CLIMATE:

Boxer, Republicans spar over timing, economic studies

Senate Democrats are still aiming for a committee markup on global warming legislation next week despite Republican calls for a slower pace on the sweeping measure.

"That's my plan," Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told reporters today when asked about a possible markup next week on S. 1733. "That's my hope."

Boxer's continued push to move the bill came as Republicans James Inhofe of Oklahoma and George Voinovich of Ohio complained during this morning's hearing that they have not had enough time to study the proposal to establish a cap-and-trade program that curbs major industrial sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

"This is a big bill, we need to really get at it, but if you jam this thing through here, it's not going to be good," Voinovich said.

Inhofe cited the two-year buildup that led to a tie 9-9 vote on former President George W. Bush's "Clear Skies" initiative, which would have overhauled the Clean Air Act without setting limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

Republicans held a narrow Senate majority during the Clear Skies debate, but Inhofe as EPW Committee chairman could not convince then-Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) or any Democrats to vote for the bill, including then-Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

Inhofe argued today that the Bush-led EPA produced more than 10,000 pages of analysis on the air pollution bill, but he still postponed the March 2005 markup several times as Democrats pushed for more information.

"All of a sudden, it's outrageous for us to ask for even two months of the same thing," Inhofe said of the current Democratic push to move the climate bill. He added that the panel's seven GOP members have not decided yet if they will follow through with threats to boycott a markup.

Responding to the Republican complaints, Boxer insisted that she is holding "an unprecedented number of legislative hearings" on the climate bill, with more than 50 witnesses who have been asked to offer their comments after reading the entire 923-page proposal.

"We have an analysis that I'd say is one of the most thorough ever done," Boxer said.

The California Democrat said U.S. EPA took two weeks to study her proposal, and she also lumped in the five weeks that the agency took this spring to analyze H.R. 2454, the House bill written by Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Voinovich and Boxer got into an argument over the quality of EPA's work, with the Republican citing EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson's testimony earlier this week acknowledging the agency did not do a specific set of modeling runs on the Senate bill.

"It's not a complete analysis," Voinovich said. "The head of the department said it's not a complete analysis."

Jackson told the Senate committee on Tuesday that it would take five more weeks for EPA to do a specific review of the Boxer bill.

Boxer also said she is "working hand in glove" with the Congressional Budget Office to ensure the bill is deficit-neutral, the other major demand that Republicans have said they want met before the markup.

Democrats need two GOP members to attend the session to report the bill, and Boxer pleaded during today's hearing for cooperation. "I hope we don't see a boycott of a landmark bill," she said. "That would be tragic, in my mind."

Baucus praises coal provisions

Boxer also continues to negotiate with two moderate Democrats -- Montana's Max Baucus and Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter -- with the aim of winning their votes before the markup.

Baucus praised Boxer for including provisions that would incentivize the early deployment of carbon capture and storage technologies at coal-fired power plants.

"The coal provisions are one example of where the middle lies on climate legislation, and I hope we can mirror our success in this section with other parts of the bill as we're moving forward," said Baucus, an influential coal-state senator who also chairs the Finance Committee.

Baucus later told reporters he has not made up his mind on where he will fall on the climate bill, explaining that he is still pushing for a less aggressive emissions target for 2020 and language that stops EPA from implementing climate regulations through the Clean Air Act.

"Let's see what's in it," Baucus said. "We're negotiating."

Specter also used the hearing to highlight what he sees as the importance of pre-empting EPA, calling it a "weighty factor" in his vote.

"I am not prepared to draw any lines in the sand and say anything is a must," Specter told reporters.

But he added that pre-emption is important to providing industry "certainty" under an emissions control program.

"If you retain EPA's authority, then you don't have that certainty," Specter said.

"There are a lot of people who are very reluctant to see legislation [who] are saying, 'Well, if it gives us certainty, that is very, very important,' but if you don't have that certainty ... that is quite another matter," Specter said.

Specter did not say whether the changes to incentives for coal plants with carbon capture -- including the addition of "advanced distribution" of allowances -- in the chairman's mark were enough to win his support.

"That is a very involved question, and we are still looking at that," Specter said.

Boxer added the coal provisions to the chairman's mark last Friday after weeks of negotiations with several moderate Democrats, including Specter and Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware, Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Robert Casey of Pennsylvania.

"It's a delicate balance," Boxer said. "There's a sweet spot for this committee. There's a sweet spot for the floor. There's a sweet spot for the conference. It's a long road."

Senior reporter Ben Geman contributed.

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