Democrats Pen Principles for Climate-Change Bills

Sen. Barbara Boxer said she and fellow Democrats are answering the president's call to action.
Sen. Barbara Boxer said she and fellow Democrats are answering the president's call to action. (By Manuel Balce Ceneta -- Associated Press)
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By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee yesterday unveiled a set of principles that will guide their efforts to craft legislation aimed at slowing global warming, firing an opening salvo in what is likely to be one of the year's central legislative debates.

The document released by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the panel, was short on details but set a goal of creating a cap-and-trade system designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions "to levels guided by science to avoid dangerous climate change."

"We know that we have to act, and we intend to act," Boxer said, adding that she and her Democratic colleagues are answering President Obama's "call to action."

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson welcomed the move and said the administration will help shape the bill. "We are very pleased to see Congress moving quickly on legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions," Jackson said. "We will be working closely with the Hill in the weeks and months ahead to address this tremendous challenge and opportunity."

Yesterday's announcement highlighted how much the political ground has shifted in Washington on climate change. Boxer, alluding to last year's failed cap-and-trade bill, said, "A lot of those who voted against us are no longer here, and they have been replaced by some of the people behind me." But it also underscored the challenge lawmakers face in enacting a federal carbon cap. Boxer would not specify the exact emissions reduction targets she will seek, identify which Republicans might support her panel's eventual proposal, or estimate when the full Senate might take it up for a vote.

Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.), the panel's top Republican, issued a statement saying the Democrats' proposal "will impose a long-term multi-trillion dollar energy tax on families and workers," adding: "As demonstrated last year, when it comes to drafting comprehensive climate legislation, the devil is in the details. These principles offer nothing more than a punt on all of the difficult issues that Americans expect to be honestly debated."

Scott Segal, a lobbyist who represents coal-fired utilities, praised the proposal for identifying "many areas of common ground" but said the plan seems to "lack a commitment to an effective cost-containment mechanism," adding: "Cost containment is absolutely critical -- particularly given the current state of worldwide capital markets."

The announcement came on the same day that the EPA's inspector general issued a report saying the agency "does not have an overall plan to ensure developing consistent, compatible climate change strategies." Noting that several EPA offices have begun to draft their own climate plans, the report added that "the lack of an overall climate change policy can result in duplication, inconsistent approaches, and wasted resources among EPA's regions and offices."

EPA spokeswoman Roxanne Smith said the agency will review the "report and the recommendations carefully."

As lawmakers begin to outline their approach to global warming, key players outside Washington are also reaching out to the new administration on the issue. Mary Nichols, who heads the California Air Resources Board, met with Jackson yesterday to discuss topics including the state's plan to curb tailpipe emissions from cars and a federal greenhouse gas limit.

"You have to have caps" on carbon, Nichols said in an interview before the meeting. "If you start out with the conception you're doing the best you can, that's never going to be good enough."

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