Since becoming chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Barbara Boxer has fought to put global warming at the top of Congressional priorities, but she’s battling the forces of political nature. Senator Boxer sits down with Bill to talk about the current state of the environment, policies she thinks could help clean up the Earth and the strong opposition she faces in her efforts.
BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal.
Dr. James Hansen was back in Washington this week, sounding once again like Paul Revere, trying to wake the town up. Twenty years ago while other scientists were keeping their silence despite the evidence, Dr. Hansen, the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a physicist by training, warned of the threat to the planet from climate change.
JAMES HANSEN: Number one, the earth is warmer in 1988 than at any time in the history of instrumental measurements. Number two, the global warming is now large enough that we can ascribe, with a high degree of confidence, a cause-and-effect relationship to the greenhouse effect.
BILL MOYERS: The day after his Congressional testimony in 1988, The New York Times ran a front-page headline: "Global Warming Has Begun." By the end of the year, thirty-two climate-related bills had been introduced in Congress. But powerful corporate and ideological interests launched a relentless campaign to make sure Congress did nothing.
Two decades later, even as the leading scientists in the world have reached a consensus that global warming truly does threaten the planet, Congress still has not passed any law mandating major cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions. So this week, twenty years to the day after his first appearance, Dr. Hansen was back to tell press and politicians of some striking similarities between then and now and one crucial difference. "The difference is that now we have used up all slack in the schedule for actions needed to defuse the global warming time bomb."
It isn't that some members of Congress aren't trying. Dr. Hansen's testimony came just three weeks after the first major bill to control greenhouse emissions had actually made it to the Senate floor. It was called the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act after its two co-sponsors: Republican Senator John Warner from Virginia and Connecticut's Independent Senator Joe Lieberman. But leading the charge was a Senator who has made action on global warming her holy grail, Democrat Barbara Boxer of California.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): Now, today, you will hear from those who wish to kill this bill, kill it, kill it as dead as they can. They say it is too complicated, that we should do nothing and we should continue the status quo. Well, the status quo is devastating, my friends. The scientists have told us that.
BILL MOYERS: Barbara Boxer became Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in January a year ago, since then she has battled to put global warming at the top of congressional priorities. And therein lies our story.
Republican Senator James Inhofe had been the chair. He's an evangelical Christian, from the oil-producing state of Oklahoma, a true believer in opposing government regulation of the environment. As for man-made global warming? Forget it.
SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R-Okla.): Could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? I believe it is.
BILL MOYERS: Inhofe saw to it that the issue was never taken seriously while he was running the Committee. But when the Republicans lost control of the Senate, he lost control over the agenda to the new Chair, Barbara Boxer. She promptly invited former Vice President Al Gore to testify.
FMR. VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: A time will come when a future generation will look back on 2007, at this hopeful time, and they will ask one of two questions. Either they will ask, "What in God's name were they doing? Didn't they see the evidence? Didn't they hear the warnings?"
BILL MOYERS: But Senator Inhofe seemed to think that he still held the Chairman's gavel.
SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R-Okla.): All right, Senator Gore, I'm very sorry. I don't want to be rude, but from now on I'm going to ask you to respond for the record in writing since you're not going to respond.
FMR. VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, if I choose to respond to you verbally here, I hope that'll be okay too.
SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R-Okla.): If it's a very brief response. All right, I'm sure you read The New York Times article that quoted the scientists — I mentioned this in my opening statement ‐ about their criticizing you for some of your being too alarmist and hurting your own cause. Now, I'll ask you to respond in writing for that one because that would be a very long response, I'm afraid. Now, it seems that —
FMR. VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, I would like to respond —
SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R-Okla.): — everybody —
FMR. VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: May I respond?
SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R-Okla.): — on global warming in the media joined the chorus last summer —
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): Excuse me. Senator Inhofe, we'll freeze the time for a minute. I'm just trying to make —
SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R-Okla.): Take your time. We're freezing the time.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): No, no. We're freezing the time just for a minute. I want to talk to you for a minute, please. **
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): [to camera] I was a little stunned because here I had taken the gavel after a tough, you know, election season. We came in. We got power finally, albeit very small margin. But I was the chairman of the committee now. And Jim Inhofe, we work pretty well together, given our ideological differences. But he kept trying to run the hearings. And I kept saying to myself at some point I'm going to have to show him that I am the chairman of the committee.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): Would you agree to let the Vice President answer your questions? And then, if you want an extra few minutes at the end, I'm happy to give it to you. But we're not going to get anywhere —
SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R-Okla.): Why don't we do this? Why don't we do this? At the end, you can have as much time as you want to answer all the questions.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): No, that isn't the rule of — you're not making the rules. You used to when you did this. You don't do this anymore. Elections have consequences.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): [to camera] What I meant is that times have changed now. And the Democrats are in charge. And this committee, what it means is that the environment is back, front and center.
