Global Warming Will be Boxer's #1 Priority as Chairwoman - California Could be Model for National Legislation
Sen. Barbara Boxer, the soon-to-be chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said Tuesday she will ask Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and two Democratic state lawmakers to testify about why Congress should pass federal legislation modeled on California's landmark law to combat global warming.
"We will invite them to come and tell America that this can be done," Boxer said, noting that with the governor she'll invite Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, who wrote the measure passed last year requiring all California businesses to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases.
Boxer's remarks came as she previewed her agenda for when she takes the gavel of the committee from Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who has called global warming a hoax and has fought against any federal limits on carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.
Boxer said legislation on climate change will be her No. 1 priority as committee chairwoman. She plans to conduct hearings early next year with scientists, environmentalists and religious leaders who want to address climate change. She also will ask business leaders to testify about their efforts to limit greenhouse gases.
The California Democrat blasted the Bush administration and the GOP Congress for failing to address global warming, citing a new report by Germanwatch, a German environmental group, which found that among 56 industrialized nations, the United States ranked third-worst in dealing with climate change. China and Saudi Arabia were rated worse.
"It's actually worse than dismal, it's disastrous," said Boxer, who said she has been taking calls from officials in other countries asking if the new Democratic Congress will take action to combat greenhouse gases.
"The answer is, we are," she said. "If America is to be a leader in the world, we must act. We cannot expect others to act if we don't."
Boxer will face many obstacles in passing a climate-change bill. The Republican president opposes mandatory caps on greenhouse gases, and could veto a bill he dislikes. And Boxer's counterpart in the House -- Democratic Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, the soon-to-be chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee -- hails from an auto-producing state and has fought against tough federal limits on vehicle emissions.
Boxer said she thinks the change may come incrementally in Congress, as lawmakers react to the public's growing concerns about global warming. "Will I get everything I want? I doubt it," she said.
Boxer also pledged a "sea change" in how her committee deals with virtually every other environmental issue. She said that after global warming legislation, top issues would be to focus on the effects of toxics on humans by holding hearings on chemicals used in toys and other consumer products, and the spread of perchlorate into drinking-water supplies.
She also plans to challenge the administration on the Superfund program, calling for a return of the "polluter pays" system in which oil companies, chemical plants and other businesses have to pay fees to clean up toxic sites. Bush has opposed the fees, considering them a tax on industry, but as a result, taxpayers have shouldered a larger burden in cleaning up polluted sites.
Boxer pledged to take a closer look at the administration's controversial New Source Review policy, an attempt to allow thousands of industrial plants to make improvements without adding new pollution-control equipment. She said she'll use her committee's oversight power to try to block the White House's effort to weaken or roll back environmental protections.
"I think the way you stop these rollbacks is you shine a light on them," she said.
In an unusual move, she also made a plea to employees of the Environmental Protection Agency to contact her with their concerns, saying that many government scientists have found their opinions overruled by political appointees at the top of the agency, including in the recent decision on new standards for particulate matter.
Boxer's first major hire at the committee also gives an indication of which way the committee is headed: She picked Erik Olson, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that has battled the Bush administration, as her deputy staff director and general counsel.
Boxer's takeover could prompt whiplash for observers who have been watching the Environment and Public Works Committee in recent years. Inhofe has backed the White House's efforts to ease rules on industry and used the panel's hearings to raise questions about whether human beings are causing climate change. His final hearing scheduled today will examine whether the media has been overly alarmist in warning of the effects of climate change.
Boxer, who professes a friendship with Inhofe, called the hearing a waste of time, but pledged to attend anyway to ask hard questions of witnesses.