Obama Ally Wants Delay in Cap-and-Trade

'We Can't Kill the Business Climate,' Says Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D)


Dec. 9, 2008—

One of Barack Obama's closest allies in the Senate said Tuesday that she hopes the economic downturn can induce the incoming president to delay the centerpiece of his plan for reducing carbon emissions.

"Let me speak for me here because I think this is very dangerous," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. "I would like to keep my relationship with Barack at this point. Let me speak for me."

McCaskill said she hoped Obama would delay a plan to institute a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

"I think a delay may be necessary," she continued. "Yes, we've got to do something. Yes, we have to move forward. But we can't kill the business climate at the same time. I'm from a state where most of the people who turn on the lights in the state get it from utility companies that depend on coal. And the cost of switching all that to clean coal technology or to alternative sources is going to be borne by them -- by regular folks who are trying to figure out how to pay their mortgages right now."

McCaskill cemented her ties to Obama during the Democratic presidential primary campaign by becoming the first female senator to endorse him over Hillary Clinton. She made her cap-and-trade comments to Ron Brownstein, the political director of Atlantic Media, during a National Journal discussion of Obama's "First 100 Days" held in Washington, D.C.

Under the Obama plan, the federal government would set a ceiling on carbon emissions and require companies to bid for permits to emit greenhouse gases through an auction. The government would gradually lower the amount of credits available.

Firms that reduced their emissions below the required level could sell leftover credits to other polluters. Obama would take a small portion of the auction receipts, $15 billion per year, and use it on energy efficiency, alternative fuels, and what his campaign promise book, "Change We Can Believe In," refers to as "other measures to help the economy adjust."

Raising concerns about cap-and-trade is nothing new for McCaskill.

In June she was one of 10 Democratic senators to sign a letter criticizing a cap-and-trade proposal sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

The letter said that a federal cap-and-trade program must ensure that consumers and workers in all regions of the country are protected from "undue hardship." Opponents of the Boxer plan worried that it would raise the cost for electricity generated from fossil fuels.

"I'm one of the senators that signed a letter on cap-and-trade," McCaskill said Tuesday. "We've got to find a more moderate middle here because you're playing with fire."

McCaskill: 'I'm Not Big on Buying People Off'

Consumer cost is not McCaskill's only concern.

She also criticized the logrolling that took place in June when the Senate considered Boxer's cap-and-trade proposal.

Boxer's legislation would have raised an estimated $3.4 trillion in federal revenue over the next four decades. To build support for the cap-and-trade proposal, its backers promised to allocate anticipated proceeds from the auction on legislators' preferred causes.

"I'm not big on buying people off," said McCaskill. "As a former auditor, that makes chills run up my spine."

Obama's transition office had no immediate comment.

ABC News' Arnab Datta and Rigel Anderson contributed to this report.