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Democrats advance hotly contested climate bill

Despite a Republican boycott, Senate Democrats pushed a climate bill through a key committee but the panel chairman said she's willing to amend it to attract Republicans.
Climate Bill
The empty seats at right on Tuesday reflect the Republican boycott of Senate Environment and Public Works Committee sessions this week. Chair Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., seen at left, on Thursday nonetheless secured committee passage with the Democratic majority on the panel.Harry Hamburg / AP
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Senate Democrats on a key committee on Thursday ignored a Republican boycott and pushed a climate bill through by a 11 to 1 vote. But the committee chairman also noted that she's willing to amend the bill to make it more palatable and to get the 60 votes needed to pass the full Senate.

Sen. Barbara Boxer specifically cited the compromise approach floated on Wednesday by  Republican Lindsey Graham, Democrat John Kerry and independent Joseph Lieberman.

"This bill is already being worked on by Senators Kerry, Lieberman, Graham and others," she said in a press release.

Boxer had delayed the crucial vote in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for days because of a Republican protest over whether the cost of the legislation had been fully examined by the Environmental Protection Agency.

"We found, after questioning the EPA extensively, that the Republicans’ demand for another EPA analysis now would be duplicative and a waste of taxpayer dollars," Boxer said.

"The absence of the Republicans during the EPA’s presentation was a clear message that their criticism of the EPA analysis was not a substantive one," she added. "Indeed, the EPA said their economic analysis was 'unprecedented' in scope and was never done for any other energy or climate bill at this stage of the process."

On Thursday, Boxer moved quickly to pass the bill without the help any of the seven GOP senators in the room. No amendments were considered.

The bill calls for cutting greenhouse gases from power plants and factories by 83 percent by 2050.

Democrat Baucus votes no
Of the 11 Democrats present at the vote, only one — Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. — voted against the legislation, saying that concerns he had with the bill were not fully addressed.

Baucus specifically cited the bill's call for a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. He said he would like to see that target lowered to 17 percent, with a trigger to raise it to 20 percent if other countries adopted similar measures.

"I am going work to get climate legislation that can get 60 votes through the U.S. Senate and signed into law," Baucus said.

To move the bill out of committee without Republicans present meant the Democrats could not amend the legislation, and many Democrats on the panel expressed disappointment that they did not have a chance to improve the bill.

"The failure of the Republicans to participate means we cannot offer amendments. This is a very good start, but as the chair has acknowledged it is a start and only a start," said Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa. "It is regrettable that we could not move forward in a more constructive way."

Democrats in Congress, working on a major plank of President Barack Obama's agenda, have been anxious to show at least some progress on enacting a domestic climate change bill before Dec. 7, when nations meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, to work out a new global climate treaty.

Specter said that the vote would send a signal to other countries in advance of that summit.

"It is not the best signal, but it is a signal that the Senate is ready to move forward," he said.