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Weekly Mulch: Throwing Tantrums Over Kerry-Boxer

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By Raquel Brown, Media Consortium Blogger

This week the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held three hearings on the Kerry-Boxer clean energy bill and, as David Roberts reports for Grist, Republican Senators had an "adolescent tantrum" about the cost of emission reductions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Energy Information Administration (EIA) and other organizations have extensively debunked this line of debate.

Aaron Wiener agrees that the committee's hearing was a "fairly one-sided debate" in The Washington Independent. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) has already threatened a Republican boycott of the Committee's markup of the Kerry-Boxer bill, which would prevent the quorum needed to do business. And on Tuesday, every Republican cut out early while Democrats discussed energy policy details with members of the Obama administration. Considering that the bill isn't even at the markup stage, we can expect more disruptive antics from the right in weeks to come.

Republicans won't be the only problem. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) voiced his reservations about the bill on Tuesday. That makes his vote unlikely, as Kate Sheppard notes for Mother Jones. Baucus doesn't want the EPA to regulate carbon emissions, and he thinks that the bill's plan to curb emissions by 20% by 2020 is too ambitious.

Does his opinion really matter? Unfortunately, yes. Baucus is a member of Sen. Barbara Boxer's Environment and Public Works committee, which must approve the bill before it is brought before the wider Senate. He is also the chair of the Finance Committee, meaning that he has jurisdiction over how the bill will allocate emissions permits. With a 12-7 democratic majority in the Environment and Public Works committee, legislation could move forward without Baucus, but he could still stall the bill in the Finance Committee.

"In the health care debate, Baucus delayed the bill in the Finance Committee for months, watering it down in an effort to win the support of the panel's Republicans. In the end only one (Olympia Snowe) voted for it. Now, he's apparently proposing a similar process for the climate bill...[and] questions whether the bill as written 'will lead us closer to or further away' from that goal."

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has finally taken an aggressive stance on climate change. In a video featured by The Uptake, President Obama called for a bipartisan effort to pass legislation and a clean energy economy. He also publicly announced that "the naysayers, the folks who would pretend that this is not an issue...are being marginalized." The speech on Friday marked Obama's second address on climate change (the first was at the UN last month) and the first aimed at a domestic audience.

While Obama's speech was definitely important, Nancy Scola of The American Prospect argues that Energy Secretary Steven Chu's trip to Google's headquarters on Monday was even more significant. Chu announced the first round of $150 million in funding under the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) - or the "Department of Energy's experimental program for high risk, high payoff concepts for transformative energy technologies ... which just might help America find innovative solutions to our energy challenges." The ARPA-E was actually created under the Bush administration, but no funds were appropriated to get it up and running. Obama allocated $400 million from the stimulus for the program in hopes of sparking creative solutions to energy problems.

And on Wednesday, Obama unleashed the largest award of stimulus money in a single day--3.4 billion dollars in grants--to improve the national power grid. At a solar energy installation in Florida, Obama explained his hopes to replace our current infrastructure that is expensive and susceptible to outages and blackouts with a more resilient and efficient "smart grid."

Andrew Dunn of Air America notes that "It looks like a win-win for Americans--a better, more efficient power infrastructure along with jobs created to construct and maintain that system." Dunn also featured a clip from the Rachel Maddow Show describing recent efforts to promote alternative energy. Maddow reports that Vice President Biden spoke at an auto plant in Delaware that will now produce electric cars. The new auto plant is expected to create 2,000 factory jobs and over 3,000 vendor and supplier jobs by 2014, in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Congress and the Obama administration are finally stepping up on climate efforts. It's about time. The US is ready to catch up with the rest of the world and address climate change seriously. There will be many obstacles ahead, but by sharpening domestic energy policies that promote a greater reliance on clean energy, we can re-create the nation's economy and show the international community that we are committed to arresting climate change.

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.