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Obama gears up for climate bill's test in U.S. Senate

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu listens in the Grand Foyer of the White House as U.S. President Barack Obama makes remarks on energy June 29. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Alex Wong/2009 Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama, fresh from his first legislative victory on climate policy, expressed confidence on Monday that new greenhouse gas emission limits would become law with help from the Senate.

Mr. Obama also announced new measures on efficiency standards for lighting used in homes and businesses to take effect in 2012.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a climate-change bill on Friday that would require large companies, including utilities and manufacturers, to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases associated with global warming by 17 per cent by 2020 and 83 per cent by 2050, from 2005 levels.

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The Democratic president and many environmentalists declared the passage a historic step forward for U.S. energy policy, while Republicans and other opponents called it a massive tax that would not succeed in fighting climate change.

The bill gives Mr. Obama a stronger case to assert U.S. leadership on global warming at a meeting of the world's major emitters next week on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Italy.

But the President's victory may be short-lived. The Senate must now shape its version of the same bill, and the chances of passage there are murky.

Mr. Obama and his top environmental aide, Carol Browner, expressed confidence that success would come in the Senate as well. "In the months to come, the Senate will take up its version of the energy bill, and I am confident that they too will choose to move this country forward," Mr. Obama told reporters.

Ms. Browner declined to speculate on the timing of a Senate vote but referred to statements by Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada that work would be done on the bill this autumn.

"I am confident that ... comprehensive energy legislation will pass the Senate," she said.

UN talks on a new global pact to fight climate change take place in December in Copenhagen, and analysts say having a U.S. law passed by then would boost chances of reaching an international agreement.

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The new efficiency standards announced by the President apply to fluorescent and incandescent lamps, which represent 37 and 7 per cent of lighting energy use, respectively, the White House said. They would save up to 594 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions through 2042, the White House said.

Mr. Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu also announced they were accelerating a $346-million (U.S.) investment of stimulus funds to be used in making new and existing homes as well as commercial buildings more energy-efficient.

Meanwhile, the federal government's top land steward said Monday that the United States will fast-track efforts to build solar power generating facilities on public space in six Western states. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he has signed an order setting aside more than 250,000 hectares of public land for two years of study and environmental reviews to determine where solar power stations should be built.

Mr. Salazar, who announced the measurse with Mr. Reid at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, invoked Mr. Obama's call for rapid development of renewable energy.

"This is the beginning of a historic effort in which the United States of America finally captures the power of the sun to power the energy needs in our homes and in our businesses, and in so doing creates jobs for the people of America," he said.

"We hear a lot about doing something about the environment," Mr. Reid said. "That's what this is all about. We want to not be dependent on foreign oil. This will make America a more secure nation."

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The Interior Department said maps of the sites will be published Tuesday in the Federal Register.

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