Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Senator Boxer Takes on Environmental Issues

In poll after poll, most Americans care about protecting the environment. One of the ironies is that a large percentage of Republican voters care about the environment as well. But Republican politicians in Washington see things differently, particularly when it concerns what to do after receiving their campaign contributions (of course, some Democrats are no better).

Things need to change.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) will soon be heading a committee on the environment in January; David Whitney of the McClatchy Washington Bureau has the story:
Sen. Barbara Boxer, the liberal California Democrat who'll head the leading Senate committee on the environment next year, declared Tuesday that "the days of rollbacks" on environmental protection are over.

"The way you stop these rollbacks is to shine a light on them," said Boxer, the incoming chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who pledged that oversight hearings on controversial topics will be the staple of her tenure as committee head.

Boxer said her first act would be to convene a series of hearings on global warming and climate change, as early as January.

That's an issue that's been forbidden by the current chairman of the panel, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who discounts science suggesting that gases from fossil fuel consumption are warming the Earth like a greenhouse and changing its climate.

"There is going to be a sea change on the committee," Boxer said of the polar shift in committee leadership.

I hope Senator Boxer does well. In recent years, America has been living off the environment the way rich kids sometimes run through a fortune. It's time for our country to begin rebuilding our national wealth instead of letting special interests make a quick buck at the expense of our future.

It's also important that we be honest about what we're doing. I grew up in Los Angeles in the 1950s before serious air pollution laws went into effect. I can remember the particularly bad days, usually in the late summer or early fall, when the smog actually stung the eyes.

Around Los Angeles, many things were done to cut down on smog. Some methods were straightforward and honest. Some were not so honest but were eventually addressed. Some methods fell in a gray area, though it was understandable at the time. The heaviest polluters around the greater Los Angeles area are cars but beyond smog control devices they weren't about to be touched.

What happened is that a number of heavy industries that happened to be the worst polluters were essentially forced to move out of California. At first, they moved to other parts of the country. But that simply shifted the pollution elsewhere as far as tightening environmental laws at the national level were concerned. Eventually, instead of developing the technology to deal with the pollution, a number of heavy industries started being shipped, more or less, overseas. Aside from the ethical issue of dumping our pollution on others, the irony is that we're discovering that the pollution from industries doing work for us is now crossing oceans—affecting Americans once again. Of course, CO2 emissions are also entering the atmosphere in ways that apparently are affecting the entire world.

For a long time, America has been exporting its pollution, along with jobs. We need to change that. We need to create jobs to clean up the pollution and we need to start talking to other countries about cleaning up the pollution that comes back our way. And we need to find cleaner ways to do all kinds of business. If we value something, it creates demand, it creates jobs. If we value a clean environment, it will benefit us in the long run in more ways than one. We're not exactly a leader in environmental technology but we ought to be. Big companies sometimes do ads talking about the need to change the way we think. I agree and it applies to all of us, including companies that have been putting off changes they know they need to make.

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