WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former Vice President Al Gore, the leading American voice on climate change, urged lawmakers Friday to overcome partisan differences and take action to reduce greenhouse gases, but Democrats and Republicans sparred even more vigorously over the cost of dealing with global warming.
Gore, who won a Nobel prize for his work on climate change, told a congressional hearing that "the dire and growing threat" of a warmer earth requires the parties to unite to deal with the environmental threat. He endorsed a House Democratic bill that would limit carbon dioxide and other pollution linked to warming.
"It is a challenge that this Congress must rise to," Gore said. "I wish I could find the words to get past the partisan divide that both sides have contributed to. ... It shouldn't be partisan. It should be something we do together in our national interest."
But former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., argued that the Democratic proposal to reduce greenhouse gases would "punish the American people" by imposing higher energy costs and threatening jobs.
"This bill is an energy tax," Gingrich said. "An energy tax punishes senior citizens, it punishes rural Americans, if you use electricity it punishes you. This bill will increase your cost of living and may kill your job."
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee that is writing the bill, shot back that Gingrich was resorting to "the old scare tactics" designed to undermine any congressional effort to address the problem.
"When American people hear the statements you have made today, they get scared, which I think is exactly what is intended," a visibly angry Waxman told Gingrich, a potential presidential contender in 2012 and a leading voice of the GOP.
Gore defended the science that warns of a potential climate crisis later this century and insisted the blueprint outlined by House Democrats would address the problem without soaring prices for Americans.
"I think the cost of energy will come down when we make this transition to renewable energy," said Gore, who predicted economic costs would be much greater if global warming is not reined in by a shift from the use of fossil fuels. Democrats argued that the development of renewable and energy efficient technologies will produce jobs and mitigate cost increases.
The House bill calls for mandatory reductions in carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases by 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent by mid-century. It also would require utilities to produce a quarter of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025 and impose new efficiency requirements.
The measure would cap greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. Under a compromise being discussed, a large portion of these emission permits would be given away, while others would be auctioned with much of the revenue to be redistributed to ease the impact of higher energy costs.
Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the committee's top Republican, argued that the proposed "cap-and-trade" system would cost tens of billions of dollars a year. "How in the world can we have a (pollution) trade system that doesn't cost jobs and doesn't cost the economy?" he said.
House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio denounced the draft bill as a "massive national energy tax on every American .... who drives a car, buys a product manufactured in the United States, or has the audacity to flip on a light switch."
Barton said Republicans are putting together their own climate proposal that would scrap the "cap-and-trade" system. He said the GOP proposal, yet to be unveiled, will call for expanding nuclear energy and pumping more money into ways to capture carbon from coal-burning power plants.
While Republicans were critical, some Democrats expressed concern as well.
"How do we protect our people?" asked Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., whose state is reeling from the economic recession and is home to many energy-intensive industries, including the ailing auto industry. Dingell said he's not convinced the bill will protect U.S. jobs, especially if China isn't forced to take similar actions.
"If the United States leads, China will follow," Gore argued.
Friday's session concluded days of hearings on the climate bill, which Waxman says he hopes his committee will approve by the end of May. The Obama administration broadly endorsed the legislation, although some issues - such as allocating the pollution permits - have yet to be worked out.
Democratic sponsors of the bill hoped Friday's testimony of former Sen. John Warner, R-Va., might sway some GOP lawmakers.
Warner said dealing with the climate issue is essential for national security and the sake of future generations - even if there are economic consequences.
"Is this the time to challenge an issue of this magnitude which has ramifications of cost to everyone here in this country and is going to require sacrifices. I say to you, yes, it is the time," Warner said.
On the Net: House Energy and Commerce Committee: http://energycommerce.house.gov/
Newt Gingrich's Web site: http://newt.org
Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection: http://www.climateprotect.org