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Committee Sends Capito’s ARENA Act To Senate Floor After Lively Debate

Cecelia Mason
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Things got heated on Capitol Hill Wednesday when a committee met to debate the ARENA Act -- a bill West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito introduced in May in anticipation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

Capito’s bill is an attempt to scale back the EPA’s new rule. The bill passed through the committee, but not before all the Democrats got up and walked out in protest. 

Debate was passionate on both sides of the aisle as the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works considered amendments to Capito’s bill, the Affordable Reliable Electricity Now Act, also known as the ARENA Act.

Much of the discussion was about the effects of climate change versus the costs associated with implementing the Clean Power Plan.

“This is not an esoteric debate, it’s not a debate about numbers -- it’s a debate about lives. And if you believe our decisions have consequences, please consider all the consequences,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said. She used Hurricane Sandy as an example of how climate change is already affecting her state.

Republican Sen. Roger Wicker from Mississippi argued that science doesn’t support the idea that people are causing climate change.

“Climate has always been changing and will always change because there are influences beyond the control of humans,” he said. “And we might as well accept that there’s some things that Congress can’t do.”

The Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan uses state-specific targets to reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. by 32 percent by 2030, from levels recorded in 2005. States must begin complying with the new regulations by 2022. 

Among other things, Capito’s bill would allow governors to opt out of the Clean Power Plan and requires the EPA to only mandate technology-based power plant upgrades if that technology has been proven to work for at least a year. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is the sole Democrat among the ARENA Act’s 35 co-sponsors.

Every amendment to the bill was voted down along party lines during Wednesday’s committee session.

All the committee’s Democrats walked out in frustration after about
2 hours. But Republicans outnumber Democrats 11 to 9 on the committee and eventually passed the ARENA Act on their own.

The bill now goes to the full Senate, where a filibuster battle awaits.

President Obama will likely veto the ARENA Act if it makes through both houses of Congress.

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