- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A top Senate Democrat on Monday sent a letter to President-elect Barack Obama assuring him that Congress will move quickly to approve an economic stimulus plan between $500 billion and $1 trillion, and base much of it on establishing energy independence through renewable and alternative energy sources.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said her committee is ready to pass any plan that comes from the House.

“We know what we need to do - accelerate our economic recovery in the short term and ensure our long-term prosperity,” Mrs. Boxer wrote in her letter to Mr. Obama. “Investing in transportation infrastructure and working toward energy independence, while combating global warming, are initiatives that meet these goals.”

Mrs. Boxer has been working closely with the president-elect’s transition team on energy and environmental issues.

Mr. Obama, who is widely expected to announce his picks for top energy and environment posts this week, is set to meet with former Vice President Al Gore on Thursday. Mr. Gore’s name has been floated for several high-level positions, including a possible new post of “climate czar.”

Congressional leaders and Mr. Obama’s transition team have yet to release specifics of the stimulus plan, but the broad outline is clear: Spend hundreds of billions on roads and bridges, invest in renewable energy sources and retrofit federal buildings to increase their energy efficiency.

Mrs. Boxer did not say Monday how the government would pay for a new stimulus plan, either through increased debt load or increased taxes. She did tout a carbon emission cap-and-trade program as a key measure.

Environmentalists have long wanted some sort of carbon-emission pricing - either through a direct tax or as part of a cap-and-trade program as the first step in any push for renewable energy projects.

But Republican leaders have questioned what such a measure would do.

“As Congress considers spending billions of taxpayer dollars to bail out the auto industry, it seems odd that some in the Democratic Party would continue to advocate for such an approach,” said Matt Dempsey, communications director for Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and ranking member on Mrs. Boxer’s committee.

“We shall soon see if the liberal environmental agenda of the Democratic Party trumps any sincere effort to provide a workable solution for improving our nation´s economy,” he said.

As speculation continued over who Mr. Obama would pick to shepherd his energy and environmental priorities, one group pre-emptively attacked his likely choice for Environmental Protection Agency administrator.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) on Monday panned Lisa Jackson, who ran the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for two years, in a letter to Mr. Obama Monday.

“While Ms. Jackson has a compelling biography, little of what occurred during her 31-month tenure commends her for promotion,” PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch saidin a statement. “Under her watch, New Jersey´s environment only got dirtier, incredible as that may seem.”

A spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said the group’s claims lacked substance.

“It’s really a personal attack on Lisa,” said DEP spokeswoman Elaine Makatura.

• Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

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