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Options Available for Climate Legislation

The chairman of the US House Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee told a Platts Energy Podium event in Washington on Tuesday that he supports a greenhouse gases (GHG) cap-and-trade system that would provide nearly all emission credits for free to electric utilities, oil refineries and other industrial operations.

Representative Rick Boucher, Democrat-Virginia, said he believes the US should model its GHG control law on the country's successful acid rain program that is designed to cut national sulfur dioxide emissions from electric utilities through a cap-and-trade system.

The SO2 system gives away 97% of its allowances and auctions off the remaining 3%, Boucher said. "We can look to the very successful sulfur dioxide program," he said, calling the acid rain program "fluid" and "transparent".

"I think the burden of proof rests on those who think we would need to auction most of the allowances," Boucher said.

Boucher is seeking to pass economy-wide legislation that would reduce emissions 60% to 80% below current levels by 2050.

He put the odds of getting the bill through Congress and passed by President George W. Bush at more than 50% but estimated a better probability next year. "In the next Congress, I think the prospects of passing cap and trade and having it signed into law will be 80% or better," he said.

The three presidential candidates all support mandatory emissions reductions, and Democrats, who are viewed as more supportive of climate change actions, are considered likely to gain seats in both the House and Senate, he said.

The congressman said he would prefer that any GHG cap bill offer modest cuts in carbon emissions to 2025 with steeper reductions thereafter to allow coal-fired power generation to remain in the mix and permit the development of carbon capture and sequestration technologies.

To do otherwise would mean that natural gas would become the dominant fuel for power generation, leading to higher prices for the fuel amidst increasing natural gas demand from other economic sectors, Boucher said. "We simply have to prevent that from happening," he said, adding it will result in "deep economic dislocation."

He also said he is optimistic that permanent carbon storage could work. "This isn't rocket science at all. It isn't even auto mechanics," he said. "It will work. They've been storing CO2 in oil and gas fields for decades."

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