Unhelpful atmosphere

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

THE SENATE Environment and Public Works Committee began its markup of a massive climate change bill on Tuesday -- without its Republican members. The Republicans have some reasonable concerns about the legislation. But their boycott isn't helpful.

By custom, such meetings don't proceed without at least two members of the minority party present. But Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the panel's chairman, says she can continue anyway under rules that allow committee work as long as a majority of members are present.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), one of the panel's Republicans, argues that the minority merely wants enough data to properly consider the bill. GOP members want the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to perform a series of modeling runs that would be more extensive than those it has done on similar legislation.

Ms. Boxer counters that 90 percent of the bill, known as Kerry-Boxer, is the same as the climate legislation that the House passed in June, legislation that not only the EPA but also the Congressional Budget Office, the Energy Information Administration and numerous nongovernmental organizations analyzed closely. Indeed, EPA Associate Administrator David McIntosh said Tuesday that the differences wouldn't even show up in the agency's computer modeling, leaving little reason to conduct a completely new analysis before committee work commences. Instead, the EPA produced a "meta-analysis" accounting for what differences there are. Democrats promise that the bill that eventually reaches the floor will undergo a full EPA workup before consideration in the full Senate. That should include GOP input on the parameters of the analysis.

Draft texts of Kerry-Boxer have been publicly available since the end of September, and a more complete version has been out for more than a week. The GOP should be ready to offer amendments, particularly after Ms. Boxer extended the deadline for their submission to Tuesday evening. Shutting down the committee process to wait weeks for new analysis would dampen momentum before or after next month's Copenhagen climate conference.

Besides, some Republicans have criticisms that ought to be aired. Mr. Alexander, for example, is right to wonder whether the increase in gasoline prices that the bill would spur would do much to change Americans' consumption of crude oil. Sen. George V. Voinovich (Ohio), who was the only Republican lawmaker to enter the hearing room Tuesday morning when he came to register GOP complaints, argues that some of the assumptions on which the EPA based its analysis of the House bill are faulty. Ms. Boxer brought Mr. McIntosh into the room Tuesday to answer just such questions. It would have been constructive if GOP committee members had been there to question him.

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