POLLUTING coal-fired power plants and other heavy emitters would be protected from rises in emissions targets for at least a decade under Coalition amendments being considered by Labor.
The full detail of Coalition amendments, obtained by The Sunday Age , shows Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull's proposed overhaul of Labor's emissions trading legislation gives generous concessions to coal producers and electricity generators.
The Coalition also wants hydrofluorocarbons - potent greenhouse gases used in the production of air-conditioners and fridges - excluded and a guarantee that Australian coal exporters will not be liable for the carbon embodied in coal sold overseas.
The revelations have outraged the Greens and environment groups, who say the scheme is in danger of becoming so watered down by concessions and exemptions, it is no longer viable and would place an unfair burden on households.
Under Labor's current proposal, the level of required emissions cuts for Australia - to be determined by international negotiations - will be guaranteed for five years to help the nation adjust.
After that, businesses will be told to prepare to make more emissions cuts between a minimum and maximum ''gateway'' range that will be locked in for another five years.
But among the Coalition amendments is a demand that Labor ''locks in'' initial targets for emissions cuts for 10 years, with the gateway operating for a further decade.
The changes effectively mean heavy emitters would be guaranteed an emissions target until 2021, and would have at least some certainty until 2031, allowing more investment in coal.
The Coalition wants federal ministers to be given special discretionary powers to provide up to five years of free emissions permits to new power projects.
It is also demanding more cash to conduct research and trials of agricultural and biological processes for storing carbon, singling out Mr Turnbull's favoured ''biochar'' technique.
So far, both sides have been keen to keep the full list of amendments secret in the hope of striking a deal to pass the legislation in the Senate, with negotiations between the Coalition and Climate Change Minister Penny Wong set to begin tomorrow.
A spokeswoman for Ms Wong declined to comment on the amendments, saying only that discussions with the Opposition would continue ''in good faith''.
But Opposition emissions trading spokesman Ian Macfarlane said he was increasingly optimistic about striking a deal to pass the legislation - despite Coalition disunity.
''I would have said a month ago no chance, I would have said a fortnight ago a 20 per cent chance, and now I'm probably edging if not already at even money,'' Mr Macfarlane told The Sunday Age.
Mr Macfarlane said the doubling of the emissions cap was needed to give large power projects certainty, given they tended to operate for decades.
Electricity generators say the increased certainty is needed because it can take up to 25 years for new plants to provide a positive return on the investment.
But any chance of support from environmental groups for Labor's scheme has now evaporated.
Climate Institute chief executive John Connor, who is the spokesman for a group of environmental and welfare organisations that had previously supported the Rudd Government's strategy, said the legislation was becoming so muddied it was no longer acceptable, with big polluters ''being wrapped in cotton wool''.
Mr Connor said any 10-year emissions cap would not give Australia the option of adjusting its targets as new scientific evidence emerged, including the next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, due in 2014.
''They are funnelling the hopes and desires of the big polluters,'' Mr Connor said.
''This will just put more lead in the saddlebags of our negotiators, it will make the whole scheme more inflexible, and it is just unacceptable.''
Greens climate change spokeswoman Christine Milne said the Opposition amendments had taken ''arguably the worst aspect'' of the emissions trading scheme - ''the fact that it locks in its woefully weak target'' - and made it even worse.
''If the Opposition locks in the Government's polluters' paradise for 10 years, the only outcome will be far greater costs on the taxpayer,'' Senator Milne said.
''This is not only environmental vandalism but also economic madness.''
Labor is planning to introduce its legislation - amended or otherwise - to the Senate for a second time next month.
If it is rejected again, it will give Labor the trigger for a double-dissolution election.
Even if Labor agrees to Mr Turnbull's amendments, he will still face an uphill battle getting them through the Senate.
The Sunday Age last week revealed that as many as 23 out of 37 Liberal and National senators have been deemed likely to either fail to vote or to vote against any legislation introduced before the December Copenhagen summit.
Other Coalition amendments include exempting coal producers from having to account for ''fugitive emissions'' of methane released during the mining process, the exemption of agriculture, and the tripling of compensation for electricity generators.
The Liberal way
What we didn't know was on the agenda:
■ Emissions targets locked in for 10 years instead of five.
■ Gateway target extended to 10 years instead of five, providing certainty until 2031.
■ Free permits to electricity producers allocated in proportion to the loss of asset value triggered by the scheme, meaning less assistance for Victoria's brown coal power plants and more for NSW's black coal plants.
■ More flexible payment arrangements for electricity generators buying permits.
■ Exclusion of hydrofluorocarbons, potent greenhouse gases used in the production of fridges, air-conditioners and other products.