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Climate Change

The Senate Climate Bill Reaches a First Milestone Today — Maybe

The Senate environment committee is slated to begin formally voting on its climate change bill today in an atmosphere of high drama, thanks to Republican members who have vowed to boycott the proceedings in a bid to delay the legislative process.

boxer.bb_742515.jpgSenate environment chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA), at right, with the panel's top Republican, Jim Inhofe (OK). (Photo: CNN)

The GOP gambit is intended to push the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct a complete analysis of the Senate climate bill, a task that could take upwards of five weeks.

The senior Republicans on the six Senate committees with jurisdiction over climate change renewed their entreaties in a letter sent yesterday to environment panel chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA). They wrote:

While such analyses are never perfect, they are an essential aspect of the legislative decision-making process when policy changes of such consequence are in play. As is the case with legislation itself, these analyses are worth the time and resources required not only to get them done, but to get them done right.

As Grist's David Roberts observed on Friday, the Senate climate bill is largely similar to the House version that was passed in June after in-depth analysis by the CBO and the EPA. Performing another full workup of the Senate climate bill, then, would serve little purpose other than to push its consideration past next month's global environmental talks in Copenhagen -- notching a political win for GOP leaders.

So how can Boxer take up the bill with only Democrats in attendance? The answer is a complicated one that relies on a specific interpretation of committee rules and precedents; but even if work can begin today, it's unclear whether amendments to the bill can be considered without a GOP presence.

The Republican senators referred to this outcome in their letter to Boxer:

We understand that there may be an effort to report [the Senate climate bill] from the [environment] committee not only without a satisfactory analysis, but also without sufficient opportunity to address the bipartisan concerns raised over the course of legislative hearings on the measure.

In fact, neither Boxer nor Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), the Senate climate bill's co-author, likes the idea of pushing the legislation through its first committee votes without a debate on amendments. Kerry released a statement yesterday afternoon noting that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) supported emissions limits during his presidential run last year and asking "everyone to come back to the table," sentiments also voiced by Boxer.

Limiting amendments to the climate bill would also have consequences for transportation policy.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) has submitted a proposal to increase the bill's annual set-aside of revenue for clean transport by more than $400 million.

If his amendment comes to a vote, it could well be approved, given that six of the environment panel's 12 Democrats have signed on to Carper's bill dedicating more climate money to transit. But if no amendments are considered, the chances of increasing the bill's clean transport funding -- which is already nearly three times the size of the House version -- would get notably slimmer.

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