miller, were you surprised and how do you interpret what the Senate did, which is to kill the tougher McCain/Lieberman bill, but endorse the Hagel bill that calls for voluntary steps here to curb emissions?

  • STEVE MILLER:

    Not surprised. And I think we had something fundamental here, and that was that the Senate was looking for some measure, some remedy that matched up to the known risk involved here. I think as they got closer and closer to actually voting on the McCain-Lieberman bill, the number of the potential negatives became scary to them in terms of the potential negative impact to the economy and whether this was really going to reduce greenhouse gases across the world. I mean, that's the real concern here for folks who believe in dire consequences from global climate change. How do we deal with a global emission?

    And I think they saw the Hagel amendment as a way to advance technologies not only here in the United States that we don't currently have, but more importantly how we could get them for around the world. I think that was the selling point in the end.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    What do you think was the selling point? How do you interpret what the Senate did?

  • JOHN STANTON:

    What happened is extremely important for the issue of building momentum to pass mandatory controls on global warming pollution.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    You mean, ultimately?

  • JOHN STANTON:

    Ultimately. And the Senate has spoken. What they've said is that action is appropriate and that the science is clear. One of the most interesting aspects of the debate on the Hagel amendment was you saw very, very conservative lawmakers feel compelled to affirm the existence of global warming, to affirm the fact that they want to be involved in solving the problem, and for calling for immediate action to do so. And the real take-away message is that the president's more isolated than ever before on the issue of denying the existence of global warming.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    But the Senate would not go for any kind of mandatory steps.

  • JOHN STANTON:

    That's correct. What is currently being debated as we speak is a sense of the Senate resolution that would essentially say mandatory steps are necessary, and we fully anticipate that that will pass.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Do you agree, Steve Miller, do you think that the vote on at least the Hagel amendment where you had 66 senators at least saying something has to be done —

  • STEVE MILLER:

    Nineteen of them Democrats along the way.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    That it represents a shift in the center of gravity on this issue — that the Senate is now saying it recognizes it's a problem? Or do you think it was just that even those who aren't interested in the issue, who don't believe in the issue, felt we've to get something because we want the broader energy bill passed and we have to get enough votes on board for that?

  • STEVE MILLER:

    Like Washington normally is, I think there are a number of factors at work here. There's partisan politics. We're in the early stages of the midterm elections in 2006. We have folks out here announcing their likelihood to run for president in 2008. So there's a political element here.

    There's also the need that a number of folks feel strongly about to get an energy bill passed after four-plus years of talking about it can we finally move an energy bill and spur some additional production in this country at a time when gasoline prices are high and a lot of people are concerned about that.

    And then there are a number of people who feel like there's enough known about the science of climate change that they want to take some kind of reasonable steps as we learn more and more about the science of climate change. All three factors I think played a big role.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Is it a fact, do you believe, based on your assessment of the Senate and the House and this bill that without some measure they couldn't have gotten northeast Republicans and many Democrats to support the energy bill as a whole?

  • STEVE MILLER:

    Yes. It's a fascinating political dynamic here because we see such partisanship on judicial nominees and other things, but on this bill there are a number of Republicans that feel strongly that there need to be additional environmental measures, a number of them in the northeast and there are a number of heartland Democrats who are very concerned that they be able to keep reliable affordable energy.

    A number of them are in major coal-consuming states where they get most of their electricity from coal. And they don't want to go too far because they don't see the science as being compelling enough to have the mandatory measures.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    If you look at the vote, John Stanton, on the McCain-Lieberman bill and you look at the crossovers, I know we gave you a list of those, the Republicans who voted for it and the Democrats who voted against it, how do you analyze, was it more about regional considerations than anything else?

  • JOHN STANTON:

    Well, I think the White House pulled out all the stops to do everything possible to keep Republicans from switching sides on the McCain-Lieberman vote. I don't think that the White House denies that. I think it's common knowledge that they really did pull out all the stops.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    You think that's why there were only six Republican crossover votes.

  • JOHN STANTON:

    Correct. And I think that's exactly why you have Domenici, you have Specter and you have others that are saying, the Republicans need to have a position, which calls for action addressing this problem, and that the White House story that the science isn't compelling enough to justify action is no longer acceptable. You know, these senators have to go home and face their constituents.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    All right. But also 10 or 11 Democrats — where's my list — didn't vote for McCain-Lieberman, and what does that tell you? And some of them were from the Midwestern states. One was from Michigan. Some were from sort of big agricultural states. What does that say?

