Pacific Swell

Southern California environment news and trends

New Yorker takes on new climate stakes for US, California

Ryan Lizza's article about how climate and energy legislation, despite having support across the aisle and from environmentalists and from polluters, still managed to die an ignominious death in Congress is a fascinating read. I recommend you take the time to read the whole thing. Period. I mean, heck, it's the weekend, you've got time.

Now that I've got that out of the way, let's take a closer look at how incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer gets characterized in the story. Describing Joe Lieberman's involvement with climate legislation, Lizza's narrative finds Boxer at the side of the action, not the center:

By late January, 2009, the details of the Lieberman-McCain bill had been almost entirely worked out, and Lieberman began showing it to other Senate offices in anticipation of a February press conference. The goal was to be the centrist alternative to a separate effort, initiated by Barbara Boxer, a liberal from California and the chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

And later on:

Lieberman coaxed nine Republicans into forming a group to write nuclear legislation that could be merged with whatever climate bill emerged from Boxer’s committee.

The formation of Kerry-Graham-Lieberman (K.G.L.) - a central event in Lizza's tale - necessarily shoves Boxer into the corner too:

At first, Kerry joined forces with Barbara Boxer, and spent months trying to find a Republican co-sponsor for her bill, which was almost a carbon copy of Waxman-Markey. In August, Rosengarten was eating lunch with Kerry’s climate-policy aide, Kathleen Frangione, at Sonoma, a Capitol Hill wine bar. Rosengarten said she had spent hours working on the nuclear legislation with Graham’s policy aide, Matthew Rimkunas, and she was shocked by something he had recently told her: Graham would have backed a climate-change bill that Lieberman had co-sponsored in 2007 if it had included the language supportive of nuclear power that they had just worked out. Kerry and Graham had to talk. Perhaps Kerry could split off from Boxer and try to work with Graham on a bipartisan bill.

Lizza's interest is in the Senate; he spends next to no time on Henry Waxman, who avoids the negative characterizations some other Californians suffer, but scores no points. For an example of the former category, however, Lizza depicts a Nancy Pelosi who seems to lose control of the herd she rides, at least in this instance:

The White House and Waxman spent the final days before the vote negotiating with members of the House representing two crucial interest groups: coal and agriculture. Despite cutting generous deals, they ended up with only limited support. Worse, several members who had promised House Speaker Nancy Pelosi their votes reneged. One of them, Ciro Rodriguez, of Texas, ducked into the chamber, quickly cast a no vote, and then sprinted out. Anthony Weiner, a Brooklyn Democrat and one of Pelosi’s whips, chased after him, yelling, “Ciro! Ciro!”

The failure of this legislation has raised the stakes for environmentalists in California - Lizza repeats that conventional wisdom, which has appeared in a number of venues this fall. I've got a proposition 23 story in the works - and I'm interested in those stakes too.

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