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Barbara Boxer sketches global-warming 'principles'

February 3, 2009 | 11:24 am

Winding up for what promises to be the strongest congressional push yet for a comprehensive bill to fight global warming, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) announced a set of "principles" this morning in Washington that will guide her as she drafts a cap-and-trade bill to limit greenhouse-gas emissions.

She also unveiled the rhetoric, which the Los Angeles Times previewed last month, that Democrats in Congress and the White House will use to sell the plan, telling a press conference, "This is a great way to reinvigorate the economy."

Boxer chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, the starting point for global-warming legislation in the Senate. (A fellow Californian, Rep. Harry Waxman, chairs the House committee that will simultaneously launch its own global-warming push.)  Her announcement today gave no details on emission-reduction targets or a host of other issues closely watched by business and environmental groups.

But it made several broad promises, in keeping with Boxer's pledge for a less complicated bill than the cap-and-trade push that failed in the Senate last year. Among them:

* To reduce emissions "to levels guided by science to avoid dangerous global warming" and to set targets that are "certain and enforceable," as well as adjustable.

* To maintain state and local anti-warming efforts.

* To utilize a market-based system -- that means cap-and-trade, as opposed to a carbon tax, which some economists favor to reduce emissions.

* To use proceeds from the sales of emissions permits for a variety of uses, including: support for consumers, governments, businesses and workers (presumably to help offset higher energy prices under the system); investments in alternative energy; preserving wildlife and ecosystems threatened by warming; and money for developing nations to help them respond to warming.

* To ensure a "level global playing field ... so that countries contribute their fair share to the international effort to combat global warming."

To steer any cap-and-trade bill through the Senate, Boxer and her allies will need to win several Republican votes, along with a large chunk of centrist Democrats. Several Democrats from the environment committee joined Boxer's press conference today, and she said the entire Democratic side of the panel endorsed the principles.

"We know that we have to act," Boxer said, "and we intend to act."

But no Republicans showed up, and the committee's top GOP member -- Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a vocal global-warming skeptic -- blasted the principles in a press release.

"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,” he said.

“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. Congressional cap-and-trade bills, often touted as an ‘insurance policy’ against global warming, would instead be nothing more than all economic pain for no climate gain. We look forward to debating these tough issues in the Committee this year.”

--Jim Tankersley

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