Enviros burning over Baucus clean power vote 

Opposition by U.S. Senator Max Baucus (D–Mont.) to a bill that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions has riled some Montana environmentalists and provoked charges of election year pandering. But Baucus counters that his vote reflects a long-held stance on balancing environmental protection with economic concerns.

The Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee narrowly passed the Clean Power Act last Thursday by a 10–9 margin. The bill, authored by Sen. Jim Jeffords (I–Vt.), is also known as the “Four Pollutants” bill because it mandates that the utility industry reduce emissions of four particular greenhouse gasses: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, and carbon dioxide. Opponents argue that the bill would drive up utility costs, while supporters say it’s a necessary strike against global warming. In the end, the bill moved out of committee on a 10–9 vote.

“The bill that narrowly passed out of committee today is a political measure, has no chance of passing in the Senate and would hurt Montana and the West,” Baucus said in a press statement. “That’s why I want to work together to pass a common-sense bill that will keep our air clean and reduce air pollution, won’t hurt Montana and its jobs, and won’t raise electric rates for consumers and businesses.”

President Bush has proposed a clean air initiative that addresses some of the same pollutants but does not include curbs on carbon dioxide. Baucus believes the Bush measure is inadequate, but he thinks the Jeffords bill is not “workable” and that it “deals too harshly” with Montana.

Montana environmental advocacy groups like the Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) and the Montana Public Interest Research Group immediately criticized Baucus’ stance.

“We’re really disappointed in Sen. Baucus,” says Patrick Judge, MEIC’s energy policy director. “He seems to be wedded to the technologies of the past and unwilling to chart that new course. We think anticipating the future is a much more prosperous road than being stuck in the past.”

Baucus, who chairs the Finance Committee in the Senate where Democrats have a one-vote majority, is running for reelection this year against State Sen. Mike Taylor (R–Proctor). Judge suggests that the race played into Baucus’ vote on the Clean Power Act.

“He’s trying desperately to convince people he has some Republican sympathies,” Judge says. “But abandoning his base and his principles is not a basis for political success.”

Such criticisms are “just hot air,” charges Bill Lombardi, Baucus’ communications director. “Max has a strong record of keeping our air clean and working for clean air.”

Lombardi cites the work Baucus did in 1990 to pass amendments to the Clean Air Act that included “innovative market-based solutions” to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants.

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