WASHINGTON — The United States should not impose a cap-and-trade system to battle climate change this year because it amounts to a painful tax during a deep recession, a Republican lawmaker said Wednesday.

“Now is not the time to put a national sales tax on every electric bill and every gasoline purchase,” Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, who sits on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, told reporters.

“I’m open, as are several Republicans, to cap and trade, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to think about it in the middle of a recession,” said Alexander, who hails from Tennessee.

U.S. President Barack Obama favors the approach, which sets a cap on the total pollutants companies can emit and then forces heavy polluters to buy credits from entities that pollute less — creating financial incentives to fight global warming.

Cap-and-trade, already in practice in the European Union, is likely to be reinforced at U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen this December as the preferred strategy for slashing so-called “greenhouse gases” blamed for climate change.

Alexander played down the impact of not enacting a U.S. cap-and-trade system in time for the talks, saying “there is a number of things that we can do that are more effective” to reduce the U.S. economy’s emissions.

“We can focus on conservation, nuclear power, electric cars, energy r(esearch) and d(evelopment), all those things will help move us rapidly toward clean energy,” the lawmaker said.

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