Boxer Gearing Up Senate for Climate Action

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Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) took the first steps toward Senate action on climate legislation today by announcing a list of principles and vowing to get a cap-and-trade bill through her Environment and Public Works Committee by the end of the year.

It could be weeks, not months. … We know that we have to act, and we intend to act.

That prompted Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Senate’s climate skeptic-in-chief, to issue this statement that read like an invitation to a fight:

Congressional cap-and-trade bills, often touted as an ‘insurance policy’ against global warming, would instead be nothing more than all economic pain for no climate gain. We look forward to debating these tough issues in the Committee this year.

Boxer’s news conference was short on details about the future climate legislation. She promised that “Science will guide us. Period.” A carbon tax is out. Cap-and-trade is in. Asked which low-emissions energy sources would benefit from the legislation, Boxer gave a clear nod to nuclear as one, noting that some of the environment committee’s members “are extremely pro-nuclear.”

Instead, Boxer outlined the basic principles that will guide the development of a climate bill:

  • Reduce emissions to levels guided by science
  • Set short and long-term emissions targets that are certain and enforceable, with periodic reviews
  • Ensure state and local entities continue their efforts to address climate change
  • Establish a transparent market-based system to reduce carbon emissions
  • Use revenue from the carbon market to: keep consumers whole as the nation transitions to clean energy; invest in clean energy technology and energy efficiency; help states and localities address climate change impacts; help workers and businesses transition to a clean energy economy; support wildlife and ecosystem conservation; work with the international community to help developing nations respond and adapt to climate change
  • Ensure a level global playing field by providing incentives for emissions reductions and effective deterrents so all countries contribute their fair share to combat global warming


Some of Boxer’s comments after she read the principles sent mixed messages, though.

Joe Romm of Climate Progress heard her deliver a death knell to climate change legislation winning approval before the U.N. summit in Copenhagen this December. Boxer spoke of getting strong bi-partisan support, and when asked if she was coordinating legislation with House Energy and Environment Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, who has promised to get his own climate protection bill to the House floor by June, she replied: "We’re going to write our own bill, and he’s going to write his own bill. We’ll see where it goes. As far as coordinating and having exact legislation, we haven’t decided." Romm’s take:

Her remarks contained the real news — no chance of climate legislation be enacted into law this year.

Jeremy Symons of the National Wildlife Federation provided a different interpretation of Boxer’s intent.

Senator Boxer stated clearly that she’s ready to go in 2009. I personally do not believe she’ll wait until the end of the year to move legislation. She just did not want to be pinned down to a date and was showing typical respect for the Senate majority leader who decides when a bill moves on the floor.

Obama has been in office all of two weeks. We can certainly expect there to be good cooperation between the administration, the Senate committee and the House Committee. I’m not terribly concerned. Things are moving in the right direction. 

Based on Boxer’s description, the Senate bill that eventually emerges will be similar to the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2008 that died in the Senate last summer, only more vague. Lieberman-Warner failed because it was “weighted down with details,” Boxer said.

A lot of what was in that bill will be in this one, but in a different form. It will be a more streamlined approach. We want to get a bill out there that is straightforward, that doesn’t have too much weight that it sinks. I want to get a bill that every member has a stake in. We will have bi-partisan support.

Boxer also indicated that the legislation would rely on the EPA to do the heavy lifting. With the new Obama administration, she pointed out:

We now have an EPA – an Environmental Protection Agency rather than Environment Polluting Agency. This is a whole other world for us in terms of writing this bill.

None of the committee’s Republican members joined the news conference. Senate EPW committee member Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) stressed the importance of having legislation at least moving through Congress by the Copenhagen summit: “We don’t want to show up there with no idea where the country is headed.”