Four top Obama administration officials urged the Senate today to pass sweeping climate and energy legislation that builds off momentum created last month by the Democrat-led House.
Testifying before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the four emphasized the threats from climate change and how reducing greenhouse gas emissions would help the U.S. economy bounce back from a historic recession.
"Denial of the climate change problem will not change our destiny," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu, moments after describing the recorded loss of half the summer Arctic polar ice cap since the 1950s, fast-rising seas and the prospect of a more than 10-degree-Fahrenheit increase in global air temperatures.
"A comprehensive energy and climate bill that caps and then reduces carbon emissions will," Chu added. "America has the opportunity to lead a new industrial revolution of creating sustainable, clean energy. We can sit on the sidelines and deny the scientific facts, or we can get in the game and play to win."
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson also pushed the Senate committee to act on an issue that sits atop the president's domestic and international agenda.
Jackson, for example, insisted that public opinion is on the side of Congress passing climate legislation that reduces U.S. dependence on foreign oil and also sparks long-term economic growth.
"That is what the president wants, that's what I want," Jackson said. "I believe many senators want the same thing. Please consider the Environmental Protection Agency a partner in this effort to get America running on clean energy. And please, please keep up the momentum."
EPW Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) intends to release legislation that builds off the House-passed climate bill within the next two weeks, her aides say. A markup is also slated for either later this month or in early August, though the committee's seven Republicans are sending few signals that they plan to cooperate.
Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, for example, stacked all of the different iterations of the House climate bill on the desk in front of the witnesses -- what he said was 6,706 pages in all. The four-term Republican then questioned Boxer's plan to work from a House bill that few have had a chance to read.
"What needles are the majority trying to hide in the haystack?" Bond said.
Several of the other Republicans urged Boxer to write a more expansive bill that promotes domestic energy production.
"Why are we ignoring the cheap energy solution to global warming, which is nuclear power?" argued Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
Republicans also demanded that Boxer hold more hearings on the specific legislative text she plans to hold a vote on. "We've got to have something in front of us," said the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma. "The question arises, when will we see the bill that you intend to mark up?"
Boxer replied that she had always planned to accommodate Republican requests for legislative hearings on the climate bill, though she did not give exact dates.
Six Senate committees are expected to play a role in crafting the climate and energy bill, including Boxer's panel. The others: Agriculture; Commerce, Science and Transportation; Energy and Natural Resources; Finance; and Foreign Relations.
Click here to read the Senate EPW Committee Republicans' letter seeking more legislative hearings.