Our Hero Barbara Boxer


We've spent a lot of time and, well, energy warning against costly carbon controls, yet we must admit the fruits of our earnest labors pale in comparison to those of Senator Barbara Boxer. That's odd because Boxer is an avowed environmentalist and chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Her honest job description might be, "To pass the most annoying, burdensome legislation possible."

However, it's hard to argue with the lady's results. Her resolute leadership has torpedoed two major climate bills — so far. While we continue to disagree with Boxer vehemently, her record of unmitigated failure is a "platform" around which we can rally.

Democratic challenger and popular blogger Mickey Kaus tried to make an issue of her ineffectiveness in the run-up to today's primary. He invited her to a debate on May 25, which she refused to attend. Kaus had a cardboard box stand in for her on the podium. With the aid of some audio clips, he debated the box. One of the audio clips was of Boxer flipping out when a member of the U.S. military referred to her as "ma'am." The most effective dig was yet to come after the debate, on Kaus's campaign website: "The box gave an honest answer when asked to list Sen. Boxer's major legislative accomplishments."

Boxer's bungling of global warming legislation has been impressive. If we had decided to plant a mole in the Democratic Party to scuttle the legislation, we're honestly not sure we could have done any better. In late 2007, for example, soon-to-retire Senator John Warner, a powerful Republican representing Virginia, lent bipartisan cover to a major cap-and-trade energy rationing scheme he co-authored with Joseph Lieberman. After passing through committee that December, the Warner-Lieberman climate legislation had the big mo, and gave us a big headache.

Then Boxer got hold of it. Over the next six months, she changed it, adding hundreds of pages. By the time she unveiled her version of the bill, the topic had become stale. The legislation fizzled and the defeat was embarrassingly bipartisan. Cap-and-trade is a Democratic Party platform plank, but ten senators from Boxer's own party sent her a letter explaining that they could not vote for her bill.

June 29, 2009 left the high water mark for climate change policy. On that day, the House of Representatives enacted a cap-and-trade scheme, the Orwellian-titled American Climate and Energy Security Act. It was the first time the Congress had put a price on carbon, a.k.a. taxed energy. Environmentalists were thrilled, and we were dismayed.

We needn't have feared, because Boxer released the companion bill in the Senate. She outraged Republicans on her committee by refusing to deliberate the bill. In particular, she barred any economic analysis. Republicans boycotted, thereby denying Boxer a quorum for a vote. She found a procedural loophole, and passed it out anyway. Her Democratic colleagues in the Senate were put off by Boxer's partisan pique. The legislation was immediately shelved and now John Kerry is trying to put together a new bill, without the aid of Boxer.

Boxer's political kiss of death no doubt arises from her peculiar notions of how climate policy works. In an October 2009 interview with C-Span, she praised a recent, precipitous drop in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Now, she was right about that. Emissions had fallen. But regulation had next to nothing to do with it. The drop was caused by an economic recession. Inadvertently, Boxer praised economic stagnation and undercut the Obama administration's entire rationale for green jobs. She affirmed a causal connection between greenhouse gas emissions reductions and decreased economic growth.

On energy and climate policy, we could not be further from the positions staked out by Boxer. And that's why we find it so heartening that she looks set to sail through her party's Potemkin nomination process. As long as she is in charge of climate policy, we can all breathe a little easier.