WASHINGTON – In a move that stoked optimism for global climate negotiations but raised tempers on Capitol Hill, Democrats on a key Senate committee swept aside a Republican boycott on Thursday to pass a far-reaching plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
The 11-1 vote came after the Democrats, led by Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., invoked a procedural rule to take a vote even though no Republicans had appeared for the meeting. Republican senators have stayed away from the committee’s hearings on the bill all week, calling for a more detailed government analysis of the bill’s costs before any vote took place.
The decision to override those concerns and proceed with the vote rippled through Washington and the international community, which is gearing up for climate treaty negotiations in Copenhagen next month.
Environmental groups praised the move, saying it gave the United States a much-needed dose of credibility entering the talks.
Oxfam America said the vote “keeps the United States in the game for Copenhagen.”
The Union of Concerned Scientists said “this is yet more evidence that the United States has the political will to reduce emissions and work with the rest of the world.”
In a statement, Boxer called the vote “in full accordance” with Senate rules. She blasted the GOP tactics and stressed the urgency of fighting global warming. “We are pleased that, despite the Republican boycott, we have been able to move the bill,” she said.
But Republicans and some industry groups ripped the move.
American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard said the climate bill the committee approved “could destroy millions of American jobs and drive up fuel prices, punishing everyone who drives, flies, or takes a bus or train. The only bipartisanship evident today was opposition to this approach.” Still, it was unclear how the vote will affect the climate bill, which would set a declining limit on heat-trapping gas emissions from major sources such as factories and power plants.
The bill would cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels by compelling industries releasing carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming to buy a dwindling number of pollution credits over time.
Proponents say the bill would spur “clean energy” job-growth in sectors such as wind and solar power, but critics say it would impose huge new energy costs on consumers. A version of the bill narrowly passed the House during the summer.
Several Senate Democrats have expressed reservations about the bill, particularly its potential to raise costs for farmers and coal consumers. A handful of moderate Republicans, though, have suggested they could back the measure if properly crafted – for example, to include new incentives for offshore drilling and nuclear power.
Boxer’s decision to approve the bill without Republicans present could upset moderates from both parties.