Cap and tradeoffs: Introduction

Many of the world's leaders believe cutting greenhouse gas emissions is the key to addressing global warming, and they're gathering in Copenhagen this month to work out an agreement on reductions.

President Obama is setting goals for the United States: By 2020, emissions blamed for global warming would be reduced to about 17 percent below 2005 levels. By 2050, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced to 83 percent below 2005 levels.

Reducing emissions could change many aspects of everyday life in Minnesota, including how we use energy in our homes and businesses, commute to work and manage our farmland. This week, MPR News will examine some of those possible changes.

Many of the specific details about how to reach the targets that Obama is proposing are under debate in Congress, but a picture of how it might work is starting to emerge.

The legislation would mostly target the biggest polluters, including energy-intensive industries and the utilities that supply electricity and natural gas to homes and businesses. Those polluters would have to gradually reduce their emissions by switching to clean energy alternatives or by capturing their emissions. While making the reductions, the polluters could emit more than the government allows by buying credits from others whose emissions fall below the required level.

The legislation's cap and trade program could result in big changes for Minnesota, where most of our electricity is generated by burning coal and where mining and manufacturing remain important sectors of the economy. On the other hand, the state's farmers and foresters who use methods that capture carbon dioxide could make money by selling offsets.

Minnesotans could also see changes in energy use that would affect life at home, work and on the road. Congress wants to promote energy efficiency and conservation through steps like creating infrastructure for electric cars, implementing new building rules and upgrading to electricity transmission systems that save more energy.

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