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Boxer Maneuvers around Paralysis by Analysis Gambit

Dan Lashof

Posted November 3, 2009 in Solving Global Warming

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Minority members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) followed through on their threat to boycott the scheduled markup of the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S.1733) today, demanding more analysis of the bill before they are willing to participate. Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) proceeded anyway with opening statements from Committee Democrats, and George Voinovich (R-OH), who tried to make the case for the Minority, presenting a more reasonable face than Jim Inhofe (R-OK) the ranking Republican on the Committee.

Voinovich's arguments fell flat in the face of effective rebuttals by Committee Democrats and a skillful appearance by David McIntosh, EPA's Associated Administrator for Congressional Affairs. McIntosh appeared before the Committee to defend EPA's analysis of S.1733 and answer any questions Senators might have. The Republicans who claimed to have so many questions about EPA's analysis did not bother to show up for this opportunity, suggesting that they weren't really all that interested in getting answers after all.

In fact, the information Republicans say they want is already available and they have not accepted the results of such analyses in the past.

Some key points to keep in mind about this dispute:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delivered a detailed economic assessment of S.1733 last week. EPA's analysis reviewed extensive economic modeling that has already been conducted and provided quantitative estimates of the impact of the material differences between S.1733 and the House-passed bill. EPA concluded that the net effect of these differences is about a 1 percent change in costs. Extensive modeling of multiple climate bill variants has already been done by EPA, as well as the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). These analyses provide a wealth of information on the implications of key policy issues, such as adjusting the 2020 cap, modifying limits on the use of offsets, and increasing the size of the market stability reserve.
  • A revised bill will be brought to the Senate floor. If the minority allowed a normal Committee markup they would offer amendments that had not been subject to economic modeling by EPA. Moreover, the Environment Committee does not have jurisdiction over a renewable electricity standard, building codes and other significant measures that are expected to be included in a comprehensive bill that Majority Leader Reid will assemble and bring to the full Senate following Committee action. Senator Reid has pledged to allow enough time for comprehensive computer modeling of the complete bill. A delay in Committee action to allow for additional computer modeling of the EPW bill would be pointless as opponents would immediately label such analysis as irrelevant for consideration of the complete bill brought to the Senate floor.
  • New computer modeling will not settle the economic debate. Assumptions about the ability to tap cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities, the rate of deployment of low-emission technologies, and the availability of offsets have a far greater impact on projected costs than any differences that might arise between the economic assessment EPA has already provided and the results of new computer runs. Indeed, Senator Voinovich has held up the confirmation of Robert Perciasepe as Deputy EPA Administrator for months because he disputes the assumptions EPA made in performing its analysis of the House bill.

Economic analyses of comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation by EPA, EIA, CBO and independent analysts all show that such legislation will not interfere with robust economic growth. There is no reason to believe that delaying Committee action for additional computer runs would change any votes on the Committee given the extensive analysis that is already available.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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