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Senate Democrats hold all-night session on climate

March 11, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats took to the floor of the U.S. Senate on Monday for a planned all-night debate about global warming.

At least 28 senators planned to participate in the dusk-to-dawn talkathon, which was led off by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. But several Democrats who face tough re-election fights in the fall will not take part.

Democratic leaders have no plans to bring a climate bill to the Senate floor this year, so the speeches were about little more than theatrics. House Democrats pushed a similar bill through in 2009, then lost their majority the following election.

Republican Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, both possible presidential contenders in 2016, used similar marathon speeches last year — Paul to criticize U.S. drone policy and Cruz to go after the new health care law.

Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat who is one of the organizers, said the all-night session showed that a growing number of senators are committed to working together to confront climate change.

“Climate change is real, it is caused by humans, and it is solvable,” Schatz said.

But Sen. James Inhofe, a Republican who has written a book denouncing global warming as “the greatest hoax,” said Democrats would not convince anyone with their stunt. “They’ll have an audience of themselves, so I hope they enjoy it,” Inhofe said. Indeed, he was one of only a few Republicans who engaged in the debate.

Sen. Barbara Boxer retorted that Democrats had received two separate petitions urging them to act, with a total of about 100,000 signatures.

“The American people are listening,” Boxer said. “They care.” She added that the event should “wake up Congress to the dangers of climate change.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney welcomed the all-night session, saying it would focus attention on the challenges posed by climate change and the impact global warming is having on the environment.

“We commend those who are participating, because it’s a very important subject that the president is concerned about,” Carney said, citing a climate action plan announced by Obama last year. The plan would impose the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants, as well as boost renewable energy production on federal lands and increase energy efficiency standards.

Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said the session was needed to raise the profile of the issue and highlight obstacles to climate legislation, including ads financed by Charles and David Koch, conservative activists who have spent $15 million on Senate races, mostly criticizing Democrats over Obamacare. The Koch brothers, whose interests include oil, chemicals, textiles and paper, have also spent millions on ads critical of action against climate change.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the talkathon amounted to “30 hours of excuses” from senators who think it’s OK that “families are losing work because of government attacks on the coal industry.”

“Well it’s not OK, it’s cruel,” McConnell said. “It’s cruel to tell struggling coal families that they can’t have a job because some billionaire from San Francisco disagrees with their line of work.”

McConnell was referring to Tom Steyer, a former hedge-fund manager and environmentalist who says he will spend $100 million — $50 million of his own money and $50 million from other donors — to make climate change a top-tier issue in the 2014 elections. Steyer spent millions to help pass a California ballot measure to boost spending on energy efficiency programs and help elect Democrats Terry McAuliffe as Virginia governor and Edward Markey as U.S. senator from Massachusetts.

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