BILL MOYERS: Boxer launched dozens of hearings on global warming, and she formed an important alliance with a senator on the other side of the aisle.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): Actually, I think we did better than I thought and there's a reason, a man named John Warner. And for anyone who says, you know, individuals don't matter, the government goes on, individuals matter. Now, John Warner is a Republican. And by any measure, a conservative Republican, a man who's retiring now and who has made his mark on national security.
SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-Va.): [on the Senate floor] Let's show the American public this institution can work and address a complicated subject and try and reach a common ground and common understanding. To do nothing is not an option.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): When he came to realize that global warming was a national security issue and when his kids and grandkids said to him, "You need to have a legacy on this issue," and he then came to me, I knew we had brought bipartisanship to the committee.
BILL MOYERS: Their bill would mandate a 70% reduction in United States greenhouse emissions by the middle of this century. At the heart of it is a system called cap-and-trade. The "cap" would limit how much polluters are allowed to emit without penalty from burning fossil fuel. Now here's where the "trade" comes in: big polluters would have to buy permits from the Federal government. If they go over the cap they would have to buy more permits to off-set their additional pollution. The companies that are quicker to clean up their act can sell their extra permits through an open market.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): So we went in this bill to the biggest polluters of carbon — we call it upstream, it's where it all happens. The big oil companies, natural gas, the big utilities, the very, very large manufacturers, who have their own power plants and so on. And we said to those 2,100 people, "You're going to have to reduce your carbon every year by two percent. And you're going to have to pay to pollute, to put the carbon in. So, for every ton you put in the air, you've got to have a permit." That puts a price on carbon, and that price will be set by the private market. We don't set it, okay?
BILL MOYERS: Boxer says a steady stream of income from the sale of pollution permits would flow into the treasury — as much as 6.7 trillion dollars over 40 years.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): And what do we do with it? That's the key. What we do with it is most of it goes back to consumers. Because we know as carbon-reducing power becomes more expensive, it's going to be passed on to people. Plus, until there are new technologies, it's going to be higher costs.
So, we soften the blow. We take those trillions of dollars that come in, and we say to people who need it, "You're going to get a tax rebate. You're gonna get help on your power bill." And we have a deficit reduction trust fund. And that's half. The other half of the money goes to help find the new technologies of the future.
BILL MOYERS: It seems to me you would be subsidizing consumers to keep using the very products that contribute to global warming.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): No, because as the cost becomes higher and higher for these companies, they're going to want to turn to other technologies. So you bring down the carbon in the air through this cap and trade system either directly by these people turning to different ways — for example, they turn away from coal and toward solar or they get cleaner coal through sequestration — or they go buy offsets.
BILL MOYERS: Theoretically it sounds good. Is there any evidence that cap-and-trade works?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): Well yes, there is. Because we did it in this country around acid rain. Acid rain was a terrible problem in the northeast. Guess what? Cap-and-trade system was invented right here in America and it works very, very well. And you should see how that pollution is going straight down and we're solving the problem.
If you look at Great Britain, they have cut carbon by 15 percent over time. In that same time, they've increased their gross domestic product by 45 percent, and they've created 500,000 green jobs. That has happened. We know it is going to happen here. Venture capitalists are telling me they are just waiting for legislation. And when it comes, so they know we're really serious about putting a price on carbon through the private market, they are ready to invest trillions, more than they invested in high tech and bio-tech, in alternatives. And that's exciting.
BILL MOYERS: Conservative groups attacked the Climate Security Act this spring.
CLUB FOR GROWTH AD: Congress is at it again. This time, they're pushing massive new taxes and regulations in the name of global warming.
BILL MOYERS: Some environmental groups fought the bill too, convinced it wasn't tough enough.
FRIENDS OF THE EARTH AD: Either fix or ditch Lieberman-Warner.
BILL MOYERS: Is compromise possible between people on one side, who say, "Oh, it's going to kill the economy," and people on the other side who's gonna say it's not strong enough?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): You know, as Carl Pope of the Sierra Club told me, he said, "Barbara," he said, "You gotta do just what's necessary. You don't have to go overboard on this." And that means that we have to have a bill that gets the job done. That reduces greenhouse gas emissions enough so that the temperatures don't go up, you know much above a couple of degrees over time. Cause if they do we're in a lot of trouble here.
BILL MOYERS [voiceover]: In the Senate, Republican opponents called the bill a ruse for raising taxes:
SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R-Okla.) (R-Okla.): The largest tax increase in the history of America.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R-Tenn.): This is in fact the mother of all earmarks.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-Ala.): A secret, sneaky tax Boxer's trying to get through here.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-Texas): It would cost the average Texas household $8,000 in additional taxes.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-Ky.): It's a climate tax, Mr. President. A climate tax.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): The fact is that's the big lie. Not only isn't there any tax in this bill, but there's tax cuts in this bill. There are fees that go to the polluters, which is in my view, part of America, America's economy. Polluter pays, that's what we do. They need to pay to pollute. And those funds go to help people through a big tax cut. And those funds go to invest in technology. And those funds go to give consumers relief right on their utility bills until we get to the point where we have alternatives.
SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R-Okla.) (R-Okla.): As gasoline prices continue to rise and set new record highs every day, this bill would only keep prices rising.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-Texas): This bill would be like a wet blanket on the economy, raising electricity prices, raising gas prices on everything from agriculture to small businesses.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-Ky.): Gas prices are, without a doubt, the single most pressing issue for Americans at this moment.
BILL MOYERS: Was it bad timing to bring this bill to the floor when everyone in the country, except for the very rich, is suffering from this huge surge in gas and fuel prices?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): I think that is a great question and also completely irrelevant to the debate. Since you're asking me questions, I'm gonna ask you a question.
BILL MOYERS: All right, fair enough.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): When do you think gas prices are going to go down?
BILL MOYERS: Well, I think that they're never going to go down.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): I agree with you. They're never going to go down much, if at all. Does that mean we never take up global warming legislation when we know we have a shrinking window to save the planet so that your grandkids and my grandkids and everyone who's watching, their grandkids, can live on Earth. We have to act, number one. That's specious. There's never going to be a good time. This is hard. We have to deal with it. And so we have to act. You cannot hide under the covers and say, "Wake me up when gas prices go down a dollar a gallon and then I'll bring up global warming legislation." Here's the interesting thing, number two. I will posit to you because of global warming legislation, if we do it right, we will be free of foreign oil. We will be on the path of energy independence.
BILL MOYERS: First Boxer had to get 51 votes to pass the bill, concerned that she had those votes Republican leaders set out to derail it with a procedural logjam.
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-N.J.): The clerk will report the bill.
CLERK: Short title. Table of Contents. Section II. Findings. Section III. Purposes. Section IV. Definitions.
BILL MOYERS: The minority leader, Mitch McConnell, had the clerks in the Senate read the entire bill into the record. And that took more than ten hours. What was that about?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): What Mitch McConnell did in forcing the reading of the bill, was a panic attack. And this is how I know it. We had gotten, because somebody sent it to us, the game plan to Republicans. Their initial game plan was to begin the amendment process right away, not to do a filibuster. 'Cause they thought they had us on gas prices. And they had us on the issue.
Well, it wasn't turning out well for them. We debated them toe to toe. We brought out the chart that showed under George Bush with no global warming legislation, gas prices had gone up 270 percent, 93 cents since January. They were losing it. And they decided to do a sneak attack. And it was a sneak attack, force this reading. Get their act together. What are we gonna do? And then they decided to filibuster. So, they started it off with a ten-hour reading. Talk about a waste of money.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): I ask that the reading be dispensed with.
VOICE OFF CAMERA: Mr. President, regular order.
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-N.J.): The clerk will continue to read.
CLERK: Section 1751. Integration. Subtitle G. State, Federal interaction.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): Those poor clerks had to stay there overtime reading the bill. It was a stall —
BILL MOYERS: Four hundred and ninety-two pages' worth?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): — a stall tactic.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-Nev.): We find ourselves confronting an orchestrate effort by the Republican leader to delay and obstruct. We've seen this play a record number of times before this body. In 10 months we all know they broke the two year filibuster record. We're now, I believe, at 72 filibusters.
BILL MOYERS: Why was it to anybody's advantage not to have a vote on this bill?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): I think the Republicans got nervous. And they didn't think they could get as good a vote as they wanted. They wanted to crush us. And they couldn't at the end of the day. More good news.
