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Georgia Republican Senator Sees Global Warming's Effects

by: Ben Evans    17 September 2006

WASHINGTON - Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss isn't ready to call himself a global warming alarmist, but a recent trip with Sen. John McCain to Greenland to view melting polar ice has given him a new perspective on the issue.

"You can truly see that there is some melting going on," Chambliss said in an interview with The Associated Press. "When you see it, all of a sudden you say, 'Hey, that issue that we've been talking about off and on over the years, there really is something to it.'"

Chambliss has long opposed forcing reductions in "greenhouse gas" emissions from power plants and other sources that scientists widely believe are causing the earth's climate to gradually warm. The phenomenon could have dire consequences, scientists believe, including rising sea levels and increased flooding in coastal areas, more extreme weather conditions such as drought, and general destruction of natural habitat.

For several years, McCain has tried unsuccessfully to convince more of his GOP colleagues to support his push to set caps on emissions from industrial polluters, mostly coal-burning power plants. Such plants provide about half of the nation's power but account for about a third of its carbon dioxide emissions, which trap solar energy close to the earth's surface and are considered a leading cause of global warming.

Chambliss was among the "no" votes last year when the Senate voted 38-60 to defeat McCain's legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.

Chambliss hesitated when asked whether he would vote differently on McCain's legislation now, noting the complexity of the issue and the need for getting emerging countries such as India and China to reduce emissions.

"I don't know enough about it from this one trip to make up my mind as to whether we're doing everything we can do right now ... or whether there's something else we need to do," he said, adding that he couldn't recall the particulars of McCain's bill. "If I voted against it, I probably haven't changed my mind. But I am much more aware of the issue."

McCain, who organized the trip, which included several other senators and visits to several other countries, said he hadn't received a definitive answer from Chambliss about his bill. But he said he was hopeful.

"I think he was very impressed," McCain said of the trip, which included meetings with U.S. and Danish scientists.

Over the years, Chambliss has received major financial support from the utility industry, including the Atlanta-based Southern Company, which owns Georgia Power and is among the industry's staunchest opponents of new regulations.

At the same time, agricultural interests, which also have backed his campaigns, are taking a strong interest in alternative energy sources such as biofuels that stand to benefit from new regulations on fossil fuels. Chambliss, a former House member and first-term senator, is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.