  • JOHN STANTON:

    Well, I think it says that we have progress on the issue. Momentum is building and at some point we're going to get the policy mix right that allows people to vote in favor of mandatory controls and we'll have a majority. We'll have the 51 votes we need.

    Right now I think that what we've seen in the Senate is a very healthy sign that everyone needs, you know, a story to tell on global warming, everyone needs to go to the floor and affirm the existence of global warming, affirm the validity of the science and while nothing passed yesterday on this issue, I think tonight we may very well have a sense of the Senate where you have a majority saying we need to pass mandatory controls and the science is clear.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    And just briefly on this, but Bingaman had sort of a middle measure between these two that early betting was, gee, maybe it could get 60 votes. I mean there were some mandatory steps, but he didn't go as far as McCain-Lieberman. What happened there?

  • STEVE MILLER:

    I think it still was a choice between a technology-inducing program that the Hagel-Pryor amendment offered versus a mandatory action that Bingaman may have been McCain-Lieberman light, but it still was a mandatory action.

    The other thing that John just said I think bears some additional scrutiny is McCain-Lieberman drew fewer votes this time than it did two years ago. And so I don't think they're advancing the cause by getting fewer votes. Our hope is that the Senate and the full energy bill is going to see this technology route as the right choice.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Now what role did the large companies play in this, the large industries? Were they unalterably opposed to anything?

  • JOHN STANTON:

    No. Very recently we've seen a lot of very significant movement by corporations, both here and abroad. For instance, GE made a big announcement that they think the time has come for mandatory reductions in global warming pollution. You have Duke Energy; you have Synergy; you have traditional companies that have always been good corporate citizens like Dupont calling for action.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    And why are they doing this?

  • JOHN STANTON:

    They're doing it because they live and work in a global, you know, competitive environment where it's imperative that they, you know, have a level playing field on the issue of carbon pollution and they also believe that the science is compelling and that there's an obligation to future generations and to their own families that we tackle the problem of global warming.

    The corporate leadership in America, these aren't people that, you know, live in isolation; they too understand that global warming is real and action needs to be taken.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    And, Steven Miller, is part of it also that these companies are competing globally and European companies are developing this technology and Japanese, the ones that have signed on to Kyoto, and so some of these companies are thinking we'd better go ahead and start investing in this now or do you think that's not a significant number.

  • STEVE MILLER:

    No, I think they do think so. I think a number of companies and a number of companies that support our interests are in favor of the kind of — supported the Hagel amendment and supported the kind of technological investment that's going to spur. They are in a global world and they do see the prospects that they're going to be in a carbon-constrained world at some point, whether the science justifies it fully or not.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    You mean just the supply issue is going to —

  • STEVE MILLER:

    Right. And so what they're doing now is what are the reasonable choices that match the known risk right now and the technology incenting way is far superior in their judgments to the government mandates.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    All right. So brief prediction from you both. As we know, the House measure, which has already passed says nothing about climate change. Do you think the Hagel amendment, which the Senate will send over in its version, will survive?

  • STEVE MILLER:

    It's going to be guts poker as we come to the end here, and we see the folks that are put on the conference committee and the negotiations. We're cautiously optimistic that in the end in the hot summer weeks here that folks will see the need for an energy bill and that there will be a compromise reached that has the Hagel language in it.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    You mean which would enable the whole bill to pass?

  • STEVE MILLER:

    Which would enable the whole bill to pass.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    What's your prediction?

  • JOHN STANTON:

    I agree. The Hagel language will stay in. And I think that the president is going to want to point to something when he goes over to meet with Tony Blair and the leaders of Germany, France and the other industrialized nations.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    At the G-8 meeting —

  • JOHN STANTON:

    At the G-8 meeting in Glenagle, Scotland. He's going to want to be able to tell a story other than the science isn't real and action's not justified. I think if the energy bill contains the Hagel provision he can point to that and he can hide behind that.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    John Stanton and Steve Miller, thank you both.

  • JOHN STANTON:

    Thank so much.

  • STEVE MILLER:

    Thank you.

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