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Cloudy Future For 'Clear Skies'

In an embarrassing defeat for President Bush, the Republican-majority Senate Environment Committee on Wednesday rejected the president's "Clear Skies" bill on a tie vote. It doesn't quite bury the measure, but the grave is dug, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob Fuss.

Touted as a major environmental initiative by Mr. Bush, critics complained it would actually undercut the Clean Air Act by giving polluters more time to continue their emissions.

Democrats and some Republicans also complained it would do nothing to combat global warming.

The 9-9 vote was expected and fell largely along party lines. It followed weeks of negotiation among deadlocked members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

A White House official described the Senate panel vote as "unfortunate and mystifying" reports CBS News Correspondent Peter Maer. The vote doesn't preclude Republican leaders from bringing the bill to the full Senate for action. But it also arms opponents with several parliamentary tactics that they can use to defeat it on the Senate floor.

The panel's chairman, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., blamed the bill's defeat on environmentalists pushing to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

"This bill has been killed by the environmental extremists who care more about continuing the litigation-friendly status quo and making a political statement on CO2 than they do about reducing air pollution," Inhofe said.

Siding with seven Democrats against the bill were Sens. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., and James Jeffords, I-Vt., who complained it would weaken the 1970 Clean Air Act, last amended in 1990. They also wanted limits put on carbon dioxide, the "greenhouse" gas scientists blame for global warming, which Mr. Bush opposes regulating.

"It's a shame that the U.S. Congress is the last bastion of denial on climate change," Chafee said.

Mr. Bush proposed amending the law to reduce nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury in the air by letting smokestack industries trade pollution rights among themselves, within overall caps set by the government.

Inhofe had shortened by two years the 2018 deadline Mr. Bush would have set for reducing the three pollutants by 70 percent, and added $650 million to subsidize utilities for installing carbon-control equipment.

That still couldn't sway coal-state votes like those of Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, which has the largest coal reserves in the country. He suggested starting from scratch for another compromise later this year, since "sometimes things have to be torn apart before they can be put back together again."

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., said the bill was needed because "it's a sin to burn natural gas. We might want to consider a sin tax on those utilities that burn natural gas."

Among the most impassioned about the defeat were Sens. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Thomas Carper, D-Del., who led most of the committee's negotiations.

Voinovich said that that bill was about nothing less than keeping coal — "our most abundant and cheapest energy source — part of our energy future." But Carper said the bill's opponents had been stonewalled by the White House and EPA when requesting more information about it. "That's got to end," he said, raising his voice.

To refute such charges, Inhofe had arranged six cardboard boxes piled high before him with what he said were 10,000 pages of paper – a spectacle that Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., called "that mini-Superfund site in front of your desk."

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