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Democrats Pen Principles for Climate-Change Bills

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post
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here, and they have been replaced by some of the people behind me."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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