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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Everything EPW Republicans Need to Know They Should Have Learned in Kindergarten

By Yael Borofsky and Jesse Jenkins, originally at the Breakthrough Institute

"Their behavior challenges everything that we're about here. If you don't like it, turn your back and walk out. It's almost like school children over there."
Those were the remarks of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), chastising the Republican members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) who have spent the past two days showboating for the press while boycotting the committee's markup of pending climate and energy legislation.

Sending just one Republican member to monitor the stalled hearings each day, the Republicans are using procedural tricks (rules require at least two members of the minority party present to consider amendments to pending legislation) to block any debate on the Kerry-Boxer climate bill.

The excuse for these schoolyard tactics? Republicans complain that the U.S. EPA has not fully analyzed the Kerry-Boxer climate bill, despite the fact that Agency analysts spent weeks looking at impacts of key differences between the House and Senate climate bills, which are nearly identical in most major components.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the EPW committee, tried to appease any substantive Republican concerns by bringing EPA analysts back to answer questions from the minority members of the committee, but they refused to show up. According to a series of E&E reports (subscription required), both Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) and Sen. James Inhofe's (R-OK) brief appearances over the past two days have merely reinforced the childish Republican demand for an EPA analysis of the bill and their complete unwillingness to cooperate.

While the Breakthrough Institute has leveled it's fair share of criticisms at both the House and Senate climate bills, identifying key weaknesses that must be remedied, the behavior EPW Republicans are demonstrating is reprehensible and detrimental to the functionality of our democracy. Targeted, constructive criticism is one thing, throwing a tantrum to delay productive debate, educated discussion, and ideally, reform, is quite another.

Sen. Lautenberg got it right: like the schoolyard kid who starts losing a ballgame and then storms off in a huff with the ball to deny anyone else the ability to play, the behavior of the EPW Republicans does not befit serious representatives of the American people.

If Republicans are serious about improving the bill, they would forego the blatant stall tactics in favor of submitting well-reasoned amendments to the legislation and then engage in serious debate with their Democratic counterparts. Continuing to boycott, which at this point amounts to a political version of a temper tantrum, is not guaranteed to get the Republicans what they want regardless of whether its actually the EPA data or just further delays. After all, Boxer has intimated more than once that she can and will pass legislation on without any Republican input if need be:
"You have to at some point say that you move forward with the bill the way it is now, and when there is a new bill, you do another analysis, and Senator Reid has given his word to the Republicans and to us that that is what he will do,"
Instead of acting recalcitrant, Republicans should come to the table prepared to suggest proposals to address their major concerns: the cost of a proposed cap and trade system and support for domestic low-carbon energy sources, particularly nuclear energy.

Recent Breakthrough analysis of the Kerry-Boxer bill reveals that the bill would invest far too little, just $1.2 billion, in clean energy technology R&D. This dollar amount is at least an order of magnitude, if not two, less than a growing innovation consensus suggests is critical to spur the necessary innovation to make clean energy cheap. Investing today in R&D means clean and cheap technologies, that can tap homegrown American energy sources, will be ready tomorrow to affordably transition away from imported oil and fossil fuels.

Clean energy R&D is critical to controlling the costs of the cap and trade program. So instead of foot stamping, Republicans who are really serious about controlling the costs of the legislation should be pushing for increased investments in clean energy R&D -- on the order of $15 billion annually -- that will ultimately serve to alleviate the costs of transitioning from current energy sources, to clean ones, including nuclear power.

Furthermore, Republicans could address their concerns about maintaining American jobs by supporting Sen. Sherrod Brown's (D-OH) IMPACT (Investments for Manufacturing Progress and Clean Technology) Act. The bill is designed to aid manufacturers in their efforts to streamline the manufacturing process and increase their production of clean energy technology parts and systems thus supporting the competitiveness of clean energy manufacturing that is being directly challenged by China, in particular.

Finally, Republicans who strongly support nuclear energy should propose greater investments in the commercial-scale demonstration of first-of-their kind clean and low-carbon energy technologies. With $85 billion in loan guarantees and multiple indirect incentives on the table for nuclear power already, the industry is still stalled. At some point, Republicans should embrace the realization that big, direct public investments to build a new generation of nuclear plants is necessary to kick-start the U.S. nuclear industry and compete with nations like France, China, South Korea, India and Japan, who all have a head-start on the nuclear front. A new agency or fund capable of spurring next generation nuclear technologies would also be capable of speeding the deployment of a suite of other clean energy sources that will all be critical to a future economy built on clean, cheap, American energy.

In grade school, young children are taught to "use your words" instead of simply withdrawing when something doesn't go their way. Republicans on the EPW committee could use a refresher course in this simple lesson in productive human interaction. It is important that their behavior not be reinforced lest it be repeated at other committee markups. Republicans should be clearly shown that the only way to have an impact on the committee's deliberations are to come to the table with a plan, prepared to debate a piece of legislation that could affect America's response to climate change, our energy use, and our economic competitiveness for years to come.

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