Senate Dems send climate 'wake-up call'

Senate Democrats are launching a new climate action group to "wake up Congress" on climate change.

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) are spearheading the new movement and claim they can get the votes needed for bills on energy efficiency, saving the renewable fuel mandate and more to move Congress in their direction.

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But Republicans continue to blast the Obama administration's climate agenda and back legislative action to block regulations the president is pushing to curb the nation's dirtiest polluters.

While both senators admit the votes aren't there to push through meaningful legislation on the price of carbon, they still say they can rattle lawmakers' cages and get the ball rolling in the right direction.

"We are realists, and we know we don't have the votes for a lot things we think are critical; but we are going to get them, and that is the purpose of the wake-up call," Boxer said in a briefing with reporters on Thursday.

The new group, called the Climate Action Task Force, currently has over a dozen committed members.

"We are defending against legislative riders that would roll back environmental laws including the president's climate initiative," Boxer said. "Let me tell you we are going on offense. The whole point is to escalate this fight. Of course we are going to have legislation, and it may take the form of energy efficiency, it may take the form of federal buildings, defending [the renewable fuel standard], there are lots of ways we will be pushing legislation forward."

She added that they have the support from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and are getting time from Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to speak with colleagues during weekly meetings of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.

The White House is in on it too, Boxer said. She said she'd been in contact with new White House adviser John Podesta in recent weeks, though they'd yet to notify him about the task force. Podesta is expected to be a game-changer for the administration on climate change, and lawmakers are eager to work with him.

And the senators say the country is on their side. Whitehouse cited polling from groups like the League of Conservation Voters, which found that 53 percent of Republican voters under age 35 use words like "ignorant" and "out-of-touch" to describe people who deny the impact of climate change.

Whitehouse said a majority of the public is rallying to push climate issues to the forefront, adding that companies are as well, from Apple to Coca-Cola to Nike. And this task force will aim to rally those armies to break down the barriers climate skeptics have erected in Congress, Whitehouse said.

"There is a barricade of special interest lies around Washington and Congress," he said. "As long as polluters can maintain that barricade then legislation remains a challenge. So our focus is on the barricade, on offense, and our intention is to open the space for strong legislation to be passed."

Boxer and Whitehouse plan to host a press conference Tuesday with more details on the new group.