Sen. Boxer unveils cap-and-trade emissions plans

| 2/4/2009

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer unveiled the principles and goals for federal global warming legislation Tuesday, Feb 3, preparing the way for cap-and-trade emissions system that likely would cast major changes on every U.S. business, including small-business truckers.

“This is a very big day for our committee, the Senate, and hopefully the country,” said Boxer, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. “We know we have to act and we intend to act.”

Simply put, a generic cap-and-trade system allows the government to set limits on the amount of pollution a company can emit. Companies must have permits or credits from the government for the amount of pollution they are allowed to emit. It’s easier for some companies to meet or beat their pollution limit, so the cap-and-trade system allows them to sell their extra permits or credits to companies that pollute more than their allotted amount.

Boxer’s principles for global warming and cap and trade legislation include:

  1. Reduce emissions to levels “guided by science” to avoid global warming.
  2. Set short- and long-term emissions targets that are certain and enforceable.
  3. Ensure that state and local entities continue efforts to address global warming.
  4. Establish a transparent and accountable market-based system that efficiently reduces carbon emissions.
  5. Use revenue from the carbon market to:
  • Protect consumers as our nation transitions to clean energy;
  • Invest in clean energy technologies and energy efficiency measures;
  • Assist states, localities and tribes in addressing and adapting to global warming impacts;
  • Assist workers, businesses and communities in the transition to a clean energy economy;
  • Support efforts to conserve wildlife and natural systems threatened by global warming; and
  • Work with the international community, including faith leaders, to provide support to developing nations in responding and adapting to global warming.
  1. Ensure a level global playing field by providing incentives for emission reductions and effective deterrent so that countries contribute their fair share to the international effort to combat global warming.

The timetable could be anywhere from three weeks from now until the end of the year, Boxer told reporters.

U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, said earlier this month that he wants comprehensive global warming and energy legislation approved at the House Committee on Energy and Commerce before the Memorial Day recess. Waxman chairs that committee.

OOIDA has urged caution regarding potential emissions strategies. The Association works to ensure that small-business truckers aren’t placed at an unfair disadvantage.

While momentum for legislation on climate change has been building, many leaders are keeping the economy at the forefront of their decisions, said Mike Joyce, OOIDA director of legislative affairs.

“I think what Sen. Boxer was doing today was drawing her line in the sand,” Joyce told Land Line. “Sen. Boxer certainly has the backing of the new administration. But there is a sense here in Washington – and I think throughout the country – that the economy right now is most important today. We certainly as an Association want to be clear that we support clean air and a clean environment, but we’re obligated to ask the question, at what expense? We currently have hundreds and thousands of members that are parking their rigs – and we want to find the right way to get them back on the road driving commerce in this country.”

There’s been no shortage of cap-and-trade systems in recent months.

The California Air Resources Board has begun looking at cap and trade for its state economy. On Jan. 15, the U.S. Climate Action Partnership announced its recommendations for cap-and-trade legislation in a document called A Blueprint for Legislative Action.

That proposal had a heavy emphasis on transportation and on capping emissions for all private businesses, which could translate to drastic expenses for trucking companies. Several emissions proposals have been pitched during a time when trucking companies, large and small, are skeptical of environmentally motivated changes that could affect their bottom lines.

Several Senate Democrats from the Committee on the Environment and Public Works spoke Tuesday, as did environmentalists and a pastor who tied Jesus’ teachings to environmental efforts.

Boxer addressed questions from several reporters about whether environmentally based legislation will create jobs during the economic recession.

“We also understand this is a great way to reinvigorate the economy,” Boxer said. “Yes, we believe this legislation will reinvigorate the economy.”

Boxer looked at the senators around her, noting that many who opposed previous efforts to regulate emissions as recently as this past year no longer are serving in Washington.

“We’ve got 54 people who are willing to proceed, and a lot of those who voted against us are no longer here,” Boxer said. “They were replaced by the people who are standing behind me.”

Sen. Frank Lautenberg expressed his support for Boxer’s principles, saying Senate Democrats invite those who oppose global warming-based legislation to join the effort.

“We talk about job loss, but that’s not the only outcome,” Lautenberg said. “Not if we plan it right. … We have a president who says, ‘Yes we can.’ ”

Sen. James Inhofe, R-OK, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, shot back at Boxer after Tuesday’s announcement, saying he looked forward to debate the issues in committee this year.

“At a time when Congress is debating near-term multibillion 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.”

Joyce said momentum for measures such as cap and trade will have to be balanced with political realities, and OOIDA welcomes working with Sen. Boxer and her staff on the issues.

“The chairwoman recognizes, and legislators recognize, that keeping jobs and saving jobs is most important right now,” Joyce said. “If jobs happen to come from green technologies – great. If it’s a choice between jobs being created or not created by these programs, I think the Obama administration is going to choose jobs. The last time I checked, people who held jobs voted, not potted plants.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer