Amid all the hubbub Tuesday about Tom Daschle and his fancy limo rides, you could be forgiven for missing this other bit of news out of the Senate: Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, announced her intentions to have a cap-and-trade bill at least through her committee by the time international climate talks convene in Copenhagen this December.
The eco-blogosphere was all over Boxer’s pronouncement, with mixed reactions about its implications. Bradford Plumer headlined a post “Barbara Boxer Rules Our Universe Edition,” while Climate Progress expressed frustration that all she promised was to get a bill out of committee by the end of year, meaning we could be waiting a whole lot longer for any legislation to actually be enacted. There’s also buzz that Boxer will support a boost in highway funding in the economic stimulus package, which could be seen as “shoveling out funds to promote auto dependency,” as Plumer puts it, and counterproductive to any commitment to reduce global warming emissions.
Boxer’s not the only one with Copenhagen looming in her mind. A nice opinion piece at Yale Environment 360 urges President Obama to establish his climate credentials before those meetings get under way.
For Obama, the political winds at his back are now as favorable as they will ever be. He is in a position to seize 2009 and do three things to meet the climate challenge: properly educate the American public about climate change and the need for immediate action; exercise the full might of his executive powers and regulatory discretion under the Clean Air Act to jump-start action; and spend freely from his enormous store of political capital to lead the government to enact comprehensive federal climate legislation. If he does, the United States will reclaim the mantle of global leadership when it takes its seat in Copenhagen.
After eight years of U.S. inaction on climate change, American leadership offers the only hope of success. Even if President Obama himself decides to attend the talks—and hopefully he will—his mission will fail unless he carries with him a year’s worth of demonstrated results to lend weight and credibility to the promise he made in his inaugural address to “roll back the specter of a warming planet.” In Copenhagen, his inspiring oratory alone will not be sufficient; he must demonstrate how science has been restored “to its rightful place” in America in strong climate regulation and law.