In Rush To COP15, Scrappy Senate Hearings On Kerry-Boxer Climate Bill

Today was the last of three days of hearings this week on the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (CEJAPA), introduced by John Kerry (D-Mass) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif) on September 30th. But the seven Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee haven’t been playing fair so far – or playing at all. They’ve tried to hold the process in abeyance by insisting the EPA conduct a five-week economic analysis of the bill. The request seems a little disingenuous, considering that the EPA has already done an analysis, and concluded that CEJAPA’s economics work out pretty much the way the Congress’ ACES’ did, costing consumers about $80 to $110 a year. Even more backhanded, committee Republicans chose to simply not show up to hearings.

From the Washington Independent:

"The committee’s opening hearing on the bill is underway (Webcast here), and it’s a fairly one-sided debate. Right now, the Democrats are discussing the implications of energy policy with members of the Obama administration, while every Republican seat is empty."

Such antics might have been more surprising if Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla) hadn’t already put the possibility of a boycott on the table last week. At least two Republican senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee (chaired by Boxer) must be present in order for the bill to move forward into a work session, and it looks like that may be two too many.

“We’re not being unreasonable,” Inhofe said. “The only leverage we have is the quorum leverage, and if we get stonewalled, we’ll use it.”

Disastrously, Inhofe and his allies don’t seem to have changed their tune or become any more cooperative since Kerry-Boxer hearings began on Tuesday. Reuters reported today that according to Matt Dempsey, a spokesman for Republicans on the committee:

A "boycott is on the table as an option. We're certainly heading in that direction."

The Kerry-Boxer bill is the Senate’s version of Congress’ Waxman-Markey climate bill, and would, if passed in its current form, aim to cut US carbon emissions 20% from 2005 levels by 2020. It would do this in part through a controversial cap and trade system – essentially an economic market around CO2 – which the White House is trying very hard to sell to CEO types this week.

With December’s culminating UN climate talks in Copenhagen (COP15) looming nigh, there’s a huge amount of pressure on the committee from environmental groups at home and abroad to pass some form of the bill in the next month. A bill would enable America to present to the world, in Copenhagen, a more united front and organized stance on climate change, carbon emissions caps, and climate change adaptation assistance to the developing world.

Obama’s been doing his part – bolstering efforts to get some form of Kerry-Boxer passed in time for COP15. On the first day of the Kerry-Boxer hearings, he announced at a solar plant in Florida that federal funding on the order of $3.4 billion will be directed toward the development of a smarter, more energy-efficient power grid. But time is running out. If COP15 is our final exam on climate change, CEJAPA is our term paper. Better hope the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee finds a way to cooperate and get it – some form of it – in on time.

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