Congress will pass legislation to stem global warming by year's end, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed Tuesday, as hearings got underway on a bill to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions.
"We will pass legislation this year," Pelosi told reporters.
"On Earth Day next year, we will celebrate the progress we've made," the House leader declared.
Her remarks came as Congress began examining a draft bill for clean energy development that aims to cut US carbon emissions by 20 percent from their 2005 levels by 2020, and boost reliance on renewable sources of energy.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee, led by Democratic chairman Henry Waxman, began four days of hearings on the bill Tuesday.
On Wednesday, lawmakers will hear testimony from EPA chief Lisa Jackson, Energy Secretary Stephen Chu and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Former vice president Al Gore, a major climate change campaigner, is set to testify Friday.
The looming battle in Congress promises to be a tough one, with Republicans and some Democrats from coal- or oil-producing states warning of potentially catastrophic economic impacts from setting limits on emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
But President Barack Obama has made tackling carbon emissions a priority, in sharp contrast with the administration of his predecessor George W. Bush, which repeatedly cast doubts on the existence of global warning.
The Obama administration has said it wants a climate change bill completed by the end of the year, ahead of the president's planned travel to Copenhagen for the United Nations' climate change conference in December.
The bill in the House would reduce greenhouse gases by 42 percent before 2030, and 83 percent by 2050.
Pelosi, Waxman and other Democrats were expected to muscle the bill through the House but its prospects were far less certain in the Senate, where it faces opposition not only from most Republicans, but also some key Democrats.
"My long term concern is we got a deal with global warming, with climate change. This bill will not do that if we don't find a way to include the developing world, China and India," said Democratic Senator Evan Bayh, explaining his dislike for the bill.
"The hardest challenge is, how do you include the developing world in a verifiable way," he said. "If we do not, we're going to go through this for nothing."
Last week, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases pose a health risk, a landmark turnaround that could impact climate change regulation.
US goals also call for a cap-and-trade system to cut carbon emissions in order to force heavy polluters to buy credits from companies that pollute less, creating financial incentives to fight global warming.
Quotas have yet to be defined however, with some calling for free rights to pollute for the most vulnerable industries, such as steel or glass manufacturing.
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