WASHINGTON – Environmental rollbacks from the Bush administration "in the dead of the night" are history, the incoming head of the Senate environment committee declared Tuesday.
"That's over. We are going to bring these things into the light," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said in a wide-ranging interview laying out her agenda with The Associated Press. She cited concerns about a host of new Bush administration rules on air, land and water quality.
Boxer expressed optimism that Congress could reach agreement with President Bush on a global warming bill, but acknowledged she might not get all she hopes for. Bush has opposed mandatory regulation of industrial carbon dioxide.
"I have no line in the sand. ... Even a little step will look like a big step," she said. "I very much want the environment to go back to being a nonpartisan issue."
Boxer's rise marks not only a sharp turn in the nation's environmental leadership, but in Democrats' ability to question and demand documents on the administration's decisions.
"Any kind of weakening of environmental laws or secrecy or changes in the dead of night — it's over," Boxer said. "We're going to for once, finally, make this committee an environment committee, not an anti-environment committee. ... This is a sea change that is coming to this committee."
Boxer, who takes over the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in January, anticipates fireworks as early as Wednesday when the outgoing chairman, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., holds a last hearing portraying the news media as fanning global warming alarmism.
Her first hearing next month will focus on ways to address global warming, including her goal of imposing the nation's first mandatory caps on carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
"This is a potential crisis of a magnitude we've never seen," Boxer said.
Boxer said she would model federal legislation after a new California law that imposed the first statewide limit on greenhouse gases and seeks to cut California's emissions by 25 percent, dropping them to 1990 levels by 2020.
"Real goals, real percentages," Boxer said of what she's seeking nationally, though she added that along with being an idealist, she's also a realist — and hopes above all to get some form of new regulations started.
Several world leaders have called Boxer expressing their hope for a new day in U.S. environmental policy, she said, adding that "we want to send a signal to the world."
To help pay to clean up Superfund sitesthat are the nation's worst contaminated, Boxer said she will push to reinstate a special tax on oil and chemical industries and other businesses. She also plans to hold field hearings in Louisiana on the environmental effects of Hurricane Katrina.
On another matter, Boxer said the government should provide health care for sick 9/11 workers, vigorously endorsing presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton's plan for a long-term ground zero care program.
"We are taking care of the families who lost loved ones and nobody complains about that," Boxer said. "Why wouldn't we take care of the people who are surviving and coughing and sick — and dying, I might add — as a result of their work? To me it's clear, I don't have any hesitation about what our obligation is."
Doctors found thousands of workers suffered a variety of ailments, principally lung and gastrointestinal disorders. The demands for treatment grew more urgent after the January death of 34-year-old former NYPD detective James Zadroga was blamed on his exposure at ground zero.
Clinton has estimated that sick workers would need an average of about $5,800 a year in health care.
After Sept. 11, 2001, the government spent $90 million on health monitoring programs and this year spent an additional $75 million — the first federal dollars specifically for treatment. Health experts estimate that funding will run out in about a year.