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Senators to unveil new draft climate bill

Senior Democrat Senators are to unveil a new draft climate bill tomorrow, intended to build on the Waxman-Markey bill passed by the House of Representatives earlier this year and reinvigorate efforts to pass US climate change legislation.

Senators Barbara Boxer and John Kerry said they would present new legislation on Wednesday with the aim of delivering a Senate vote on the controversial legislation before the end of the year.

The Boxer-Kerry bill is based mainly on the Waxman-Markey bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives. However, a Senate vote has been repeatedly delayed amid fears that conservative Democrats from industrial states will join Republicans in opposing the legislation.

Like the Waxman-Markey bill, the new draft bill is expected to include proposals for a national cap-and-trade scheme, but according to reports it is likely to set a target of cutting emissions by 20 per cent on 2005 levels by 2020 - a significant increase on the 17 per cent target included in the House bill.

However, Senator Kerry has stressed that compromise mat be needed to get the legislation passed. "I hope what we've done is constructive and well-received," Kerry told The New York Times last week. "I have no pretensions, and neither does Barbara, that this will be the final product. It is a starting point, a commitment, full-fledged, across party lines to do what we need to do to protect the planet for the next century."

He also attempted to distance the bill from the "cap-and-trade" moniker that has been widely used by Republicans to attack the Waxman-Markey bill. "I don't know what "cap and trade" means. I don't think the average American does," Kerry said. "This is not a cap-and-trade bill, it's a pollution reduction bill. "

Observers are sceptical about whether the Senate can vote on a final version of the bill before the end of the year, particularly given the difficulties the Obama administration is experiencing passing its controversial healthcare reforms.

However, co-author of the House bill, Representative Ed Markey told reporters that he remained confident a successful vote could be held this year. He added that support for the legislation would increase "once people sit down and begin to understand we have dealt with the major interests in the country".

The new legislation comes as US negotiators at the UN's latest round of climate change meet in Bangkok this week. They have signalled that a successful Senate vote would significantly increase the chances of an international climate change deal being agreed at the high-profile Copenhagen summit in December.

Jonathan Pershing, the chief US negotiator at the Bangkok meeting, told The Guardian that while the US was unlikely to pass a full climate bill before the end of the year, a "signal from the Senate that it is moving" ahead of the Copenhagen talks would provide a major boost to the negotiations.

"The more specific we can be, the easier it is to press others to be equally specific," he said. "We have a lot of things we want from countries ... The less we put on the table, the harder it is to achieve that outcome."

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