WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Progress on climate change legislation in the U.S. Senate could be delayed by a group of Republicans who are considering boycotting upcoming committee work sessions, a spokesman for the lawmakers said on Thursday.
A "boycott is on the table as an option," said Matt Dempsey, a spokesman for Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "We're certainly heading in that direction."
The threat came on the final day of hearings by the committee on a Democratic bill to reduce U.S. industry emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 20 percent by 2020, from 2005 levels.
Senator Barbara Boxer, who chairs the committee, could attempt to pass the bill in the environment panel as early as next week with just Democratic votes.
Boxer wants to advance the bill out of her committee promptly to give a boost to an international climate change conference in December in Copenhagen.
But if all seven of the committee's Republicans refused to participate, she would not be able to hold the work session, Dempsey said.
During this week's hearings, Republicans have been pressing for more detailed analysis of the complex legislation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
EPA head Lisa Jackson testified that it could take "four to five weeks to run the full economic modeling" on the bill. Republicans argue they need the detailed information to gauge the economic impact, even though a preliminary analysis by EPA found that it was similar to a House-passed bill, which the agency said would cost consumers about $80 to $111 per year.
Last week, Senator James Inhofe, the senior Republican on the committee, raised the possibility of a boycott to delay approval of the bill.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Inhofe said: "If we all agree that we don't have enough analysis, then certainly we want to give enough time to get adequate analysis."
Republicans argue the U.S. legislation would hurt some regions of the country more than others and would result in job losses and higher consumer prices as industry is forced to use more expensive alternative energy and move away from high-polluting oil and coal. They reject Democratic claims that the climate control bill will create new jobs across the U.S. in alternative energy.
Inhofe also has long challenged claims that global warming is under way and bringing the harmful droughts, flooding and polar ice melting that many scientists blame on burning too many fossil fuels.
A prominent Democrat on Boxer's committee, Senator Max Baucus, this week said he had serious concerns with the bill's 2020 timetable for reducing carbon emissions. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus also could delay full Senate passage of a climate bill.