THE HIGHLY anticipated Senate climate-change bill sponsored by Senators John Kerry and Barbara Boxer makes noteworthy improvements on the similar bill passed by the House last summer. The Senate bill sets higher goals for reducing carbon emissions. But its two Senate sponsors must now avoid what happened in the House, where contentious negotiations served to water down a bill that started out to be every bit as ambitious as its Senate cousin.
Like the House bill authored by Representatives Ed Markey and Henry Waxman, the Senate version puts an overall limit on carbon dioxide emissions, rewarding companies that can cut back their pollution and penalizing those that drag their feet. Like the House bill, the Senate would leave alone all but the largest producers of greenhouse gases. The 7,500 polluters who would be targeted are responsible for almost 75 percent of total US carbon emissions. Unfortunately, the House bill took some pressure off such polluters by giving away allowances to emit carbon dioxide instead of requiring companies to buy them in auctions. Supporters of the Kerry-Boxer bill should fight off such compromises.
The Kerry-Boxer bill is also more ambitious than Waxman-Markey bill in its projected carbon reduction by 2020. It calls for 20 percent less than the 2005 total, versus the 17 percent projected in the House measure. Unlike Waxman-Markey, which would exempt carbon polluters from regulation under the Clean Air Act, Kerry-Boxer wisely leaves that authority intact.
Some environmentalists fault both bills for not requiring even more aggressive carbon reductions. But if the Kerry-Boxer bill makes it through the Senate without concessions on emission allowances, it paves the way for a final measure with tougher penalties on polluters than the House version. Such a bill would mark a crucial step in establishing American leadership on global climate change. Kerry and Boxer deserve credit for their work so far, and encouragement in fending off the inevitable calls for compromises by industries that fear the cost of change. The cost of inaction - or inadequate action - would be far greater.