Wyoming's Republican senators helped defeat a cap-and-trade global warming bill this week in the U.S. Senate, putting off the possibility of any action until 2009.
Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi both voiced forceful opposition to the measure, arguing it would have been devastating for Wyoming's economy and for its residents.
Senate Republicans on Friday blocked the bipartisan bill that would have required major reductions in greenhouse gases, pushing debate over what some consider the world's most pressing environmental crisis to next year, for a new Congress and president.
Democratic leaders fell a dozen votes short of getting the 60 needed to end a Republican filibuster on the measure and bring the bill up for a vote, prompting Majority Leader Harry Reid to pull the legislation from consideration.
The 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.
The bill would have capped carbon dioxide coming from power plants, refineries and factories, with a target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 71 percent by mid-century.
In a speech to the Senate earlier in the week, Barrasso argued passage of the bill would result in job losses and surging energy prices and would be particularly harmful to Wyoming's economy and families.
He cited a study by the National Manufacturers Association, which projected the Cowboy State could lose roughly 2,000 to 3,000 jobs by 2020, and 6,000 to 8,000 jobs by 2030, if the bill passed.
"These are the kind of good-paying jobs we should be protecting in this country, not throwing away. This bill does not protect working folks and their families," Barrasso told his colleagues. "The impact of this bill will hit lower-income families and seniors the hardest. Many families in Wyoming would have to dedicate one in every five dollars just to pay energy costs. As a matter of principle, Wyoming residents should not have to pay more of their hard-earned dollars on high gas and energy prices."
Enzi argued in his speech the bill would create huge costs without spurring the innovation necessary to actually reduce greenhouse emissions on the global scale.
"You need to think about what you want to pay for your gas and electricity in 2013 when this bill has its full effect on you," Enzi said in his speech. "How willing are you to pay the personal cost of global warming legislation - even if it probably won't make a difference? What you and I need is a bill that spurs innovation and recognizes what is possible with technology. What you and I need is a bill that cleans the environment, without destroying our economy."
On Thursday, Enzi offered an amendment to the bill - even though amendments weren't allowed - that would have required the costs of the legislation to be elucidated on every American's utility bill. It also called for $25 billion to be allocated by 2025 for coal technology research, $20 billion for carbon capture and storage research and development, and $50 billion for the development of clean-coal technology.
David Eskelsen, spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power, Wyoming's biggest energy provider, said the essential weakness of the global warming legislation is that it relies on a model that worked well for sulfur dioxide, but that is not appropriate for carbon dioxide.
The cap-and-trade system basically would reward power plant operators that emit less CO2, by allowing them to sell some of their permissible emissions to operators who exceed their quotas.
The only problem is, nobody will be able to cash in on the trades because it's currently impossible to capture CO2, Eskelsen said.
"The central problem is, there is no existing technology to stop a coal plant from emitting carbon right now, and no technology to retrofit existing plants," Eskelsen said. "A cap-and-trade system in this case is basically a tax because the technology is not there. It simply makes the cost of emitting carbon dioxide higher. It doesn't reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being emitted."
Craig Thompson of Rock Springs, western region chairman-elect of the National Wildlife Federation, said the longer Congress remains paralyzed on this issue, the more marginal a player the United States will become globally in energy innovation.
"I think we're standing on the threshold of a transformed economy, and I think everyone in the world outside of a few U.S. senators is aware of this," Thompson said. "It is important to recognize CO2 as a pollutant and pass legislation that moves us in the direction of the rest of the world. We have an opportunity here not only to join the community of nations in terms of controlling CO2, but also bridge into a new economy of sustainable energy and environmental systems."
On Friday, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif ., a chief sponsor of the bill, said the Senate debate is "just the beginning for us," noting that 54 senators had expressed support for the legislation, although that's still short of what would be needed to overcome concerted GOP opposition.
"It's clear a majority of Congress wants to act," Boxer said at a news conference.
She and other Democrats said this now lays the groundwork for action on climate change next year with a new Congress and a new president that will be more hospitable to mandatory greenhouse gas reductions.
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.
Four Democrats joined most Republicans in essentially killing the bill.
Environment reporter Chris Merrill can be reached at email@example.com or at (307) 267-6722.