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German Chancellor Merkel urges U.S. to act on climate change

With Vice President Joe Biden looking on, German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a joint session of Congress, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
With Vice President Joe Biden looking on, German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a joint session of Congress, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (Alex Brandon - AP)

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By Juliet Eilperin
Wednesday, November 4, 2009

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Congress and the Obama administration Tuesday to take bold steps to address global warming, even as Senate Democrats and Republicans feuded over whether to press ahead with a climate bill.

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Speaking at a joint meeting of Congress, Merkel described climate change as one of the "great tests" of the 21st century. She took pains to compliment lawmakers and the administration for viewing "the protection of our climate to be a very important task," even as she suggested that they move faster.

"We all know we have no time to lose," she said.

While the entire Democratic side gave those remarks a standing ovation, most Republicans -- including key swing voters, such as Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.) -- remained in their seats. When Merkel added that curbing greenhouse gas emissions would spur growth in "innovative" jobs worldwide, the same partisan divide marked lawmakers' reaction.

Merkel tried to assuage lawmakers' concerns that any agreement coming out of international climate talks in Copenhagen next month would not include binding commitments from China and India, saying those nations will make serious emissions cuts once the leaders of industrialized nations "show ourselves ready to adopt binding commitments."

"In December the world will look to us, to the Europeans and to the Americans," she said.

A GOP boycott

Merkel's remarks came shortly after lawmakers faced off at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's markup of its climate legislation.

All 12 committee Democrats were present Tuesday morning to take up the bill co-authored by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and the committee's chairman, Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). The only Republican to appear, Sen. George V. Voinovich (Ohio), spoke for 15 minutes about the seven-member minority's opposition to the proceedings.

Republicans complain that the Environmental Protection Agency has not done a full-scale economic analysis of the Kerry-Boxer bill. Democrats respond that the measure is largely based on a House-passed climate bill, which has undergone such a study, and that the EPA has calculated how the Senate bill's changes would affect its overall cost.

The Kerry-Boxer bill aims to reduce the nation's greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. It would do so by forcing industrial operations to buy and sell pollution permits, the number of which would shrink over time.

In the committee room, Democrats decried the Republicans' absence.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) noted that the bill would change significantly as it made its way to the floor, making any immediate EPA analysis obsolete. And Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) suggested that GOP lawmakers search the Internet if they need to learn more about the current bill.


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