WASHINGTON—Automakers and manufacturers, beware: There's a new environmental policy boss in town, she scowls a lot, and two of her favorite phrases are "global warming" and "extensive hearings."
The Democrats' coming takeover of Congress is expected to feel pressure for policy change on a number of fronts, from Iraq to taxes, but the starkest change may come at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, when Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., will surrender the gavel to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. Her appointment was announced Tuesday, but won't take effect until January.
Inhofe rejects a wide scientific consensus that human use of fossil fuels is largely responsible for catastrophic climate change, calling it "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." He's accused environmental activists of exploiting people's fears to raise money. And he's blocked legislation aimed at curbing global warming.
Boxer, in contrast, is a fiercely liberal environmental activist. She has railed against Inhofe, crusaded for cleaner drinking water and led wilderness protection efforts in her home state and for Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Her likely counterparts in the House of Representatives—Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., incoming chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., of the Resources Committee—are less sympathetic to environmentalists. Dingell's constituents include the auto industry, and Rahall's include the coal industry. Then too, of course, George W. Bush remains president, and he's not exactly a global-warming crusader, either.
But Boxer said Tuesday that starting in January, her priority will be to begin "a very long process of extensive hearings" on global warming.
"I think there ought to be a global-warming bill that looks at all the contributors to carbon-dioxide emissions," she said. She cited California's legislation requiring automakers to reduce emissions as "an excellent role model."
Boxer also wants to boost the cleanup of Superfund toxic-waste sites by reinstating "polluter pays" fines, which lapsed under the Bush administration, and increase oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Inhofe couldn't be reached for comment; Boxer said he'd called to wish her well.
Melinda Pierce, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, cheered the coming change, saying Inhofe had been bad for the environment and that Boxer is an activist hero. But with a bare 51-49 Democrat majority in the next Senate and Bush in the White House, Pierce said, "We have no illusions that there's going to be some comprehensive global-warming bill signed by the president." Instead, she said, Boxer will likely "set an agenda and make modest gains for a time in 2009 when we have a new president."
Hank Cox of the National Association of Manufacturers said his group "will certainly have our door open," although he said Boxer "does represent a tougher stand on environmental issues than we've had in the past, and we can potentially see where there's going to be more vigorous debate."
"If you're going to make these assumptions about what is causing global warming, the whole world needs to participate together," Cox said. "The Chinese are opening a new coal-fired power plant every week, and within a few years they will pass us in terms of carbon-dioxide emissions. For the U.S. to impose severe, expensive economic restraints on our own economy, while the Chinese ignore it, would not have any appreciable impact on total global emissions."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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