Senate Democrats disregard GOP boycott to pass greenhouse gas emissions bill

The bill sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) would cut the nation's greenhouse gas emissions.
The bill sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) would cut the nation's greenhouse gas emissions. (Andrew Harrer/bloomberg News)
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By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 6, 2009

Disregarding a Republican boycott, Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed legislation Thursday that would impose a mandatory curb on greenhouse gas emissions.

The move to report out the bill sponsored by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and the panel's chairman, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), highlighted the divisiveness of the current proposal, as well as Democrats' eagerness to demonstrate they are making at least some progress before international climate talks next month in Copenhagen.

Even as the panel approved the measure on a vote of 11 to 1 -- with Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) opposing it because he said it included climate targets that are too steep and would not do enough to protect farmers -- attention shifted to Kerry's efforts to collaborate with Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) on a different bipartisan measure that would seek to expand the number of nuclear reactors and oil drilling off U.S. coasts. Many senators see these talks -- rather than the bill approved in committee -- as the main vehicle for any legislation that would reach the floor.

Scott Segal, a lawyer at the firm Bracewell & Giuliani who represents energy and manufacturing interests, said Thursday's vote "is more the end of the beginning than the beginning of the end."

Former vice president Al Gore, in a meeting Thursday with The Washington Post's editorial board, said he hopes the negotiations between Kerry and Graham, with the aid of the administration, will "produce a consensus bill before Copenhagen," empowering U.S. negotiators at the talks.

Gore added that he knows President Obama and his aides are "having discussions" about Obama attending the climate talks in December. He said, however, that he "has no indication" that a final decision has been made.

The Kerry-Boxer bill would cut the nation's greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels by compelling industries releasing carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming to buy a dwindling number of pollution credits over time. They would be able to trade the permits -- 31 percent of which would be auctioned initially -- with other emitters, including some that would not be covered by the overall carbon limit.

Charles T. Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, said he does not understand why Democrats are choosing to refine the climate bill outside of the committee.

"I always thought that was the chore of the committee," said Drevna, whose industry is receiving just 2.25 percent of free pollution allowances. "It's frustrating to see for whatever reason -- political expediency, the Copenhagen deadline -- [the panel] pass something out that all realize has no chance of passage."

Boxer issued a statement saying the panel acted "in full accordance with longstanding committee and Senate rules."

Committee Republicans decried the move, saying the Environmental Protection Agency should have conducted a full economic analysis of the measure, which would have cost taxpayers $350,000, agency officials said.

"Republicans want and expect to participate in any bill about clean energy, but taxpayers expect us to know what this bill costs before we start voting on it," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), who sits on the panel and also chairs the Senate Republican Conference.

Baucus, who had sought to bring the measure's 2020 reduction target down to 17 percent and wanted additional provisions concerning the agriculture industry, said he will continue to work to craft a more politically viable piece of legislation.

Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the Democrats' move would ultimately hamper their ability to pass legislation on the issue. "We congratulate Chairman Boxer and the committee's Democrats for their methods. They have so poisoned the atmosphere in the Senate that there is now no doubt that the Kerry-Boxer energy-rationing bill is dead," he said.

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