The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works kicked off efforts to pass climate change and energy legislation in a general hearing on Tuesday, presenting a variety of perspectives on a potential federal cap-and-trade program.

In a the first part of a five-hour hearing, the Obama administration—represented by a top-level panel, which included Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack—pressed senators to pass a bill similar to the Waxman-Markey bill, which was approved by the House on June 26.

Chu and Jackson touted the merits of that bill, saying that they reflected the principles the president believes are essential for the nation’s energy future. Chu said it would provide for “truly transformative solutions” and provide a commitment to research and development. Jackson, meanwhile, told senators that the legislation would ramp up investment and that “It does so without raising taxes or increasing the deficit.”

“I do not mean to say that we can get something for nothing,” she said. “But according to the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the net cost to the average American household in 2020 would be less than 50 cents a day. For the wealthiest fifth of American households, the net cost would be less than 70 cents a day. The poorest fifth would actually see a net gain of more than ten cents a day. That is what your economists have reported to you.”

The hearing also demonstrated how combative debates on climate legislation could turn out. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the committee and will be the lead author for the core components of the bill, said in her opening statement that Republicans were certain to express “fierce words of doubt and fear and worse" regarding legislative efforts. She added, “This is consistent with a pattern of ‘No, we can’t.’”

To this, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) retorted: “Well, it’s true that we say no to higher energy taxes, no to subsidizing the East and West coasts at the expense of the heartland, no to more bureaucracy and red tape, and no to sending our manufacturing jobs to China and India. We say ‘yes’ to an all-of-the-above domestic energy policy, which includes nuclear, clean coal, natural gas, wind, solar, and geothermal. We say ‘yes’ to greater access to all sources of clean and reliable energy right here at home.”

Panelists in the second half of the hearing included The Dow Chemical Co. Vice President Rich Wells; David Hawkins, director of the Climate Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council; John Fetterman, mayor of Braddock, Penn.; and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

Fetterman—starting his testimony by declaring Braddock as Allegheny County’s poorest community—said that capping carbon pollution would drive massive private investment into clean energy industries and create blue collar jobs that could revive towns like his.

“If there is a silver lining in the current economic crisis—and from where I sit it is awfully hard to find one—it is that America may now finally be ready to find a new path and to face the tough questions we’ve ignored for so long,” he said.

But Gov. Barbour disagreed, decrying what he called the cost of the “cap-and-trade tax,” the renewable energy standard, and the tax increases proposed for the oil and gas industry. “The concerns I’ve cited are serious, even if the cap and trade tax works as planned. But many Americans worry it will be an Enron-style financial scheme where Wall Street manipulators make great profits while ratepayers, motorists and Main Street businesses pay greatly increased costs,” he said.

Barbour said that environmentalists were “right to worry” about the assumed large-scale use of international offsets, since they were not verifiable. And, he said, a particularly “scary” feature was that anyone could purchase emission permits.

“There’s nothing to stop a large government like China from investing heavily in CO2 emissions permits instead of U.S. Treasuries. Market manipulation by speculators is bad enough; driving up demand and prices by foreign competitors in anathema.”

Source: Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works