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GOP senators absent at start of climate debate

November 03, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republicans boycotted the start of committee debate Tuesday on a bill to curb greenhouse gases, protesting that the bill's costs have not been fully examined. The action put a spotlight on the difficulties Democratic leaders face in moving climate legislation this year.

Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio attended the session for 15 minutes to explain the GOP's argument for staying away. He insisted the tactic "is not a ruse" to block the bill, but concern that its widespread impact on the country has not been made clear.

But Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, the panel's chairman, argued the EPA already has provided "a full blown economic analysis" and that Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised further studies when the bill is merged with other legislation. She insisted, "We're not rushing. We are taking our time."

The partisan rift in the Environment and Public Works Committee, which delayed votes on amendments to the legislation, exposed the sharp divisions in the Senate over how to address global warming. Democrats also have been split on the issue. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who said he had deep reservations about the bill also was absent.

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Boxer had hoped to push the legislation out of her committee this week, so it could be merged with provisions from five other committees and demonstrate to the world some progress in Congress before the international climate conference begins in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel in an address to Congress said Tuesday there is "no time to lose" when it comes to global warming and that the United States and Europe must lead if an international agreement on curtailing greenhouse gases is to be achieved. She said if developed countries act, she expects China and India to take action as well.

She made the same plea to President Barack Obama at the White House earlier in the day -- as did European Union leaders in separate meetings at the White House. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called an international climate deal "a defining moment" for this generation of world leaders.

Obama has repeatedly called on Congress to pass climate legislation. But the issue has become bogged down in the Senate over strong opposition from Republicans -- and some Democrats as well -- who fear the loss of jobs and higher energy prices.

The Democratic bill calls for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and industrial facilities 20 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by mid-century. Polluters would be given pollution permits that they could trade among themselves to ease the economic effect of the transition from fossil fuels.

"This is not a ruse to prevent this committee from marking up a climate bill. Rather this is a genuine attempt ... to have the best information available as we debate and amend the bill that will have consequences for every person in the country," said Voinovich whose state is especially vulnerable because of its reliance on coal and manufacturing base. He said an analysis by the EPA cited by Boxer was inadequate, made "unrealistic assumptions" and was based on a House-passed bill that he said is significantly different from the bill before the Senate panel.

But Boxer disagreed and said the bill she has co-authored along with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., was "90 percent the same" as the House version that has been fully examined by the EPA. That EPA analysis estimates modest cost to households from higher energy prices of $80 to $111 a year.

"There is no reason at all for additional analysis and spend more taxpayer dollars doing it when the work has been done," said Boxer. She called the GOP boycott a delaying tactic and promised, "we're going to be here every day until they join us."

Democrats have a 12-7 majority in the committee and enough votes to advance the measure. But an attempt by Boxer to ram the bill through committee without Republican participation could backfire when the measure gets to the floor where it will be combined with other climate legislation.

On Monday, the ranking Republicans on five other committees that will have some say in climate legislation also called the EPA analysis unsatisfactory and said senators should not be expected to vote on a bill "without a full and complete analysis of the likely effects." They warned in a letter to Boxer that failure to accommodate GOP senators seeking further studies "would severely damage rather than help" the chances of getting the bipartisan support needed to get a bill through the Senate.

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