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Democratic senators denounce climate opponents

MICHAEL COLEMAN Washington Notebook

Washington Notebook

Sen. Tom Udall joined other Democrats on the Senate floor Monday and Tuesday to denounce a “web of denial” they said is being spun by fossil industry front groups who use money and misleading information to muddy the debate on climate change.

But critics of the senators’ strategy – including the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington and the Rio Grande Foundation in Albuquerque – said it smacked of political intimidation.

In a floor speech, Udall said public opinion campaigns funded by groups such as the Western Fuel Association and the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers “aren’t rooted in truth or science” and that “global warming deniers have refocused their strategies at discrediting scientists and the researchers.”


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“I find this absurd and ominous,” Udall said.

Some conservative groups said the lawmakers’ tactics of targeting specific groups and individuals was overbearing, heavy-handed and strictly partisan.

“For (Sen. Martin) Heinrich, Udall and their colleagues, it’s not about the science; it’s about imposing a political agenda of massively expanded government regulation and increased taxes,” said Paul Gessing of the Rio Grande Foundation, an Albuquerque-based group that advocates for free enterprise and smaller government. “Carbon-free nuclear is unfortunately not among the ‘solutions’ under consideration by the mainstream climate change lobby. They’d rather attack their opponents’ free speech rights instead.”

In a brief interview Tuesday, Udall denied that he and his colleagues were trying to squelch free speech.

“That isn’t what we’re trying to do at all,” Udall said. “What we’re seeing is that a lot of the dark money (anonymous political spending) flowing into the system is creating organizations which have very good-sounding names but very nefarious kinds of agendas. The First Amendment doesn’t protect fraud, not even with big special interests.”

IMMIGRATION BILL: A Republican effort to crack down on illegal border crossings failed narrowly in the Senate last week, with Udall and Sen. Martin Heinrich voting against the legislation.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who ran for president, would have imposed a mandatory five-year sentence on anyone convicted of illegally crossing the U.S. border for a second time. The bill – derided by Udall on Tuesday as an election-year political stunt – failed on a 55-42 procedural vote in the Senate, with all Republicans and three Democrats voting in favor.

The bill, which had been heavily promoted by Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, is named for Kate Steinle, a 32-year-old woman shot in San Francisco last year by a felon released by local officials despite being previously flagged for deportation. Steinle’s death sparked a national debate about violence committed by people who are in the country illegally, as well as the controversial status of “sanctuary cities,” including San Francisco, that don’t coordinate their law enforcement efforts with immigration authorities.


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“It is time to confront the sobering issue of illegal aliens, many of whom have serious criminal backgrounds, but are allowed to re-enter this country with impunity,” Cruz said before last week’s vote.

On Tuesday, Udall contended that Cruz’s bill was an election-year publicity stunt.

“The period we’re in, we get a lot of politically motivated votes, and that’s what this was,” Udall said, while suggesting a more comprehensive approach to immigration reform.

Michael Coleman: