Liberal Dem: EPA should flex its powers on climate change

Proponents of efforts to counter the effects of climate change are signaling a shift in their strategy, opting to abandon another run at comprehensive legislation in favor of a renewed push to tackle the issue through federal regulations.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.) on Tuesday urged the Environmental Protection Agency to make the most of its power to draft rules that would tamp down on carbon emissions from existing power plants.

“I think Sandy was a turning point in terms of the public’s sense of the extent of damage that climate change can do to this country,” Boxer told reporters Tuesday. “A lot of people don’t recognize that EPA has huge authority here to reduce carbon in the air.”

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Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said she had no immediate plans to re-introduce a sweeping “cap-and-trade” bill that fell six votes short of passage in the upper chamber in 2008. Opponents called the bill an energy tax that would further stifle the struggling national economy.

Instead, she said she would focus on smaller bills that might fare better and use her position to oppose efforts in the Republican-controlled House to repeal existing environmental regulations or otherwise undermine the Obama administration’s executive branch powers.

“My focus in the committee is ... to ensure that I protect EPA’s right to do their job.,” Boxer said. “We expect to see more bills that they’ll send over to try and take away EPA’s jurisdiction.”

A spokeswoman from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which was responsible for pursuing legislation Boxer has sought to block, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Boxer’s comments follow the president’s focus on climate change issues in Monday’s inaugural address.

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Obama said. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”

The remarks won cheers from environmental groups, which saw climate change take a back seat to other issues during Obama’s first term. But the White House has yet to detail its plan going forward, and it's unclear how much political capital Obama is willing to spend on the issue.

On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said climate change is a priority, but he urged reporters not to read too much into the amount of time Obama devoted to the issue during his address.

“It's a priority. But there — it is not a singular priority. It is one of a host of priorities that he believes we can act on if we work together,” Carney said after declining to elaborate on what executive or regulatory actions would be considered.

This story was updated at 4:52 p.m. to note that the cap-and-trade legislation fell six votes short in 2008, not in the last Congress