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Senate Democrats walked out of a committee meeting Wednesday, denying Republicans the quorum they needed to pass a bill to overturn President Obama’s climate rule for power plants.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, organized the walkout to protest a separate bill on pesticides that has not had a hearing.

{mosads}Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) could not find enough senators to get to the 11-person quorum.

While not a stated intention of Boxer, the action pushed back, if only by a few hours, the committee’s vote to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from implementing its climate rule.

The walkout followed nearly two hours of tense debate on the climate bill, marked by impassioned speeches and Democrats speaking at length about their proposed amendments, all of which failed on party lines.

“I think this has been a terrific hearing. It’s been emotional and difficult, but we got through it,” Boxer said of the climate debate.

“What is very disturbing to our side is that the other bill you have on here, which would say for the first time since 2011 that if you spray pesticides on water, you don’t have to get a Clean Water Act permit,” she said. “We have not had a single hearing on that bill. Not one hearing.”

She asked Inhofe to delay a vote on that bill, but he declined.

The meeting’s main purpose was to consider Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s (R-W.Va.) bill to overturn the Clean Power Plan and make it all but impossible for the EPA to re-write it.

Throughout the meeting, Democrats castigated Republicans for trying to overturn the most significant action the United States has taken on climate change.

“The bill creates giant loopholes, making it nearly impossible to take any meaningful action to address climate change and reduce harmful carbon pollution, which hurts our families,” Boxer said.

“If we turn away from the president’s Clean Power Plan, we move toward the most devastating impacts of climate change.”

The Democratic amendments would have kept the rule in place unless certain conditions are met, including that the GOP pass legislation to accomplish similar carbon or public health goals, or that Capito’s bill would not exacerbate sea level rise.

“To put a fine point on it, if you don’t like the Clean Power Plan, then what’s your plan to cut carbon pollution and address the negative health impacts of climate change?” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said of his amendment, which would mandate other measures to protect public health. “What’s your plan to avoid the asthma, the deaths, the missed workdays?”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) wanted a provision to block the bill if it would cause more sea-level rise, which has been linked to climate change.

She told an impassioned story from 2012, when Superstorm Sandy hit her state.

“A wall of 10 feet of water came into communities. A mother holding two children lost her handle on her two kids and they drowned,” she said. “This is not an issue about money. This is an issue about lives lost. And we have to care about the whole country.”

Inhofe was visibly annoyed by the Democrats taking what he saw as too much time to talk about their amendments, and started to cut off their speeches, reminding them that the panel has had hearings on many of their concerns with climate change.

“We’ve had hearings on all this,” he said. “I can come up with my book of science on this. The science, it’s divided. We all know that. You speak of it as fact.”

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) refuted the Democrats’ contention that their concerns were related to climate change, or that carbon dioxide from human activity is to blame.

“The point that … I would make is that the climate has always been changing,” he said. “This is about a colorless, tasteless, necessary part of the atmosphere called carbon dioxide.”

Wicker said the naming of Greenland is proof of climate change, because it shows that the island was not covered in ice when people first settled it, a claim that experts have repeatedly refuted.

Inhofe said he hopes to hold a vote on Capito’s bill Wednesday afternoon between or shortly following votes on the Senate floor in the Capitol. 

Tags Barbara Boxer Climate change climate rule Jim Inhofe

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