Obama wants U.S. economy-wide climate plan-Browner

Fri Nov 20, 2009 11:58am EST

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* Utility sector-only approach not sought

* Six to 12 months needed to finalize global climate deal

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON, Nov 20 (Reuters) - The Obama administration wants a comprehensive plan to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, not one that imposes carbon reduction requirements on just some industries such as electric utilities, a senior White House adviser said on Friday.

White House climate change adviser Carol Browner told an American Council on Renewable Energy forum that the administration is seeking "an economy-wide approach" to reining in carbon dioxide emissions.

She was responding to a question from her audience after a speech that mainly focused on steps the Obama administration already has taken to reduce carbon emissions and the need for domestic and international steps over the long-term.

Her remarks came as nations prepare to attend the Dec. 7-18 summit in Copenhagen aimed at striking a deal of rich and poor countries on carbon dioxide reduction requirements through 2050.

Negotiations on a pact are contentious and Browner said, "We'll spend the next six to 12 months finalizing a binding international agreement."

But negotiations in Congress toward a U.S. bill with binding emissions reduction targets have not been much easier, leading to speculation that if the Senate cannot pass a comprehensive climate control bill next year, it could turn to a scaled-down approach.

"This week the concept of legislation to set limits only on greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector resurfaced," according to a research note by energy analyst Robert W. Baird and Co.

Electric utilities account for about one-third of U.S. smokestack emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

The U.S. House of Representatives in June narrowly passed a bill requiring a 17 percent reduction in smokestack emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 2020, from 2005 levels. That measure covers emissions by utilities, oil refineries and factories, including steel, glass and cement plants.

Similar legislation has been approved by a Senate environment committee, but there is not broad enough support in the full Senate for the measure. A compromise bill might be attempted early next year.

Several senators from heavy manufacturing states worry that a comprehensive climate change bill would encourage more companies to relocate abroad to skirt new U.S. pollution controls, meaning further job losses in an economy that has been reeling from severe unemployment.

Some moderate Senate Democrats who do not want to vote on climate legislation next year, a congressional election year, instead want to advance an energy bill. Already approved by a key Senate panel, that measure would expand alternative energy use, invest in new energy technology and improve the U.S. electricity transmission grid.

But many environmentalists argue that these actions alone are not enough to tame possibly catastrophic consequences from global warming and that a comprehensive measure is needed.

(Editing by Vicki Allen)

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