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U.S. Senate candidates spar over cap and trade issue

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Posted: Thursday, October 28, 2010 4:34 am | Updated: 1:12 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

• See what candidates say on the issues with our Alaska candidate Q&As

FAIRBANKS — The debate over “cap and trade” legislation to curb fossil fuel emissions has been heating up Alaska’s U.S. Senate campaign.

The Alaska Republican Party and the campaign for Republican nominee Joe Miller have hit GOP write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Scott McAdams hard on the cap and trade issue, saying in ads that their support for the legislation will result in higher taxes, energy prices and unemployment. Murkowski and McAdams say that is an unfair characterization of their positions on the issue.

Polluters are issued permits for each ton of carbon they emit under a cap and trade system, and companies that reduce their output are able to sell permits they don’t need. Critics say the system amounts to a tax on the use of fossil fuels.

The basis for cap and trade legislation is grounded in the belief, shared by most scientists, that fossil fuel emissions are contributing to climate change. Assessing penalties for burning fossil fuels will spur producers and consumers to find cleaner alternatives, supporters of the concept say.

Alaska’s Senate candidates disagree on whether that underlying premise of a human role in global warming is legitimate.

Miller is a skeptic, saying on his campaign website that “science supporting manmade climate change is inconclusive.” McAdams said he believes that “climate change is real and that there is a human impact on climate change.” Murkowski has said she believes human-produced gases are contributing to global warming but that she is uncertain to what degree.

Miller is the most critical of any form of “carbon tax” or cap and trade bill. Miller strongly opposes any such legislation, which he believes is unconstitutional.

He said the penalties tied to cap and trade — specifically in a version passed by the House this year — will be a devastating drag on the nation’s economy. As a fix for “something that may not even exist,” he says on his campaign website, the cost is too steep.

“The problem with all the advocates for cap and trade and carbon taxes is that they don’t evaluate the actual adverse impact, how it harms people,” Miller said at a recent candidate forum. “The cost-benefit analysis has not been done.”

Miller also has criticized the 2007 Low Carbon Economy Act, which included Murkowski and Sen. Ted Stevens as co-sponsors. Miller says it still amounted to a cap and trade scheme and was “the wrong way to go.”

Murkowski defends that bill, which did not pass the Senate, as a net benefit for Alaska. It included more modest greenhouse gas reduction goals than those of other recent climate bills, along with what McKie Campbell, Republican director of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called “cap and trade elements.” He said the bill would have provided about $40 billion in funding for climate adaptation in Alaska during the next two decades, along with other sources of support.

Murkowski has criticized more recent efforts to pass cap and trade legislation and was among the leaders of a successful effort to kill the House bill this year in the Senate. She said that proposal went too far and would end up paralyzing the economy.

“A cap and trade bill would kill this country,” Murkowski said at a candidate forum on Monday. “It would kick it in the gut.”

McAdams doesn’t stake out a firm position on cap and trade legislation, saying instead that the issue is “dead on arrival” in the Senate. He said the support simply isn’t there, particularly among the coal-producing states of the Midwest.

“I don’t think it’s possible to get cap and trade done,” he said.

McAdams said the most realistic way to ease carbon emissions is for the federal government to embrace alternative fuels. That includes promoting a gas pipeline in Alaska, which would deliver a cleaner form of fuel than coal or oil.

All three candidates agree that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shouldn’t play a role in regulating greenhouse gases, as the agency has proposed.

Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.

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