VOICE READING VOTES: Mr. Akaka, Mr. Alexander...
BILL MOYERS [voiceover]: But they could mount a filibuster to prevent the legislation from coming to a vote. It takes the votes of 60 senators to shut off a filibuster, and Boxer knew she didn't have those votes.
BILL MOYERS: As I understand the math, you got actually 48 votes —
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): Physically there.
BILL MOYERS: — physically. In the Senate chamber, you got 48 votes. Six other Senators said if they had been here, they would've voted with you. That would've given you 54.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): Correct.
BILL MOYERS: But you needed 60 votes —
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): Yes.
BILL MOYERS: — to stop the filibuster. Why couldn't you get the 60?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): We never could get the 60.
BILL MOYERS: Why?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): Because of the people who are in the Senate today. Because they're hostile to it. I mean, we reached a high water mark.
BILL MOYERS: But she also lost the support of four Democrats, including the progressive Senator from Ohio, Sherrod Brown .
SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D-Ohio): I have the utmost respect for my colleagues who have worked so long and so hard to craft this historic legislation and for environmental advocates in Ohio and across the country. I am 100 percent committed to passing a robust, mandatory cap and trade policy. However, Mr. President, while we have been debating climate policy, Ohioans have been getting bad news. This has been a particularly tough week for my state. In the last 7 days, Ohioans learned that our state may soon lose another 10,000 jobs.
If we don't take this right step to ensure domestic manufacturers a level playing field with companies from countries without global warming requirements, if we don't take that step, we might as well throw a going-away party for the steel industry, the cement industry, the glass industry, aluminum industry, the chemical industry, for foundry after foundry after foundry in Ravenna, in Chillicothe, in Mansfield and Marion.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): I think he's wrong on this. I think he's acting out of fear and not hope. You see, I think there's enough revenues produced from this bill to completely offset the pain. And we have put more than half the bill's resources into that. And frankly, if we had to put more into it, I would. So my view is we can offset it. We can offset it. That's the beauty of this. I believe this can be structured in such a way that it actually brings around an economic renaissance.
BILL MOYERS: Seven Republicans voted with Boxer, including Senator Elizabeth Dole from North Carolina.
SEN. ELIZABETH DOLE (R-N.C.): Cap and trade, first adopted for acid rain under the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments is an American environmental and economic success story. There is no doubt that this is a much greater challenge and one that affects every sector of the economy. But we have the ability to repeat that success. Our constituents do not send us to Washington to sit back and do the easy things. Rather, they send us here to have the courage to tackle the challenges.
BILL MOYERS: Most other Republicans were dead set against the bill.
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-Tenn.): It is well intentioned, but the bill as it has grown has become, in effect, with all respect, a well-intentioned contraption and it creates boards and czars and commissioners and money, and it is too complicated and too expensive.
BILL MOYERS: Their filibuster stopped the bill in its tracks.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-R.I.): The motion is not agreed to.
BILL MOYERS: Nonetheless, Boxer claimed an important symbolic victory.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): [at press conference] This is a landmark day. It's another milestone in the fight against global warming.
BILL MOYERS: Remarkably not a single senator in the debate challenged the reality of climate change or denied the human role in causing it.
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I-Conn.): It's a giant step for the United States Senate. It puts us on the path to getting this done hopefully next year.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): The Clean Air Act took 10 years. This will not take 10 years. This will not take 10 years.
BILL MOYERS: What happens if we don't act?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): If we don't act on global warming, and those alternatives that we need to foreign oil don't materialize, we are forever dependent on, you know, the prince of Saudi Arabia.
We need to get off foreign oil. The best way to do it is to become energy independent. The best way to do that is to embrace global warming legislation. Because, when there is a price on carbon, Bill, people are going to look for alternatives.
BILL MOYERS: How are you gonna ever overcome the fragmentation and the power of all these special interests with lots of money?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): First of all, miracles happen. But aside from that, we're gonna do it. I believe we will overcome the special interests. I have to say, there are a few special interests who are on our side, cause they know, they want to do business in other places. And they don't want to have different rules. And they know this is coming. So it's not as clear cut as you know all the special interests versus global warming. It's a little bit more of a, you know, different kind of lineup here. So it makes it very interesting. But look. Change is coming. We're going to fix this problem because we have to.
BILL MOYERS: Senator Boxer, thank you very much for your time and for this conversation.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-Calif.): Thank you, Bill.