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Weekly Mulch: Progress for Baucus, Setbacks for Graham

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By Raquel Brown, Media Consortium Blogger

For weeks, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) has opposed climate change legislation. In the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, he openly voiced his doubts and was the only Democrat to refrain from voting for the bill's passage. Now that the bill is in the Finance Committee, which Baucus chairs, many worry that the bill is doomed. However, it looks like Baucus might have outwitted us all.

Aaron Wiener of the Washington Independent reports that Baucus's opening statement at the Finance Hearing on Tuesday was surprisingly favorable. Baucus pledged his commitment to "passing meaningful, balanced climate change legislation" and even preempted economic attacks on the bill.

Jeff McMahon of AlterNet argues that this was the strategy all along: "By appearing to oppose the climate bill, Baucus may be staging its passage." House Democrats implemented a similar strategy for health care reform when they appeared to give up the public option to stifle the opposition's absurd antics. Much like the Senate's climate bill, the public option was prematurely declared dead. Nevertheless, the House still successfully passed a health care bill with a public option--and the climate bill was still able to move past the EPW committee.

"Max Baucus' no vote in the [EPW] Committee establishes Baucus as the bill's credible opposition, the representative of money and industry, especially with Republicans excusing themselves from the process through either the certainty of their opposition or, in the case of a boycott, their literal absence," McMahan writes.

Baucus' strategy helps him effectively gain traction within the Senate and in his home state, where the outdoors and hunting are valued. As the chairman of the Finance Committee, he advocates for economic concerns and a strong climate bill that is likely to pass the Senate.

Meanwhile, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) can't seem to catch a break, as Kate Sheppard notes for Mother Jones. The Republican Party of Charleston County, S.C. unanimously voted to censure Graham for working with Democrats on a climate bill. Charleston Country Chairwoman Lin Bennett argues that Graham has "weakened the Republican brand" and that "his work on climate legislation is the last straw." In addition, the American Energy Alliance, a shady industry group that benefits from blocking clean energy, has reportedly spent $300,000 on advertisements to rebuke Graham for his support on climate legislation.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly argues that Graham's censure is particularly ridiculous because Graham has one of the most conservative voting records. According to VoteView analysis, Graham is currently the 18th most conservative member of Congress. Evidently, that is still not enough for South Carolina Republicans.

"One of the other angles I find interesting is that, for the better part of the year, the small and discredited Republican minority has insisted that they'd like to see "bipartisan" lawmaking," writes Benen. "And yet, when Lindsey Graham tries to work with Dems on one issue, and gets much of what he wants in concessions, he's immediately slammed -- formally -- by Republicans in his own state."

It is clear that South Carolina Republicans have no tolerance for politicians that stray from the hard party line of "freedom, rule of law and fiscal conservatism." But Salon's Andrew Leonard notes that Graham's censure is hardly surprising, considering the state's history of succession: "South Carolina Republicans are sui generis: Whether it's Sen. Jim "healthcare will be Obama's Waterloo" DeMint or Rep. Joe "You Lie!" Wilson or Gov. Mark "no stimulus for me" Sanford, they rarely disappoint. One would expect no less from the first state to secede from the United States after Lincoln's election and the first state where shots were fired in the Civil War."

Finally, the Applied Research Center (ARC) is working to ensure that women and people of color will also reap the benefits of a green economy. Michelle Chen notes for Air America that ARC has created a Green Equity Toolkit to help marginalized communities hold employers accountable for just working conditions and equal access to green jobs.

"Considering how difficult it's been to get big business on board for meaningful carbon-emissions regulation, Congress might want to bank on some of the enthusiasm springing up from communities that are starting to see the link between their economic and environmental futures," Chen writes.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.