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Senators on Friday blocked a bill aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions linked to global warming.

The Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, sponsored by Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Joseph Lieberman, ID-Conn, fell short of a required three-fifths majority to bring it to final debate. Forty-eight senators voted for cloture, 36 against and 16 did not vote.

Despite the setback, environmentalists hailed the vote as a moral victory. Though it was short of the needed 60-vote majority, supporters counted it as 54-36, because six senators said they would have voted for cloture had they been present.

“We have convinced a majority in the Senate to support mandatory, comprehensive, market-based legislation to curb global warming and enhance U.S. energy security,” Lieberman said in a statement. “We have brought this vital legislation within hailing distance of passage in the new Congress that begins in January. I am confident that the next Congress will pass and the next president will sign into law legislation addressing this critical problem.”

The defeated bill aimed to cap emissions from power plants, factories, oil refineries and other polluters by establishing a system of emission allowances to reward cleaner companies by allowing them to sell or trade unused credits to others than exceed their pollution quotas. Republicans and a few Democrats opposed the bill, saying it would be too costly, and President Bush had vowed to veto the measure if it passed.

“I choose not to debate the science. I accept the fact that we as a country and we as a world need to address this issue,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. Corker objected to parts of the bill, however, and voted against cloture.

Warner called the bipartisan bill a “middle of the road” consensus position that satisfied neither those wanting stronger controls nor others desiring to wait and see about the issue of global warming.

“I belong to the school of thought in this debate that we simply cannot do nothing; we cannot constantly postpone,” Warner said. “In my view, doing nothing is not an option. We simply must do something.”

The Baptist Center for Ethics urged passage of the bill in an open letter signed by more than 140 Baptist leaders urging the Senate to “pass the strongest possible climate legislation that recognizes the needs and burdens of low-income and working families in the United States and around the world.”

“We have a moral duty to speak up for the vulnerable in our society,” the Baptist letter said. “Those who have contributed least to the problem of climate change stand to suffer the most. Those who are poor will likely bear the greatest burden economically from any large-scale program to reduce global warming pollution, if the legislation is not constructed correctly.”

Supporters of the bill said it would spur the economy by creating new energy industries and move the United States from one of the world’s leading polluters to a leader in the fight against global warming.

On Friday the International Energy Agency called on world governments to commit $45 trillion to halve emissions by 2050 or else risk a 130 percent increase in carbon emissions.

Not all religious leaders were on board for the Lieberman/Warner measure. Religious Right groups including the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission pushed back with a “We Get It” campaign to downplay concerns about the threat of climate change.

ERLC President Richard Land opposed the bill as a “vain attempt to reduce the unfounded threat of cataclysmic global warming.”

A 2007 SBC resolution urged Southern Baptists to “proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research.” Seeking clarification, former SBC vice president Wiley Drake summarized the resolution’s message as, “We don’t believe in global warming.”

Earlier this year a group of Southern Baptists broke ranks with denominational leaders by issuing “A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change” calling for more involvement in the fight against global warming.

Partisan bickering spelled doom for the Lieberman-Warner bill as soon as debate started last Monday. It sets the stage for future legislation likely to be supported by the next president after Bush leaves office.

Both Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain have expressed support for the cap-and-trade concept that underlies the bill, but neither voted on Friday’s cloture motion.

Forty-two Democrats and six Republicans voted for cloture. Thirty-two Republicans and four Democrats opposed it. Ten Republicans and six Democrats did not vote. Six of the non-voting senators submitted statements saying they would have voted to move the bill forward if they had been present.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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