Thursday, October 1, 2009

Doing Good, and Doing Well

On Wednesday, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) unveiled ambitious legislation to drive down the nation's use of carbon-emitting fossil fuels and reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil. With the help of Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Senator Boxer used her stature as the Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee to release the long-awaited Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act. An even more aggressive version of the historic American Clean Energy and Security Act that was passed by the House in June, this legislation proposes a cap-and-trade system that would place strict limits on greenhouse gas emissions from large polluters such as factories and power plants while rewarding the most efficient companies.

Boxer’s groundbreaking legislation holds important implications for stakeholders far and wide. This post will explore what this bill means for Boxer, California, and the future of climate-change legislation.

Surrounded by placard-waving environmentalists and supportive Democratic Senators, Boxer, alongside Kerry, introduced the bill at a campaign-style rally on the Capitol grounds on Wednesday. As expected, the value of the photo-op was diminished by the signs of the legislation’s stormy waters ahead: no Republican Senators were present.

As Chair of the legislation’s designated committee and lead sponsor of the bill, Boxer will be charged with much of the duty of garnering support throughout the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) threw the first pitch by releasing a statement Thursday: “The last thing American families need right now is to be hit with a new energy tax every time they flip on a light switch or fill up their car.” Unable to count on the support of all 60 Democrats, Boxer will need to find friendship from moderate Republicans if this bill is to succeed – a tall order given both Boxer and Kerry’s combined history of progressive causes and ideological approaches. As the target of decades’ worth of GOP campaign funds to unseat her, Boxer faces an uphill battle in acquiring support from Republican colleagues.

Despite hostility from the other side of the aisle, Boxer remains hopeful that she can gain the support she needs from friends on left. “We're gaining ground, but at this point I can't count to 60,” the Senator speculated in an interview with C-SPAN. “But you just do your job and move forward.” The language of the legislation – which according to an aide to Senator Boxer has yet to be finalized – must acknowledge the complexities of the industries from the home states of key Democrats. Democrats from oil-producing, coal-producing and agriculturally centered states will want to keep those constituencies at bay (and at pay) in the 2010 cycle. Boxer wisely left blank the portion allocation credits section of the bill for this purpose – this will not only bribe industry support for her own campaign, but also that of future co-sponsors in a jam to raise money for their own election cycles.

All things considered, this was a smart move for Boxer. A nationwide push toward advances in renewable energy could be a major boon for the burgeoning Green Tech companies headquartered in California (as well as Massachusetts). It certainly does not hurt that this sector attracted the largest share of venture capital in the third quarter. The real test will be whether Boxer can push the bill through committee – she can delegate the rest of the Democrats to Majority Leader Harry Reid, should he throw his support behind the dynamic duo. In the meantime, this bill does good by environment, and well by the campaign.

Good luck, Babs. Way to put yourself out there.

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