Climate Bill Approved by Senate Committee Over Republican Boycott

WASHINGTON, DC, November 5, 2009 (ENS) – The Senate committee responsible for the environment has approved the climate change bill despite a Republican boycott.

The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act today passed the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on a vote of 11-1, with all seven Republican members absent. The bill, which now goes to the Senate floor for debate, is parallel to climate change legislation that passed the House of Representatives in June.

The advance occurs just one month before the start of the UN conference on climate change in Copenhagen where a new international deal is to be finalized to take over when the current provisions of the Kyoto Protocol expire at the end of 2012. Other nations are looking to the United States for leadership after the eight-year delay under the Bush administration.

The bill, which provides for an economy-wide cap-and-trade carbon market, is known informally as the Kerry-Boxer bill after its two primary sponsors – Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Barbara Boxer of California, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Boxer said, “A majority of the EPW Committee voted to send the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, S. 1733, to the floor of the Senate today in full accordance with longstanding Committee and Senate Rules.”

Senator Barbara Boxer (Photo courtesy EPW)

“We did it for three reasons, said Boxer.

First, she said, “S. 1733 addresses a crucial issue of our time and advancing the bill is a necessary step on the road to garnering the 60 votes we need for a comprehensive bill that will be melded together from various committees and senators from different regions of the country. This bill is already being worked on by Senators Kerry, Lieberman, Graham and others.”

Second, she said, “We found, after questioning the EPA extensively, that the Republicans’ demand for another EPA analysis now would be duplicative and a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

“The absence of the Republicans during the EPA’s presentation was a clear message that their criticism of the EPA analysis was not a substantive one. Indeed, the EPA said their economic analysis was “unprecedented” in scope and was never done for any other energy or climate bill at this stage of the process,” Boxer said.

Finally, Boxer said, “The Committee and Senate rules that have been in place during Republican and Democratic majorities are there to be used when the majority feels it is in the best interest of their states and of the nation to act. A majority of the committee believes that S. 1733, and the efforts that will be built upon it, will move us away from foreign oil imports that cost Americans one billion dollars a day, it will protect our children from pollution, create millions of clean energy jobs, and stimulate billions of dollars of private investment.”

“We are pleased that despite the Republican boycott, we have been able to move the bill,” Boxer said.

Nevertheless, the Ranking Republican Member of the committee, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a long-time climate skeptic, accused Boxer of violating the Senate rules.

“I am deeply disappointed by Chairman Boxer’s decision to violate the rules and longstanding precedent of the committee,” said Inhofe. “The Republicans offered a clear path forward to a bipartisan markup, but it was summarily rejected by Chairman Boxer.”

“Instead, said Inhofe, “she decided to ignore the entreaties of all six ranking members from Senate committees with some share of jurisdiction over climate change legislation, as well as leading moderates in the Senate. Her action signals the death knell for the Kerry-Boxer bill.”

Oklahoma Gas & Electric’s Muskogee power plant burns coal and natural gas. (Photo xpda.com)

Inhofe called the Kerry-Boxer bill “bad policy” that “resembles the failed climate proposals of the past.’ It is time for a different approach, one that grows, rather than shrinks our economy, creates, rather than destroys jobs, and strengthens, rather than weakens our energy security. We can do this by encouraging development of all of America’s vast energy resources.”

Senator John Kerry offered his congratulations to Chairman Boxer on advancing the legislation out of her committee.

“She did so under the toughest of circumstances, after months of meetings, deliberations, and vigorous debate. This wasn’t easy, but her commitment was resolute,” Kerry said. “Today’s step in the process sends a clear message to the world that the United States is serious about tackling climate change and securing our clean energy future.”

“Working with the leaders of five other committees, building support from Democrats and Republicans across the ideological spectrum, the hard work continues on the path to 60 votes in the Senate under the leadership of Majority Leader [Harry] Reid,” said Kerry.

On Wednesday, Senator Kerry, Republican Senator Linsay Graham of South Carolina and Independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut announced that they are committed to working together to combine the best of S. 1733 with additional provisions to produce a bi-partisan bill that the Senate will pass.

Today, Kerry reminded Republicans that 2008 Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain called for strong, mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions, and that Senator Graham has joined Democrats in this year’s fight. “We can rediscover bi-partisan progress once again,” he said.

“Chairman Boxer and I are determined to see this Congress pass a strong climate bill for the President to sign,” said Kerry. “This is and has always been a big lift, but heading into Copenhagen, we have momentum on our side.”

Environmentalists are pleased with the bill’s advancement. Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “This clears the way for full Senate action on clean energy and climate legislation that will put Americans back to work, reduce our reliance on foreign oil and create a healthier future for our children. Americans are united around these goals. It’s time for the full Senate to act.”

Some business leaders are also pleased. The U.S. Climate Action Partnership, in a letter to the senators, applauded their “leadership in seeking a bipartisan path forward” on this issue. “We share your goal of enacting an energy and climate policy that is environmentally sound, economically sustainable and protective of our national security,” said USCAP, which includes CEOs of large companies and heads of large environmental groups.

Among the USCAP members who signed the letter were the CEOs and presidents Alcoa, Caterpillar Inc., ConocoPhillips, Dow, Duke, DuPont, General Motors and Shell as well as the heads of the Nature Conservancy, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and the Environmental Defense Fund.

The petroleum industry is among the critics. American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard said, “Today’s action should mark the end of Kerry-Boxer, Waxman-Markey-style legislation that could destroy millions of American jobs and drive up fuel prices, punishing everyone who drives, flies, or takes a bus or train. The only bipartisanship evident today was opposition to this approach.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.