Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., back to camera, presides over the committee’s vote on a climate bill. Senate Democrats sidestepped a Republican boycott, empty seats at right. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
Senate Democrats moved the climate change bill out of the Environment and Public Works Committee, despite a boycott of committee meetings by the panel’s Republican members.
But there are at least six committees with possible jurisdiction, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised to do a full analysis of the bill … so it’s not clear exactly what is going to happen next.
Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., have formed their own group to work with business groups and the White House to try to develop a bill that could get the 60 votes needed to assure Senate passage.
It will be interesting to see what steps coal-state lawmakers take next in their quest to keep adding more sweeteners for the coal industry. On that issue, a Coal Tattoo reader kindly pointed out this piece from Politico, Critics warn to Boxer’s climate role, which includes some interesting discussion of coal’s role in the climate legislation debate:
Boxer’s decision to help fund clean coal technologies and set emissions cuts at 20 percent kick-starts the Senate climate change debate in earnest, as the committee begins a series of hearings Tuesday on her legislation.
But Boxer’s path to cutting a deal on coal regulations has been rocky.
Moderates have said they cannot support the bill unless it includes significant funding for largely new coal technologies. But liberals remain skeptical about the feasibility of building lower-emitting coal plants.
Balancing those concerns was a top priority for Boxer, who realized to pass the Senate the climate bill would need significant buy-in from coal state members.
“We view this as a regional issue more than a moderate-vs.-progressive issue,” Boxer said.
In April, she tasked Carper with assembling a group of coal state Democrats to work out a list of requests. So senior Democratic senators such as Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Max Baucus of Montana, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and others from coal states spent six months drafting a list of provisions to help the industry transition to a lower-carbon economy.
The coal members brought their recommendations to Boxer’s staff in August. But her staff rejected their language, saying that their request would be a nonstarter for the more liberal Democrats on the committee.
Coal state staffers then spent another month in daily negotiations with industry and environmentalist groups, making what they felt were dramatic concessions, according to moderate aides.
When Boxer still refused to attach their language to her bill in mid-September, they publicized a letter listing their disagreements.
“We believe our nation needs all sources of energy — including coal — to meet our future demands,” the group wrote. “Widespread, commercial-scale deployment of carbon capture and sequestration technology for coal will be critical if we are to meet our national and global climate goals.”
Liberal members of the committee were at odds with the coal state proposals, saying they needed greater environmental safeguards and accountability measures.
“The initial strategy of the coal states was to produce funding up front that would not necessary have to be spent on carbon capture technology, so that was not acceptable,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
But Boxer made clear that coal interests would be included in the bill, a fact some of the more liberal members of the committee will readily acknowledge.
“There are folks who would say, ‘Well, let’s just shut down coal-powered plants.’ That is not going to happen,” said Merkley. “You are not going to have 60 votes in the Senate to shut down coal.”
On Sept. 26, just four days before Boxer’s initial legislation was released publicly, the coal deal was stripped out of the bill, according to aides to moderate members.
Committee members received final copies of legislation just hours before it was unveiled at a high-profile news conference, timing that irritated some moderate offices.
The negotiations hit yet another snag less than a week later, when the departure of top committee staffer Joe Goffman caused some moderate aides to question Boxer’s leadership. Goffman, who, as legislative director to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), helped usher a climate bill through the Senate last year, is well-respected by moderate members for his expertise on environmental legislation.
As this infighting unfolded behind the scenes, Boxer turned to Kerry for public support.
She allowed Kerry to be the lead sponsor of the bill, and he drew Graham, a respected conservative, into the fold by co-authoring a New York Times op-ed pushing for a climate bill. Climate supporters heralded the piece as a “game changer” for the bill.
Suddenly, Kerry and Graham were the public faces of a climate change bill, giving it a bipartisan feel.
Boxer and her staff continued to work behind the scenes, and late last Friday, they reached an agreement that satisfied coal state senators by giving them funding for new technology sooner and included protections that some liberal members say are tougher than those in the House bill.
“My goal is to get every single Democrat,” said Boxer. I’m “very optimistic that will happen.”