By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Senate leaders yesterday abruptly pulled back legislation that would have mandated major cuts in U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions after they came a dozen votes shy of ending a GOP filibuster.
Although the bill -- sponsored by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.) -- enjoyed bipartisan support, the week-long floor debate devolved into partisan bickering over which party was most responsive to the plight of Americans trying to cope with rising gas prices.
In a statement after the 48 to 36 vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) charged that Republicans were "refusing to address one of the most important issues of our time." He said Democrats "have tried to curb global warming, lower gas prices and invest in renewable energy, but Republicans have squandered each opportunity."
Republicans, for their part, accused Democrats of seeking to limit the number of amendments GOP senators could offer by constructing a convoluted "amendment tree" that would have circumscribed the debate. Four Democrats voted against cloture, and seven Republicans voted for it.
"As I suspected, reality hit the U.S. Senate when the economic facts of this bill were exposed," Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.), the ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement. "When faced with the inconvenient truth of the bill's impact on skyrocketing gas prices, very few Senators were willing to even debate this bill."
The outcome highlighted the obstacles that will stand in the way of enacting meaningful cuts in greenhouse gases, even with a new president and Congress next year. The Lieberman-Warner bill would have required greenhouse gas emissions to be cut 18 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and nearly 70 percent by mid-century, a significant reduction but still short of what most climate scientists say is needed to moderate global warming.
"The momentum is in the direction of doing something, thank God, but it's not going to be easy," Lieberman said in an interview, adding that he and other leaders plan to meet next week with senators who had concerns about the bill. "This will require real leadership from the White House and a real commitment by both parties to get something done."
Both sides did their best to tout their gains in the debate: Backers of the bill noted that six absent senators indicated they would have supported the motion to end debate, including Barack Obama (D-Ill.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). That would have translated into 54 votes in favor of cloture, a significant improvement over the 38 votes in favor of climate legislation in 2005.
But 10 Democrats -- including nine who voted for cloture -- signed a letter yesterday saying they could not support the bill in its current form, and McCain indicated in his statement he would have opposed it on the grounds that it did not offer enough financial aid to the nuclear industry.
President Bush, who opposes mandatory limits on greenhouse gases emitted by burning fossil fuels, issued a veto threat against the bill Monday. Asked about it yesterday, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino criticized both the bill and the process.
"So here you have Democrats in Congress saying that this is the most important bill to face this Congress, and they weren't even going to spend enough time to allow people to have any chance of talking about it or amending it," Perino said. Several energy companies and conservative groups that had attacked the bill declared victory even as they acknowledged they would have a harder fight next year, because both Obama and McCain, the presumptive presidential nominees, back a mandatory carbon cap.
Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, a think tank funded in part by energy interests, said Americans "can breathe a sigh of relief knowing this bill is dead . . . for now."
But Timothy Profeta, who directs Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, said the week had demonstrated that "a clear leadership coalition" on climate change had emerged.
Staff writer William Branigan contributed to this report.