At Senate Climate Hearings, Lots of Transport Talk and All Eyes on Baucus

Yesterday, the Senate environment committee held the first in a three-part marathon of hearings on its climate change legislation,
with supporters singling out the bill’s investments in clean
transportation even as one senior Democrat notably withheld his support
from the measure.

max_baucus.highres.jpgSenate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) (Photo: Baucus 08)

The
Senate climate bill calls for a 20 percent reduction in U.S. emissions
by 2020, relative to 2005 levels. The legislation also sets aside
nearly three times as much money for transit, inter-city rail, and
other cleaner-burning transport than a similar bill passed by the House in June.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), a sponsor of the effort
to focus more climate revenue on transportation, credited environment
committee chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) with doing more for transit
than her House counterparts.

"It will make a huge difference
on the infrastructure we need to conserve energy," Cardin said of the
Senate climate bill. "We do subsidize the passenger car more than we do
public transportation in this country. We need to change that."

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also hailed the bill’s dedication of valuable emissions allowances
to rail, while reminding senators that the economic stimulus law’s $8
billion high-speed rail fund would represent only the tip of the
iceberg for America’s under-performing passenger trains.

"We
know [rail] is cleaner-burning," LaHood said, "and we know that when
someone’s on the train, they’re out of their automobile. The benefits
will be enormous in terms of getting CO2 out of the air."

But
amid the hosannas for the climate bill’s transportation provisions were
signals of the rough political journey that faces the Senate
legislation.

Republicans on the environment panel reiterated their vow
to delay a committee vote on the climate bill, which was co-authored by
Boxer and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), until they are satisfied with the
amount of time given to examine the plan and for analysis to be done by
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). All GOP members of the
committee left today’s hearing before the four Obama administration
witnesses had finished taking questions, further underscoring the
partisan tension.

And Republicans were not alone in their
criticism of the climate bill. Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the
powerful Finance Committee that plans to claim jurisdiction over
emissions allowances — including those for transit — said he would
pursue a softening of the bill’s emissions reductions targets (which
are already softer than international goals) and a preemption of the EPA’s ability to regulate CO2. Baucus said:

I have
some concerns about the overall direction of the bill before us today,
and whether it will lead us closer to or further away from passing
climate change legislation. For example, I have serious reservations
with the depth of the mid-term reduction target in the bill and the
lack of preemption of the Clean Air Act’s authority to regulate
greenhouse gas emissions.

The "preemption" language Baucus refers to was included in the House
bill, opening the door for Baucus and other Senate Democratic centrists
to insist on its inclusion as one price of passing the overall measure.

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