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Climate change bill is in trouble

Political tactics tie up the Senate version, and efforts to salvage it may be too little too late.

November 08, 2009

If you think the partisan divide over healthcare reform is ugly, take a look at the animus in the Senate as debate continues on a key climate change bill. So wide is the gulf that long-held Senate traditions on decorum are breaking down. And as Washington fiddles, the Earth burns.

The Senate version of a House bill aimed at capping greenhouse gas emissions was stalled last week by Republicans on the Environment and Public Works Committee, who boycotted the discussion, demanding that the Environmental Protection Agency agree to do a more thorough study of the bill's economic impact. It was an ugly and highly unusual tactic aimed at delaying a bill that has already been thoroughly vetted by the EPA, leaving Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the committee chair, little choice but to resort to extremes herself. She put the bill, S. 1733, up for a vote Thursday without a single Republican present. That angered Republicans but was even more frustrating for Democrats -- several wanted to amend the bill, but with no one from the minority party present, no amendments were allowed. The bill passed, 11-1.

This doesn't bode well. Wiser heads are working to salvage the legislation, with John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) announcing plans to craft a bill that can attract the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster. But Democrats from Southern and coal-producing states are reluctant to sign on, and attracting any GOP votes will be a challenge; many believe the chances are slim that the bill, which sets a cap on emissions while allowing polluters to trade carbon credits, will be approved this year.

Such a failure would be disastrous in more ways than one. With no commitment to cut greenhouse gases in the U.S., it would be next to impossible to get other big polluter nations on board in Copenhagen in December for a global agreement on fighting climate change. Another year's delay will make future efforts more expensive and less effective. With a third of all Senate seats up for election in 2010, it will become even harder to pass controversial legislation.

Climate skeptics would celebrate all this as a victory. They are not swayed by the dire forecasts of the International Panel on Climate Change, nor the endorsements of those findings by the national academies of science of the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and Brazil. Confronted by a crisis whose most terrible repercussions will come after they're dead, they'd rather stick their children with the bill.

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