Senator Barbara Boxer (D) of California chairs the Senate's committee on the Environment and Public Works. She came to Richmond to praise a program that teaches students how to install solar panels. The chair of the Environmental Committee told the students alternative energy is the future.
"And you're getting ready for the future now and that is so important," she said.
But the future of the energy bill that just passed the House is not so clear. It passed the House by just seven votes and with only a handful of Republicans on board.
Major changes are expected if it's going to get through the Senate, particularly with the most controversial aspect of the bill -- setting limits on carbon dioxide and other green house gas emissions and requiring industries that can't meet the standards to buy carbon credit in a so-called cap and trade system. That's the part of the bill that's headed for Sen. Boxer's committee.
"I think we will tweak the bill a little bit, I think we'll make it a little bit stronger on the goals, and we're working on it now and I'm hoping to have a Republican co-sponsor," said the senator. "I don't want to just say what's in my mind because, by the way, I'm writing it with several other people."
Sen. Boxer was happier to talk about the waiver California received from the EPA.
"This is an example of people getting out of their corners and walking toward each other," she said.
As Sen. Boxer explained, in 2004 California wanted tough fuel efficiency standards for cars, but the Bush administration said no. However, under the Obama Administration the EPA said yes and adopted the California standards nationwide.
In Washington D.C., the Competitive Enterprise Institute has long opposed government fuel efficiency standards.
"Why does the government have to tell us what cars to drive," said William Yeatman. Yeatman is energy policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He says consumers should choose their own cars, not the government. He continued, "I don't need California legislators forcing me to buy a Ford Fiesta. That's not what I want."
Among the biggest funders of the Competitive Enterprise Institute are, not surprisingly, the auto makers.
But auto makers aren't objecting to the California waiver on their own. Perhaps because California has agreed not to increase standards between now and 2017, or because the government is now the majority stake holder in Chrysler and GM, or perhaps because U.S. automakers have seen the what $5-a-gallon gas did to the sales of their SUVs.