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US Senate Democrats push through climate bill

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Nov 5, 2009
US Senate Democrats on Thursday pushed through a sweeping climate change bill, maneuvering an end-run around opposition Republicans who continued their boycott of deliberations.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the legislation by a vote of 11 to one, with the seven Republicans on the committee absent from the discussion and vote.

The panel is among five other Senate committees which also will weigh in with their draft bills on slowing the pace of climate change before a bill receives a vote in the full chamber, possibly next year.

"We are pleased that despite the Republican boycott we have been able to move this bill forward," said committee chair Democrat Barbara Boxer, after the vote.

Republicans, who boycotted the deliberations for three consecutive days, said they would oppose the bill until they had a "comprehensive analysis" of the economic impact of the legislation from the federal watchdog agency, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

But Boxer said further analysis by the agency was not necessary, and maintained that the EPA's environmental impact assessment of a similar bill approved in June by the House of Representatives, was sufficient.

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

Committee rules require the presence of at least two members of the minority party but Boxer sidestepped the boycott using parliamentary procedures that allowed her to pass the bill by a simple majority of members present, a tactic Republicans decried as a "nuclear option."

At a press conference earlier this week, she signaled the tactical maneuver ahead.

"What they're doing is highly unusual. And what we're doing in response is highly unusual," she said, adding that her actions were completely "by the Senate rules."

Meanwhile, the lone Republican at Thursday's vote, ranking committee member James Inhofe, in a two-minute declaration said his party's position had not changed.

"We still are asking for the same thing," he said.

Republicans also criticized the Democrats' bill as doing too little to promote nuclear energy and is likely to lead to a spike in energy prices.

One Democrat, centrist senator Max Baucus, who serves as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, broke with his party as the lone Democrat to vote against the bill, saying that its goals for reducing greenhouse emission levels were too ambitious.

The Senate legislation faces a long and contentious process ahead, and must be reconciled with a US House bill that calls for cutting US greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, and by 83 percent by 2050.

The Senate's slightly more ambitious bill calls for a 20-percent cut by 2020. Both bills would create a cap-and-trade regime, aimed at setting the total level of domestic emissions allowable and then allocating quotas to companies.

Firms that emit less than their quota would be allowed to sell their surplus allocation to others that exceed theirs. Those in excess could also face fines.

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