A partisan standoff over Senate global warming legislation clouded the start of the Environment and Public Works Committee's markup of the sweeping proposal today with just one Republican in attendance.
Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and several other Democrats began the markup with opening statements begging Republicans to participate and questioning the sincerity of their boycott.
"We've taken every step to welcome them to the table," Boxer said. "And we're just going to be here every day until they join us."
There was no sign of when the committee will begin voting on amendments or move to pass the bill, S. 1733, which will be melded by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) with the work of five other committees. To date, Democrats have offered 80 amendments to the legislation that Boxer wrote with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).
Republicans have until 5 p.m. EST today to turn in their amendments, but there is no indication they plan to respond.
Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio was the only Republican to sit in for opening statements today. He arrived 15 minutes late and then left after he spent a half hour in a back-and-forth with Democrats over his 3-month-old request to get a more sweeping U.S. EPA economic analysis on H.R. 2454, the House-passed climate bill, as well as its Senate counterpart.
"Asking for the EPA analysis is not a stalling tactic," Voinovich said. "This is not a ruse to prevent this committee from marking up a climate bill. Rather, this is a genuine attempt that the members of the committee, both the majority and the minority, have the best information available as we debate and amend the bill that will have consequences for every person in our country."
Voinovich insisted Republicans need more EPA data to have a better understanding of what amendments they should propose. He also challenged a Democratic claim that EPA should not do the work now, when it has already covered much of the same ground with the House-passed bill.
The Senate bill includes several significant differences that merit a closer look, including fewer available allowances due to budget rules requiring deficit neutrality over the lifetime of the legislation, as well as different restrictions on international and domestic offsets, Voinovich said.
Voinovich also warned Democrats not to bypass long-standing committee precedent to pass the climate bill absent GOP participation, saying it could hurt their chances to win at least 60 votes on the floor. "I think it would really poison the well," he said, adding that it could harm relations on the EPW panel as it deals with other legislative matters, including the reauthorization of the transportation bill.
Boxer dismissed Republican complaints that she was pushing too fast on the proposal. The California Democrat held up a single metallic disc that she said holds more than 340,000 pages of EPA analysis on the House and Senate climate bills. And she cited Reid's commitment by phone this morning to seek a complete EPA analysis of the climate bill before he begins the floor debate.
"You have to at some point say that you move forward with the bill the way it is now, and when there is a new bill, you do another analysis, and Senator Reid has given his word to the Republicans and to us that that is what he will do," she said.
But EPA already agreed last week to a similar request for a complete model of the climate bill before it reaches the floor (E&ENews PM, Oct. 30). Agency spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara on Friday said the agency had consented to Kerry's request for EPA "to conduct a full economic modeling of the bill that will be voted on by the full Senate."
The Republicans' boycott came under fire from several other Democrats on the Senate EPW Committee.
"We have a practice in the world's greatest deliberative body of disagreeing without being disagreeable," said Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who earlier this year switched parties to caucus with the Democrats. "But you can't disagree with an empty chair."
Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse said he doubted the sincerity of the Republicans' boycott, given the fluid nature of the legislative process, in the course of which many more changes would be made to the climate bill.
"It's very hard to believe this argument could be made both knowingly and in good faith," Whitehouse said. Boxer said that fulfilling the GOP request for a full set of modeling now would cost $140,000, which she said would be a waste of taxpayer money, given that EPA has already agreed to do the studies before the floor debate.
The partisan standoff is expected to continue later today when EPA officials attend a 2:30 p.m. EST question-and-answer session in the EPW Committee to discuss their modeling work on the House and Senate proposals. But Voinovich told reporters he has no plans to be there, and the same goes for other GOP committee members.
"We're waiting for the analysis, not more briefings," said Matt Dempsey, a spokesman for the EPW Committee's Republicans.
When the legislative debate does begin, several Democrats are expected to offer a range of amendments to modify the underlying bill.
Sen. Max Baucus of Montana wants to lower the bill's 2020 emission limits from 20 percent to 17 percent. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said she would offer an amendment that spells out the minimum thresholds for industries requiring to report their greenhouse gas emissions, as well as a clarification on the definition of renewable biomass.
And Delaware's Tom Carper said he would join Klobuchar in offering long-sought language that would set new limits on conventional air pollutants from power plants, including mercury, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.
Carper's proposal comes after a federal appeals court last year tossed out two Bush-era rules aimed at combating power plant emissions. In 2008, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia tossed out the Clean Air Mercury Rule, a cap-and-trade program to limit mercury emissions, and the Clean Air Interstate Rule, or CAIR, aimed at cutting SOx and NOx in the eastern United States. The court temporarily reinstated CAIR in December, giving the agency time to craft a replacement.
The Carper-Klobuchar amendment would codify the CAIR program until 2012 and then impose even stricter limits than the Bush-era program.
The amendment would also require EPA to issue a power plant mercury standard that would achieve at least a 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions. EPA is under a court deadline to finalize strict mercury limits for power plants by November 2011.
Click here to read the Carper-Klobuchar amendment.
Reporter Robin Bravender contributed.