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Politics

All-night talk on climate in Senate

Joe Mendelson, the majority chief climate counsel with the Senate Committee on Environment, right, and other Senate staffers, wait outside the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington as Democratic senators finished an all-night session.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Joe Mendelson, the majority chief climate counsel with the Senate Committee on Environment, right, and other Senate staffers, wait outside the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington as Democratic senators finished an all-night session.

WASHINGTON — Democratic senators clocked an all-nighter, working in shifts into Tuesday morning to warn of devastation from climate change and the danger of inaction.

Addressing a nearly empty chamber and visitor gallery, more than two dozen speakers agreed with one another about the need to act on climate change. Naysayers — Republicans — largely stayed away, arguing hours earlier that regulation would cost Americans jobs in a sluggish economy.

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The talk-a-thon ended at 8:55 a.m., almost 15 hours after it began. It was the 35th all-night session since 1915, according to the Senate.

Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, who flew aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1986, said when he looked out at the rim of the earth, ‘‘you could see what sustains all of life, the atmosphere. I became more than an environmentalist. I saw in its entirety how fragile this ecosystem is.’’

Nelson closed out the talk.

‘‘We can translate climate destruction into a positive,’’ insisted Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who spoke about fuel cells built in Danbury and other Connecticut cities. He called climate change ‘‘implacable, relentless, and only we can stop it.’’

Hawaii’s Brian Schatz said, ‘‘Climate change is real, it is caused by humans, and it is solvable.’’

Republicans challenged Democrats to bring legislation to the floor to address the problem -- secure in the knowledge they will not.

‘‘Bring up the carbon tax bill. Put it on the agenda. Let’s debate it,’’ said Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. He noted that Democrats failed to pass similar legislation in 2009-2010, when they controlled the 60 Senate seats necessary to overcome any Republican blocking tactics.

In Schatz’s view, the debate, such as it was, showed that a growing number of senators are committed to working together on climate change, even if no Republicans were among them. ‘‘This is where intractable, longstanding issues get solved,’’ he said of the Senate.

Despite that bravado, Democratic leaders made it clear they have no plans to bring a climate bill to the Senate floor this year.

Indeed, the issue is so politically charged that a host of Democrats who face tough reelection fights in the fall opted to skip the session.

Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska, and Kay Hagan of North Carolina were among Democrats who stayed away.

Senator James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, said Democrats who showed up were not convincing anyone with their tactic.

‘‘They’ll have an audience of themselves, so I hope they enjoy it,’’ Inhofe said about an hour into the marathon, planned to last for nearly 15 hours. Inhofe’s speech marked the only time Republicans engaged in the debate.

McConnell suggested the Democrats’ motivation was campaign money — Tom Steyer’s money.

‘‘It’s cruel to tell struggling coal families that they can’t have a job because some billionaire from San Francisco disagrees with their line of work,’’ McConnell said.

He was referring to Steyer, a former hedge-fund manager and environmentalist who says he will spend $100 million — $50 million of his own money and $50 million from other donors — to make climate change a top-tier issue in the 2014 elections.

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