Barbara Boxer.

Barbara Boxer.
Photo: Kevin Parry/ WireImage

Muckraker: Grist on PoliticsEnvironment and Public Works Chair Barbara Boxer held a press conference this afternoon to officially unveil the outline of her substitute amendment to the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act that she began circulating on the Hill last week. Speaking to collected members of the press, the senator stressed the differences between her amendment and the previous version of the bill and said she is hopeful that they will be able to get enough votes for the motion to proceed so that the bill can be debated on the Senate floor in early June.

She still hasn’t unveiled the full text of her amendment, but said it will be available late Tuesday or Wednesday.

“I think this bill has been strengthened enormously,” said Boxer, pointing to the addition of an $800 consumer tax relief package to offset any rise in energy costs as well as provisions that provide $911 billion to local electricity and gas utilities to protect consumers and promote efficiency. “This will make people whole after we move toward a clean energy future.”

Boxer also pointed to the cost-containment mechanism, or “emergency off-ramp,” as another key difference, characterizing it as a hybrid of other proposals that have called for a “safety valve” for industry should the cost of carbon credits get too high. How much of a sore spot this is for enviros depends in part on the price level at which the off-ramp kicks in — Boxer’s outline doesn’t include a dollar figure, and she chose not state a figure in the press conference. She said the full text of her amendment would include a price range.

The senator elaborated further on the “transition assistance” the bill offers fossil fuel and heavy industry, noting that it will come in the form of allocated carbon credits. Handouts to the agricultural and building sectors, renewable energies, coal CCS, cellulosic biofuels, truck fleets, firefighters, state programs, etc., will come through the proceeds of permit auctions. She also talked up new language in the bill affirming that it will be “deficit neutral,” imposing no net cost on the federal government.

Boxer acknowledged that the bill still isn’t as strong as she’d like to see, noting that she’d push for emissions targets of 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 and a greater percentage of auctioned permits. But she believes that the bill in its current form stands a good chance of getting to the Senate floor. She pointed the rejection of Sen. Pete DeMint’s (R-S.C.) proposed amendment to a budget bill, instructing Congress to hold off on enacting cap-and-trade legislation until China and India take more action. Sixty-one senators voted to kill the amendment — including 12 Republicans.

“I haven’t vote-counted, but I think I have enough votes for the motion to proceed,” said Boxer.

“This bill will be opened to the floor, and there will be strengthening amendments, from my point of view, and weakening amendments,” she added. “And we’ll see where it all goes.”