Climate debate hits partisan note

Democrats said Republicans just wanted to stall the bill.

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Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio) was the only Republican to appear at the Environmental and Public Works Committee meeting. He appeared only briefly to read an opening statement laying out why Republicans wanted Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to delay the markup.

Voinovich insisted the boycott was not a “ruse” intended to block the bill, only that Republicans wanted a fuller economic analysis from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which released a 38-page summary when the bill was released last Friday.

The boycott immediately raised questions about the ability of Senate Democrats to attract Republican support on the controversial issue of climate change. Earlier in the week the ranking members of six committees with jurisdiction over the bill warned the Democrats on the committee not to act without Republican participation.

Committee precedent calls for at least two Republicans to participate, although Boxer as chairwoman apparently had the discretion to move forward with just a quorum of members. In an effort to entice Republicans back into the fold, she gave committee members another day to file amendments and invited EPA officials to testify on Tuesday afternoon about the analysis they have done of the Senate climate bill.

“I have done something unprecedented as far as we can tell,” Boxer said.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and other committee Democrats rallied around Boxer, charging Republicans with obstructionism. The EPA analysis was in part based on an earlier examination of the House climate bill, which Democrats said was justified given the similarities between the two bills.

Whitehouse admitted the EPA had not done a thorough examination of the Senate climate bill, but that it didn’t make sense to wait five weeks for one to be done.

He said the bill would likely be amended during the markup, which could change the results of an analysis. It also will eventually be melded with bills approved by other committees, including a Renewable Portfolio Standard adopted by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources panel that could also change the cost estimates.

“The bill on the floor will not be the same,” Whitehouse said.

But the modeling the EPA has done is “more than adequate” to reassure members that the climate bill will not lead to big increases in energy costs, Whitehouse said.

“The Republican Party has increasingly become the party of no,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Boxer, who repeatedly encouraged Republicans to join the markup, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had promised a full economic analysis when the various parts of the climate bill are joined.

But Voinovich pleaded for Boxer to postpone the markup and direct the EPA to conduct a fuller analysis of the bill. The EPA has found only a modest cost impact of the House bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.). The agency also expects the Senate measure to cost the average American household between $80 and $111 a year, or 22 to 30 cents per day.

Voinovich said, however, that the EPA analysis is based on unrealistic assumptions, like a big build-out of nuclear plants and of coal plants with carbon capture and sequestration technologies.

“We are rushing headlong to a vote when the American people need answers,” Voinovich said.

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He noted a letter from consumer groups like the AARP raising concern that the Senate bill would not provide as much help to lower-income households to pay for higher electricity bills as would the House measure. That’s because more of the revenues from the sale of permits that companies would have to hold to cover their emissions would be directed toward deficit reduction in the Senate bill, which is referred to as a Congressional Budget Office haircut.

Dean Sagar, director of livable communities for the AARP, said the Senate bill might provide around $2.5 billion less in relief a year for low-income families than the House bill. But he said Democrats have said they were open to providing additional relief to consumers.

Boxer read several letters of support for the climate bill and defended the analysis the EPA has done as “in-depth” and “comprehensive.”
“You have to ask yourself, What more could they want, and why would they want it?” Boxer said, referring to committee Republicans.