As the Senate prepares for a week of hearings on sweeping climate change legislation, President Obama on Friday accused opponents of engaging in “cynical” claims that are failing to win the debate over the controversial bill.
In a speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mr. Obama said the coalition backing the legislation represents a “convergence” of military leaders, businesses, environmental groups and young people who support a transition to low-carbon renewable energy.
Mr. Obama contended that opponents of the legislation are making “cynical claims that contradict the overwhelming scientific evidence when it comes to climate change, claims whose only purpose is to defeat or delay the change that we know is necessary.”
He added, “The naysayers, the folks who would pretend that this is not an issue, they are being marginalized.”
Mr. Obama spoke to students and faculty after touring MIT’s green energy research program, before going on to fundraisers for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Connecticut Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, two Democrats running for re-election next year.
The House earlier this year passed a climate bill centered on a market-based “cap-and-trade” emissions reduction plan that would raise billions of dollars from greenhouse gas emitters while cutting emissions 17 percent by 2020 and more than 80 percent by 2050.
The government would hand out nearly all of the proceeds from the plan to industry, states, utilities and conservation projects to offset expected higher energy prices and pay for renewable-energy development.
A companion bill was introduced by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, and Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Mrs. Boxer has scheduled three days of hearings starting Tuesday.
Republicans and business groups, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have mounted a campaign to stop the legislation. They argue that it would amount to a huge new tax on American businesses and consumers and would not reduce global warming because of resistance to similar cuts by China, India and other developing nations.
Spokesmen for the Chamber and its energy affiliate, the Institute for 21st Century Energy, declined to comment Friday.
Mr. Obama went out of his way to praise the alliance of Mr. Kerry and Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, who wrote a joint opinion piece calling for passage of a bipartisan climate bill.
They laid out a potential compromise that pairs a cap-and-trade system with new offshore oil drilling and expanded nuclear power. New drilling and nuclear power are problematic for liberal Democrats, but considered essential to any energy bill by most Republicans.
“We are now seeing prominent Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham joining forces with longtime leaders like John Kerry on this issue to swiftly pass a bill through the Senate, as well,” Mr. Obama said.
The American Energy Alliance, a group that opposes cap-and-trade, Thursday began airing radio ads in South Carolina criticizing Mr. Graham for his stance. Mr. Graham said Friday that the Kerry-Boxer bill does not do enough for business and consumers as written, so he wants to continue working on a compromise, the Associated Press reported.
“Global climate change is not a religion to me, but I do believe carbon pollution is harmful to the environment and I want to find a way to fix that problem,” he told reporters.
Mr. Obama has pushed the Senate to either pass its bill or make substantial progress before the upcoming U.N. global climate conference in Copenhagen in December.
Quick passage of a Senate bill is not considered likely, however.
Mr. Obama has taken a far more aggressive approach to air pollution than his Republican predecessor, President George W. Bush. The Environmental Protection Agency has issued new emissions rules for motor vehicles and has taken preliminary steps toward direct regulation of greenhouse gas emissions should Congress fail to pass a climate bill.
Environmental and health groups said Friday that they had reached an agreement with the EPA to impose new restrictions on emissions of mercury, lead, soot and other toxic pollutants from U.S. power plants by late 2011.