Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, on Tuesday rolled out six principles for climate legislation that she said would guide the panel’s work on a bill in the 111th Congress. She said she aimed to have cap-and-trade legislation approved by her committee by the end of the year, but beyond that neither her principles nor her press conference provided much detail.

“We all understand the urgent need for action,” said Boxer, who was joined by seven of her Democratic colleagues from the committee. “We cannot turn away. The stakes are high, but the rewards are great.”

In an effort to preempt criticism that a climate bill would burden an already-struggling economy, she added, “We believe that this legislation will reinvigorate the economy.”

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The principles call for a bill that uses a market-based system to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, with both short- and long-term targets. But Boxer declined to say what those targets might be or whether she endorses the goals set out by President Barack Obama, who in his campaign called for reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. “We’re not here today to talk about exact numbers, but we are saying that we will be guided by science,” she said.

Boxer called for revenues from the auction of emission credits to be used for renewable-energy and energy-efficiency programs, assistance to consumers, worker transition programs, and domestic and international adaptation efforts. She did not say what percentage of credits should be auctioned off versus given out to emitters free of charge. Obama has called for 100 percent of the credits to be auctioned. Boxer said only, “We’ll look at that.”

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She also called for letting state and local governments continue setting their own emissions standards that are tougher than federal ones.

Boxer said she expects this year’s bill to be substantially different from last year’s failed Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, which she referred to as a “trial run.”

No Republican committee members attended today’s event. When asked about the possibility of Republican cosponsors for the climate bill, Boxer said, “I know there will be, but I’m not going to name who.”

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) acknowledged that some Republicans on the committee have been resistant to climate action, but argued that they won’t delay action. “We don’t have time,” said Lautenberg. “If they don’t come over, so be it.”

Of course, the chief delayer of action has been James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the committee’s ranking Republican, who today issued a statement criticizing Boxer’s principles. “At a time when Congress is debating a near term multi-billion dollar bailout for the American economy, once again the Democrats are proposing principles for climate legislation that will impose a long-term multi-trillion dollar energy tax on families and workers,” Inhofe said.

Green groups — many of whom had representatives on hand for the event — offered quick praise for the principles. “We applaud Chairman Boxer for establishing these common sense principles for action on global warming,” said Emily Figdor of Environment America in a statement.

Here are Boxer’s principles, in their entirety:

1. Reduce emissions to levels guided by science to avoid dangerous global warming.

2. Set short and long term emissions targets that are certain and enforceable, with periodic review of the climate science and adjustments to targets and policies as necessary to meet emissions reduction targets.

3. Ensure that state and local entities continue pioneering efforts to address global warming.

4. Establish a transparent and accountable market-based system that efficiently reduces carbon emissions.

5. Use revenues from the carbon market to:

— Keep consumers whole as our nation transitions to clean energy;
— Invest in clean energy technologies and energy efficiency measures;
— Assist states, localities and tribes in addressing and adapting to global warming impacts;
— Assist workers, businesses and communities, including manufacturing states, in the transition to a clean energy economy;
— Support efforts to conserve wildlife and natural systems threatened by global warming; and
— Work with the international community, including faith leaders, to provide support to developing nations in responding and adapting to global warming. In addition to other benefits, these actions will help avoid the threats to international stability and national security posed by global warming.

6. Ensure a level global playing field, by providing incentives for emission reductions and effective deterrents so that countries contribute their fair share to the international effort to combat global warming.