Senator Barbara Boxer at a recent event at UCLA.
After years of criticizing Republican environmental policy California Barbara Boxer is set to take control of the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee. Senator Boxer tells host Bruce Gellerman about her plans to tackle climate change, toxic chemical cleanup and more.
GELLERMAN: It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that the future of federal environmental policy lies in the hands of Barbara Boxer. The Democratic senator from California is slated to become the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. In that powerful position, Senator Boxer will control the committee’s agenda. It’s also not an overstatement to say that Barbara Boxer is a fighter.
BOXER: (tape) Since his first day in office, President Bush has worked to roll back more than 350 laws and regulations that protect our public health and the environment. Any one of these rollbacks should be cause for a hearing in the Congress, should be a cause for consternation among the people. And I have to tell you, this has got to stop.
GELLERMAN: Senator Barbara Boxer joins us now from her Capitol Hill office. Senator, hello and welcome to Living on Earth.
BOXER: It’s lovely to be with you.
GELLERMAN: I was wondering, in your new role as head of the environment committee what’s at the very top of your agenda?
BOXER: Two things. Global warming, we’ve got to do something about it. We’ve lost a tremendous amount of time. There’s a report that just came out that said that out of the 56 emitters of carbon in the whole world if you rank them according to what they’ve done to fight global warming America comes out 53; ahead of only China, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia. So, you know, clearly we’ve done virtually nothing.
And the other issue that is also going to be my focus is protecting the health of our families, particularly our children. There are new reports out that show that, world wide, one in six children they’re experiencing neurological damage because of exposure to industrial waste and pollution. So these are the things we’re going to be working on, among many.
GELLERMAN: Senator, there were charges that the White House had politically influenced scientific findings.
BOXER: Mmm Hmmm.
GELLERMAN: In some cases, censored climate change studies. Are you going to hold hearings into those?
BOXER: Well, right now what I want to do is be positive and move forward. If the White House comes around and says they’re now convinced we need to move, that’s one set of circumstances. If they continue to cite these phony studies they may have politically influenced sure we’ll look into it. I mean what I want to do is get things done for the people. And to the extent that oversight helps me get things done for the people, we will use it. But clearly if we can do this in a bipartisan way, the people will be well served. Because the longer we wait on this challenge the more expensive it gets and the more dangerous it becomes.
GELLERMAN: Well how sanguine are you about bipartisanship? I mean you’ve got a fairly divided Senate, and well, you know you’ve got to have 60 votes in the Senate to get anything passed.
BOXER: There are some ways to get it done. But you’re absolutely right. Where it’s much easier in the House because of the way their rules are. In the Senate, unless you have 60 votes, it’s generally true. It’s hard to get things done. Having said that, my view has always been that when the American people want something done, and they are, their voices are heard, you have a good chance. And that’s why the first thing I’m doing is not putting legislation out there but the first thing I’m doing is holding a series of hearings starting in January to just shine the spotlight on global warming, children’s health and these other issues. So we have a lot of work ahead of us. And let me just say in my opinion, although I get along very very well with the former Chairman, we just don’t see things the same way. And I think there’s just a pent up demand for pro-environmental legislation.
GELLERMAN: Well that would be Senator Inhofe and he says climate change is essentially a sham.
BOXER: Yeah and they lost the election. So, you know, he’s not the chairman so he’ll be one vote. And I’m sure he’ll be vociferous and that will even crystallize the debate even more. He may be the last human standing who says it’s a hoax, you know.
GELLERMAN: Senator Boxer, you highlighted problems with the Superfund and toxic waste clean up program. What’s wrong with it? How can it be improved?
BOXER: Well, first of all we’ve lost our funding source. This is the first administration that has turned away from the fee on polluters. We believe polluters should pay. So we have a very big disagreement on that. What has happened then is you have to go to the general fund to clean up these sites, instead of having polluters pay and a lot of these sites have been neglected. And the EPA’s own admission is that there are a number of these sites that are out of control, meaning that people are being exposed to dangerous pollutants. They’re keeping these reports secret. They’re very secretive about this.
We’re using every tool at our disposal to get the information out to the public. The public right to know is very important to me. I’m such a believer in the people being given the facts and the truth, and then let them make the judgements. But if they don’t know and they don’t understand what these pollutants are, and how long it will take them to clean them up and all the rest of it, we’re really in big trouble. So this whole program needs to have the light on it, and we’re going to do that in the next Congress in January.
GELLERMAN: For the past six years you’ve been essentially out of power. What was it like sitting there through hearings and sessions?
BOXER: What it’s like to be in the minority, um, you have to learn patience. You have to learn that your first priority is stopping bad things from happening instead of moving forward with an agenda. You have to reach across party lines both when you’re in the majority and the minority here. It’s difficult. It’s a lot of reaching out. That’s fine. But I will tell you, for someone like me who believes government has a role in protecting the health and safety of the people it’s been very frustrating.
And I am so pleased to have this opportunity to move an agenda forward that I think will speak to the American people in a ways they haven’t been spoken to in a long time. That in fact the United States Senate cares about them, cares about the health of their kids, wants them to be able to stay healthy, breathe the air, drink the water, the whole thing, clean up the beaches, all the things we need to do to get America back on track.
I mean my goodness when this country is rated 53 out of 56 in efforts to clean up carbon you know we’ve lost our way so my role as I see it as chair of this really historic and important committee is to get us back on the right path. And I wanted to thank you so much for the opportunity to lay that out.
GELLERMAN: Well thank you, Senator. Senator Barbara Boxer is the next chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
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