HELENA - Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., was the only Democrat Thursday to vote against a climate-change bill that Democrats rammed through a Senate committee - but he said he still supports the effort to limit greenhouse gases causing global warming and pass a bill.
"I am committed to passing meaningful, balanced climate-change legislation - legislation that will protect our land and those whose livelihood depends on it," he said in a statement before his vote.
Montana spokesmen for a pair of mainstream conservation groups also said Thursday they believe Baucus wants to get a meaningful bill passed, and don't find his vote troubling.
"Groups that have been working on the bill understand that today's vote was just a step in the process, and we know that Sen. Baucus is working hard to pass strong climate-change legislation in the Senate," said Tom France of Missoula, regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation.
"I understand that it was important for (Baucus) to address some of the issues he wanted to address in the bill," said Chuck Magraw, a Helena attorney representing the Natural Resource Defense Council.
Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 11-1 on Thursday to approve the bill, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., sending it to the Senate floor.
Republicans on the panel boycotted the vote, saying they wanted more time to fully examine the bill's impact and cost.
Boxer already had delayed the vote for several days and said the Republican demands for more analysis were "duplicative and a waste of taxpayer dollars."
While the bill advances to the full Senate, supporters acknowledged that it will need 60 votes to break an expected Republican filibuster and said Thursday's vote is one step in what's expected to be a long, contentious road for the bill, which is one of the Obama administration's top priorities.
The measure would limit emissions that cause global warming, like carbon dioxide.
It also creates a system to limit emissions known as "cap and trade," allowing polluters to exceed emission caps if they buy enough credits from nonpolluting industries or sources that take actions to reduce emissions.
While Democrats moved the bill forward, the Republican boycott prevented the committee from taking up any amendments.
Baucus said he believes the current bill's goal of reducing global warming gases 20 percent by 2020 may be too ambitious, and wanted to amend it to 17 percent, with a trigger to go to 20 percent if other countries adopt similar measures.
"While I am voting 'no' on this particular bill, let me be crystal clear," he said. "As a member of the (Environment) and Agriculture committees, and most importantly as a Montanan who wants our children and grandchildren to be able to enjoy the outdoors the way we can today, I'm going to work to get climate-change legislation that can get 60 votes, get through the U.S. Senate and signed into law."
Baucus also mentioned that he sees the effect of global warming in Montana, such as forests being ravaged by pine-beetle infestation, sustained drought and increased wildfires.
Montana's other U.S. senator, Democrat Jon Tester, said he has concerns about the bill, too, such as trading energy "credits" under the cap-and-trade system like commodities.
"I have real problems with putting folks on Wall Street in charge of our energy security, given their record over the past few years," he said in a statement. "I want a plan that protects and creates jobs across Montana and rural America and strengthens our national and economic security by harnessing the potential of clean, homegrown energy."