U.S. climate bill best bet to take enviro lead: Chu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. climate change bill making its way through Congress is the best legislative bet to help the country take the lead in tackling global warming on the world stage, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said on Monday.

“The Waxman-Markey bill is our best shot of any thing I’ve seen in recent legislative pasts where Congress might get something (passed) and it’s got a lot support in the industry now,” said Chu, speaking at the Reuters Global Energy Summit in Washington.

The legislation, sponsored by Reps. Henry Waxman and Edward Markey, would limit greenhouse gas emissions and require companies to acquire permits to release carbon dioxide.

The bill would initially give away 85 percent of carbon permits to various polluters including utilities and steel producers, a far cry from U.S. President Barack Obama’s proposal to auction 100 percent of the permits.

Chu recognized the climate change bill does not contain all the measures the White House was seeking, but he said it was important the country starts tackling the big climate issues.

“This is the really the arc of what really can be done,” Chu said. “I personally believe strongly that we have to get started and so a comprehensive energy and climate change change bill, which has to recognize certain compromises, is really the issue.”

The legislation overcame one big obstacle last month, when it was approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Now it must proceed through several more committees, before it reaches the full House of Representatives for a final vote.

It is unclear how the climate change bill will fare in the Senate, where passage will probably be more difficult.

Even if the United States does not have a cap-and-trade system approved by December when world leaders meet in Copenhagen to negotiate an international climate accord, Chu said other actions supported by the Obama administration would signal the United States is serious about lowering emissions.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that carbon dioxide endangers human health, the acceleration of increased vehicle fuel economies and the billions of dollars allocated for renewable energy technology in the stimulus package all show America’s commitment to averting climate change.

“It’s just not one thing,” Chu said.

A key component of any international climate agreement will be how to handle rapidly growing emissions from developing countries such as China and India.

Chu said he is talking with Chinese officials on how the United States can collaborate with China on developing techniques to construct energy-efficient buildings.

“We can develop together,” he said. “China, given that they’re going to be making many more buildings, we have tremendous ability to benefit from them. They become our laboratory.”

Additional reporting by Wendell Marsh; Editing by David Gregorio