Boxer and Whitehouse: Dem Leaders Back New Push on Climate Change

The smoke stacks at American Electric Power's (AEP) Mountaineer coal power plant in New Haven, West Virginia, October 30, 2009. In cooperation with AEP, the French company Alstom unveiled the world's largest carbon capture facility at a coal plant, so called 'clean coal,' which will store around 100,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide a year 2.1 kilometers (7,200 feet) underground. 
National Journal
Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
Jan. 9, 2014, 9:26 a.m.

Lib­er­al Sen­ate Demo­crats who are launch­ing a new ef­fort to seize the polit­ic­al of­fens­ive on cli­mate change say they have en­thu­si­ast­ic back­ing from the cham­ber’s Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship team.

Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Bar­bara Box­er and Sen. Shel­don White­house on Thursday an­nounced a new Cli­mate Ac­tion Task Force.

White­house told re­port­ers at a brief­ing that Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id sup­ports their ef­forts to raise the vis­ib­il­ity of the top­ic.

“I think Harry Re­id has really shif­ted to a more sup­port­ive and pos­it­ive and en­thu­si­ast­ic strategy,” the Rhode Is­land Demo­crat said. “A lot of the things that we are do­ing in­volve get­ting his bless­ing, and we have that.”

Re­id praised the new ef­fort in a state­ment, cit­ing a “mor­al ob­lig­a­tion” to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to ad­dress cli­mate change. “I’m pleased that these and oth­er Sen­at­ors are com­ing to­geth­er to bring great­er at­ten­tion to cli­mate change and ex­treme weath­er and the need to do something about it,” he said.

White­house also said that Sen. Chuck Schu­mer has agreed to have more cli­mate-re­lated speak­ers at the reg­u­lar Thursday meet­ings of the Demo­crat­ic Policy and Com­mu­nic­a­tions Cen­ter, a group the New York Demo­crat chairs. Al Gore spoke to the group late last year.

Over­all, Box­er said the new task force has more than a dozen mem­bers and is de­signed to “wake up Con­gress to the dis­turb­ing real­it­ies of cli­mate change.”

“The pur­pose is to use the bully pul­pit of our Sen­ate of­fices to achieve that wake-up call,” she said at the brief­ing. “We be­lieve that cli­mate change is a cata­strophe that is un­fold­ing be­fore our eyes, and we want Con­gress to take off the blind­folds.”

She and White­house sketched out sev­er­al activ­it­ies the task force will un­der­take, which in­clude press con­fer­ences; bring­ing more mem­bers to the floor to dis­cuss cli­mate change; stepped-up en­gage­ment with out­side groups that work on the top­ic; de­fend­ing against GOP le­gis­la­tion to thwart fed­er­al cli­mate-change reg­u­la­tions; and pro­mot­ing le­gis­la­tion on en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and al­tern­at­ive fuels.

One over­arch­ing goal is to even­tu­ally force an open­ing for ma­jor cli­mate le­gis­la­tion, which is cur­rently in a deep freeze in Con­gress and lacks votes. Box­er and White­house both want to even­tu­ally see pas­sage of le­gis­la­tion that sets taxes or fees on car­bon emis­sions.

White­house said there is a “vast and broad ar­ray of armies” that un­der­stand the danger of cli­mate change and are will­ing to fight on the top­ic, but they’re con­front­ing a “bar­ri­cade of spe­cial-in­terest lies around Wash­ing­ton and around Con­gress.”

White­house sees the task force as a way to cre­ate polit­ic­al space for put­ting a price on car­bon emis­sions. “Once that bar­ri­cade is broken, all sorts of le­gis­la­tion be­comes pos­sible, be­cause sud­denly Con­gress has to get real,” he said.

Box­er and White­house plan to hold a press con­fer­ence with mem­bers of the task force on Tues­day.

They also say they are en­gaged with the White House on cli­mate ef­forts.

The task force is one of sev­er­al Demo­crat­ic cli­mate groups in Con­gress, in­clud­ing the Bicam­er­al Task Force on Cli­mate Change that White­house launched with Rep. Henry Wax­man, D-Cal­if., in early 2013.

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