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Weekly Mulch: The Grown Ups are Back in Charge

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By Raquel Brown, Media Consortium Blogger

Senate Democrats in the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) finally squelched Republican boycotts and passed a version of the climate bill yesterday morning. Last week, Republican Senators refused to show up to committee hearings in an attempt to stall the bill. Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo notes that EPW has now set "the stage for other panels to amend the legislation."

To no one's surprise, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) immediately complained about the legislation on Fox News. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) was the lone Democrat that did not vote, which Inhofe interpreted as a sign that the bill is "dead."

Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) was much more upbeat and argued that the Republican boycott actually marred their credibility. "The absence of the Republicans during the Environmental Protection Agency's presentation was a clear message that their criticism of the EPA analysis was not a substantive one," Boxer said. "We are pleased that despite the Republican boycott, we have been able to move the bill."

Inhofe also condemned Boxer for passing the bill through the committee unconventionally. Aaron Wiener writes for The Washington Independent that "Without a quorum that included at least two Republicans, the committee was unable to open formal debate on amendments to the bill. But passage requires just a simple majority, and Chairman Boxer and the Democratic leadership chose to forgo amendments in order to move the legislation quickly, given that the end of the GOP boycott was nowhere in sight." Luckily, now that the bill is moving on to other committees, Inhofe and his Republican EPW colleagues will no longer have much of a say on the bill's final outcome.

With Copenhagen just a month away, Kate Sheppard argues for Mother Jones that the odds of passing a viable climate bill before the climate summit are very grim. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will run a series of studies after each committee's climate and energy bills are combined into a single piece of legislation. Even though the bill passed through the EPW committee, other committees, such as the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Finance Committee, and Agriculture Committee, need to weigh in before the bill is reviewed by the EPA and sent for a vote in the full Senate. How will this affect climate talks in Copenhagen? Sheppard writes that, "Without the urgency imposed by the Copenhagen deadline, any little momentum that the climate bill had could disappear very fast."

While this news is discouraging, Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly points out that, "It's worth remembering that it wasn't too terribly long ago that reports said the same thing about health care reform. Legislative battles can often take some unpredictable twists and turns." This is certainly true, but in order for the legislation to pass, more Republicans will have to get on board. Democrats are trying to gain Republican support for a bipartisan bill by pledging to meet them halfway.

"For several GOP lawmakers, the key on energy policy is building new nuclear power plants. So, Dems are willing to make a deal -- they'll back approval for expedited construction of U.S. nuclear reactors in exchange for support for the rest of the bill," Benen writes.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC.) showed that some Republicans are capable of exerting leadership. In a press conference with Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Graham criticized Republicans' childish behavior toward climate change legislation. He asked, "If you can't participate in solving the problem, then why are you up here?"

David Roberts writes for Grist that the three senators pledged to work with the White House to rescue the climate bill. The senators' plan is not meant to undermine Sen. Boxer's efforts but to strengthen the bill overall through a "dual track."

"By stepping in, Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman are letting the political establishment know that the Very Serious grown-ups are back in charge. (It's pretty telling that Kerry feels the need to craft another bill alongside the one with his name on it.) They will go to the White House, close the door, and hash out what kind of bill can really pass," writes Roberts.

The road ahead won't be easy. Congress' inability to pass climate change legislation could ruin any chance of success in Copenhagen. In weeks to come, the bill will move on to other Senate committees and the world will be watching. Stay tuned.

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.