Senate panel passes climate bill, despite Republicans boycott

The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee passed a Senate climate bill on Thursday despite a Republican boycott.

Democrats voted 11-1 to approve the bill, with Sen. Max Baucus of Montana the only “no” vote. Baucus said the legislation’s timetable for emissions reductions was too aggressive, although bill supporters took heart in his pledge to work to craft a measure that could reach the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.

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“I am committed to passing meaningful, balanced climate change legislation,” Baucus said.

Republicans protested the markup, delaying a vote for two days. They wanted the Environmental Protection Agency to perform a more thorough cost analysis of the bill, an effort the EPA said would take another five weeks. EPW member Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) has said he requested a full EPA analysis three months ago.

“I am deeply disappointed by Chairman Boxer’s decision to violate the rules and longstanding precedent of the committee,” ranking Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma said in a statement.

Democrats said the analysis EPA has done was more than sufficient, given the likelihood the bill will change by the time it reaches the Senate floor. It projected a relatively modest cost impact for consumers.

There are five other committees that can claim some jurisdiction over climate and energy legislation. That includes Baucus’s Senate Finance Committee, which is responsible for determining how valuable emissions allowances will be distributed.

The Senate bill, co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Barbara Boxer of California, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, more than what is called for under the House climate bill.

Companies would be required to hold permits to cover their emissions. During the initial phase of the program, most of the permits would be distributed for free. Companies could buy additional permits in a market created by the legislation to meet their emissions targets as needed.

In a statement, Boxer, the chairwoman of the EPW panel, defended the decision to move forward with a vote without participation from committee Republicans.

“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,” Boxer said.

“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.”

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Scott Segal, an energy lobbyist at Bracewell & Giuliani, said a final bill will have to provide more protection against rising energy costs, set carbon reduction goals that are “realistic in light of the current state of technology and our energy mix” and improve provisions relating to the refining sector, which has complained the carbon cap will force many refiners out of business.

“In short, today’s action marks another step along the path, but there is much further to go,” Segal said.

Proponents argue the climate bill will not only lower pollution but create millions of new green jobs.

“The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s passage of the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act is another critical step toward restoring American competitiveness and energy independence,” said Daniel Weiss of the Center for American Progress.

Critics, though, say the measure will raise energy costs and drive jobs overseas. Oil refiners are among the fiercest critics of the legislation, claiming the bill will drive many out of business.

“The committee’s total disregard for domestic refiners, petrochemical producers and their employees, the higher costs that consumers will bear and the threat to our national energy security that will result from this legislation is inconceivable and indefensible,” said Charlie Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association.