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Senate panel approves climate change bill despite GOP boycott

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, says Republican statements on the climate change bill are "flat-out wrong."
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, says Republican statements on the climate change bill are "flat-out wrong."
  • Democrats on Senate committee vote to send climate change bill to full chamber
  • Republican members boycott hearings, demand full EPA analysis
  • Panel chairwoman says she set up EPA briefing but Republicans skipped that too
  • Bill would cap greenhouse gas emissions; House has passed similar measure

Washington (CNN) -- A Senate committee Thursday approved a major climate change bill despite a boycott by all of the panel's seven Republican members.

Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 10-1 to send the measure to the full chamber.

Because of the Republican boycott of the committee hearing that began Tuesday, the panel was unable to amend the bill. Committee rules require at least two minority party members to be present to conduct regular business, including amending bills. However, an exception allowed the committee to vote on the overall bill as long as a majority of its members were present.

The committee's Republicans were demanding a full Environmental Protection Agency analysis of the bill's economic impact before committee debate. Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the panel's ranking Republican and an outspoken opponent of the climate change legislation, warned that Democrats would imperil future work by the committee if they passed the bill on their own.

An EPA analysis would take several weeks, and Democrats considered the Republican demand a stall tactic.

Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, the committee chairwoman, noted the panel has held dozens of hearings on the issue and compiled more than 300,000 pages of analysis, and that she had taken the unprecedented step of scheduling a session with EPA experts to answer any questions by committee members. However, the Republicans skipped the EPA briefing on Tuesday afternoon.

Boxer also said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has promised the full EPA analysis sought by Republicans on the climate change bill that eventually comes before the entire Senate.

She accused the panel's Republicans of being wrong in their insistence that the existing EPA analysis of the bill was insufficient.

"You can't compromise when somebody says something that's just flat-out wrong," Boxer said Tuesday, the first day of the boycott.

The bill would set a cap on greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, and create a system of tradable pollution credits to ease the economic impact on polluters. The House has passed a similar measure, but the full Senate does not plan to take up the issue until next year.

Leading senators including Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts, Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut announced Wednesday they were spearheading negotiations on a compromise Senate plan that could win enough support to overcome any filibuster attempt. Kerry co-authored the measure passed Thursday by the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Republicans contend the Democratic climate change bill would harm the U.S. economy by raising energy costs and giving other nations a competitive advantage.

Democrats say reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the nation's dependence on fossil fuels such as oil and coal is necessary and strategic, as the world moves toward clean and renewable energy sources.

President Obama and Democratic leaders wanted congressional action on climate change bills before upcoming U.N. climate change talks, to signal an increased U.S. commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.N. talks in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December, are intended to agree on a new global climate change treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. They have been hindered by disputes between industrial powers, including the United States, and emerging and developing economies, including China, over specific targets for emissions reductions.

Since taking office in January, Obama has signaled a new U.S. commitment to working with the international community on climate change, after eight years of Bush administration policies. The United States and China are the world's two largest greenhouse gas emitters, with the U.S. per capita figure by far the world's largest.

In July, Obama joined the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia in pledging to work for a 50 percent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with developed countries cutting their emissions by an aggregate 80 percent or more to help meet that goal.

Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the lone Democrat to vote against the climate change bill at Thursday's committee meeting, said he opposed its interim target of a 20 percent reduction in emissions by 2020. Baucus said he wants to reduce the target to 17 percent to avoid undue economic hardship from the bill.

The House bill passed earlier this year has a 17 percent target for 2020.