Strengths of Sens. Boxer, Feinstein May Help Conquer Drought

Strengths of Sens. Boxer, Feinstein May Help Conquer Drought

April 29, 2014

Source: Elizabeth Held; Washington Bureau 

When it comes to water issues, stereotypes of California’s two Democratic senators ring true.

Barbara Boxer is the firecracker, guarding environmental protections, while Dianne Feinstein is the negotiator, working with Republicans and Democrats.

But those differences might make the pair particularly suited to get a California drought relief bill approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives and signed by President Barack Obama.

Environmentalists have sway in the Democratic-controlled Senate. GOP support is crucial in the Republican-controlled House.

Republicans advocate rolling back environmental regulations to provide more water to farmers in the Central Valley and points south. Democrats want agencies to make more water available while maintaining environmental protections.

Despite their philosophical differences, Feinstein and Boxer were able to agree on the drought-relief bill and jointly introduced the legislation in February, calling for, among other things, agencies to use as much flexibility as possible when enforcing water pumping regulations.

“Everybody in California has a direct stake in drought relief,” said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. The urgency of the situation plus the skills that Feinstein and Boxer demonstrate, Pitney said, might make this the year Congress will pass a bill.

“Their strengths are complementary,” Pitney said. “Boxer is good at mobilizing the liberal base. Feinstein is good at working with Republicans.”

Republicans in the House of Representatives, though, criticize Boxer and Feinstein for moving too slowly. In February, the House passed it’s own drought relief bill that relaxed environmental protections.

Matt Sparks, spokesman for the House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy, said, “The onus is on the Senate Democrat majority to put forth California water legislation that can pass the full Senate.

“If 60 votes are required to move this process forward, then Senate legislation to provide relief to California farmers and families must be able to attract necessary bipartisan support.”

Boxer is viewed as the liberal from Marin County, said Steve Erie, a professorat UC San Diego, who has written extensively on California water. Feinstein, he said, “is a deal maker.”

DIFFERENT APPROACHES

Feinstein and Boxer have a history of being on different pages for managing California’s water.

In 2001, Feinstein introduced a bill with Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, that would have streamlined the review process for certain California water infrastructure projects. Boxer and Rep. George Miller, R-Martinez, with help from the environmental community, killed the effort.

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