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Frustrated Democrats create task force to push climate change legislation



California Democrat Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is leading a new task force on climate change.
California Democrat Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is leading a new task force on climate change.
Kitty Felde/KPCC

A dozen Democratic Senators and a pair of independents have formed a Senate Action Climate Task Force, declaring their intention to fight climate change by focusing on their GOP colleagues. 

At a Tuesday press conference, senators took turns ticking off a list of climate catastrophes in their home states – killer tornadoes, seaside homes washing away, bark beetles decimating forests, historically low snowpack. But California's Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, acknowledged there are half-a-dozen fellow Democrats in oil and coal producing states who will not support climate change legislation.

Boxer said she's "well aware of the limitations that we have facing us on the floor," adding that’s why "waking up Congress" is the prime push.

It's not the only task force on Capitol Hill. A year ago, L.A. Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman unveiled a Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change. Waxman was the chief architect of the climate change bill passed by the House four years ago, a measure that died in the Senate. Waxman insisted it was up to the White House to initiate measures to reduce greenhouse gas emission.

So what good does a task  force do? Bob Deans with the Natural Resources Defense Council said, "Obviously it's not enough." But he insisted the task force is "an important step" that "clarifies  
the stakes for the country."

At Tuesday's announcement, Boxer did not unveil big legislation, such as creating a cap-and-trade system. A year ago, she and fellow task force member Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, introduced the Climate Protection Act. It would impose fees on carbon pollution with rebates for consumers and investment in green energy. The measure went nowhere.

Instead, Boxer spoke of smaller goals such as pushing renewable fuels and increasing energy efficiency. 

Boxer insisted climate change is not a partisan issue. But despite an invitation, not a single Senate Republican joined the new task force. Boxer took aim at House Republicans trying to repeal clean air and other existing laws, saying, "the biggest fight we’re going to have is to keep the progress we’ve already made."

The Senate Action Climate Task Force is borrowing a page from immigration activists: reaching out to business and the religious community to help lobby colleagues on the need for action on climate change.