Automakers and manufacturers, beware: There's a new environmental policy boss in town, she scowls a lot, and two of her favorite phrases are "global warming" and "extensive hearings."
The Democrats' coming takeover of Congress is expected to feel pressure for policy change on a number of fronts, from Iraq to taxes, but the starkest change may come at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, when Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., will surrender the gavel to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. Her appointment was announced Tuesday, but won't take effect until January.
Inhofe rejects a wide scientific consensus that human use of fossil fuels is largely responsible for catastrophic climate change, calling it "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." He's accused environmental activists of exploiting people's fears to raise money. And he's blocked legislation aimed at curbing global warming.
Boxer, in contrast, is a fiercely liberal environmental activist. She has railed against Inhofe, crusaded for cleaner drinking water and led wilderness protection efforts in her home state and for Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Her likely counterparts in the House of Representatives - Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., incoming chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., of the Resources Committee - are less sympathetic to environmentalists. Dingell's constituents include the auto industry, and Rahall's include the coal industry. Then too, of course, George W. Bush remains president, and he's not exactly a global-warming crusader, either.
But Boxer said Tuesday that starting in January, her priority will be to begin "a very long process of extensive hearings" on global warming.