January 29, 2007
CLIMATE: Boxer's hearing to raise curtain on global warming debate
Darren Samuelsohn, E&E Daily senior reporter
Sen. Barbara Boxer's (D-Calif.) first global warming hearing this week as chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee promises to be a star-studded affair with presidential candidates and dueling views about how to take on the complex challenge of curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
Boxer's staff expects the hearing tomorrow to run into the afternoon, with every senator who wants to testify to get 10 minutes to make a presentation plus additional time for questions and answers.
"We'll go as long as we need to go," said Bettina Poirier, Boxer's committee's staff director.
The hearing will be closely watched for many reasons, to include how the 2008 race for the presidency shapes the debate. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), a Democratic candidate for the White House and an EPW Committee member, has cosponsored climate legislation along with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.).
Other presidential candidates, including Sens. Joe Biden (D-Del.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), are also potential witnesses.
"I imagine most of them will come," said Frank O'Donnell, head of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch. "If someone's not there, they'll be in the minority rather than the majority."
"Any senator that is running will testify, or their absence will be noted," concurred Ann Klee, a former general counsel at U.S. EPA under President Bush.
Looking for signs
Climate policy observers will be watching Boxer, as well, for clues on how climate legislation might proceed. For instance, many wonder whether she plans to move a bill that caps emissions from just one sector of the U.S. economy, such as power plants. Others want to know if she will back a more sweeping vehicle that covers transportation fuels, cars and energy efficiency.
To date, Boxer has only broadly described her legislative plans, saying she wants to move multiple bills that curb emissions. And she has stopped short of offering a schedule for hearings and markups.
"I'm not going to say June, September or May," Boxer told reporters last week. "I'd love to have it sooner than later. You've got to realize, we've ramped up from zero to a thousand miles per hour."
The hearing also puts Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) in a new role as the committee's ranking member, instead of chairman. Inhofe's skepticism of the science linking humans to climate change remains, and he has vowed a filibuster if Democrats try to make a major change to the nation's environment and energy laws.
Ken Connolly, a former EPW Committee staff director under Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), predicted the hearing will tease out the key players from within the 100-member Senate.
"Even if only a half dozen or a dozen members come before the committee, those are the people that in the end will be actively involved in making the key decisions on if and when complicated climate change legislation is enacted," he said.
O'Donnell said he will be watching for possible new alliances given the head-spinning number of bills that to date have been proposed in the Senate and House. "It's almost as if we've seen different explorers planting various flags, but we don't know who is going to own the territory," he said.
The Boxer-led hearing comes amid a frenetic couple of months for climate change action. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels (D) are expected to testify before Boxer's committee in late February or early March. Former Vice President Al Gore has not yet said if he will accept an invitation from the House Energy and Commerce Committee to discuss climate change. Most expect multiple hearings each week on global warming for the coming months.
To some, expectations are low for Boxer's first foray. "The idea of having a hearing with a bunch of senators and nobody else is something of a gimmick," said Klee, a former Senate Republican staffer now working as a partner in the Washington lawfirm of Crowell & Moring.
Boxer's other hearings will be far more productive, Klee explained, so long as they dive into the more substantive issues surrounding a new U.S. global warming policy. That means discussions over what industrial sectors to regulate and how to divide up allowances in a cap-and-trade system.
"Members of Congress have so many vehicles to make their views known, they don't need a hearing to do it," Klee said.
Echoing Klee is Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), the most senior member of the EPW Committee. In an interview with E&E Daily earlier this month, Warner said lawmakers needed to study climate change more closely, but he wondered if Boxer's first hearing was the right way to start. "I'd rather listen to the experts before we go jumping on things," he said. "We've got a lot of homework to do on that issue."
Schedule: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing is at 9 a.m. tomorrow (January 30, 2007) in 406 Dirksen.