The decision "put the wind at our backs," the California Democrat said, vowing at the National Press Club to haul administration officials before her Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to ask them what immediate steps they will take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are produced by the consumption of fossil fuels.
"I will hound them on this week after week after week after week," said Boxer, who chairs the committee. "It doesn't take China doing anything. It doesn't take India doing anything. It doesn't take Congress doing anything."
The administration has the power to act on its own, she said, and "I intend to move to make sure the administration uses its powers."
Among the steps she said she expects the agency to take is providing California a waiver from federal rules, which would allow the state to impose greenhouse gas emissions limits on automobiles. She also wants a similar rule adopted nationwide, as well as new limits on all coal-fired power plants. A national rule would reduce greenhouse gases from cars by 30 percent, she said, while gases from utilities account for 40 percent of emissions nationwide.
EPA chief Steve Johnson ihas appeared before the committee, along with Carol Browner, who ran the agency under Democratic President Bill Clinton and William Reilly, who headed it under Republican President George H.W. Bush.
Although President Bush embraced global warming as a problem in his January State of the Union address, his administration opposes forcing industry to cut emissions. Boxer faces an uphill struggle to pass a global warming bill in Congress, even though she said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has made the issue second only to the Iraq war on the Democrats' agenda.
Boxer promised to move a bill out of her committee as soon as she has Republican support. While that support is growing among moderates - committee member Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, is poised to introduce a global warming bill - Boxer conceded it is unlikely that Democrats will be able to overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold needed to pass global warming legislation in this Congress.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco faces a similar difficulty pushing global warming legislation through the House, despite creating a special committee on the issue and pledging to have a bill by July.
At the first hearing of the special committee, Republicans questioned efforts to paint global warming as a national security threat.
"Unfortunately, this debate hasn't been characterized by common sense. It's been characterized by extremism," said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. "While this extremism hasn't done anything to produce effective solutions, it has created a lot of hot air, which hasn't been good for Congress' carbon footprint."
But Boxer, in her speech to the press club, said she is counting on public pressure to force the administration to act before the 2008 elections.
"At some point," she said, "the administration will realize that the price isn't worth it," to stand in the way. "Congress is at stake. The presidency is at stake."
Boxer ruled out a carbon tax, widely viewed by economists as an efficient and quick way to encourage energy conservation and reduce fossil fuel consumption, especially gasoline, by raising prices. For that same reason, it is highly unpopular politically.
"There's no support for it," Boxer said. Clinton attempted early in his first term to impose an energy tax, but was hammered by Republicans, and the idea hasn't surfaced seriously in Congress since.
Boxer instead favors a "cap and trade" system modeled on the approach taken by California's new law and by Europe. Under such a system, the government sets emissions levels and develops a market in emissions, in which companies can earn credits by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or buy credits from other companies that can do so more cheaply. Such a system was initially adopted by Bush's father's administration to curb acid rain pollutants from power plants. The idea was initially denounced but has since been widely embraced. While leveraging market forces, it has the political advantage of targeting industry, while hitting consumers only indirectly.
"At the end of the day, it does the same thing," Boxer said of a cap-and-trade system versus a carbon tax. "You put a price on carbon."