She survived a serious challenge from Republican Carly Fiorina, but Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Cal.) heads back to Washington seeking compromise on energy and climate policy. It is an amazing political juxtaposition, considering where Boxer was just a year ago.

Mike Zapler of the San Jose Mercury News reported on just how much things have changed for Boxer over the last 12 months. He points out that the chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works committee has gone from pushing for sweeping climate legislation to pushing whatever she can. “On Thursday, the newly re-elected Democrat and environmental champion was thinking smaller — a lot smaller — about what Congress might accomplish on the global warming front,” Zapler writes.

Of the issues Boxer said she would move on, some are widely known, such as agreeing on a national renewable energy standard, and making federal buildings more energy-efficient. But other, under-the-radar ideas, are quite intriguing. These ideas include the creation of a loan program for landlords to modernize energy systems of old buildings, and changing the tax code to incentivize clean energy use.

What's interesting about all of this is the notion that the Senate will be where climate and energy policy will originate. This, just like Boxer’s situation, is an about-face from a year ago. The Senate has been where policy has generally stalled or died in the past year. It was the House of Representatives that passed a climate bill in 2009, and it was the Senate that ignored it to death in 2010. Now, with the House in Republican hands, the most reliable weapon for environmentalists — the Nancy Pelosi-controlled House — has been removed. That means the ball appears to be in the Senate’s hands again.

The result is new talk about compromise on small policy measures. But why didn’t any of these smaller, more achievable policy measures get done when Democrats had a 60-40 majority? Some say the biggest failure on climate policy in the past year was the Senate’s inability to pass a big, all-encompassing bill. But isn’t it more disheartening — and an even bigger indictment of failed Democratic leadership — that the smaller measures are still up for compromise? Perhaps most concerning is that the same leadership that failed has the best chance to win a climate policy consolation prize.

A lot has changed in a year. Unfortunately, a lot has stayed the same.

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