Elections boost environmental agenda
By Mark Brush
The Environment Report
Published November 13, 2006
The political landscape in the US changed overnight this
week/last week (election week). The Democratic takeover
will mean a big shift in policy-making efforts in Washington.
Mark Brush has more on how environmental issues played
out in the election, and what this new Congress might
do on the environmental front:
Environmentalists say some of their biggest enemies were
defeated in the midterm election. And top on their list
of the worst environmental offenders was California Congressman
(The "Pombo Mambo" plays: a catchy ad jingle
whose lyrics expose Richard Pombo's environmental record,
produced and run by the League of Conservation Voters.)
Environmentalists spent millions of dollars on radio
and television ads to defeat Pombo, and they say it was
money well spent. They came to really despise Pombo because
of his work to weaken the Endangered Species Act.
Tiernan Sittenfeld is the legislative director for the
League of Conservation Voters. She says many Republican
committee chairs, such as Richard Pombo, simply obstructed
environmental legislation. She says now that will change.
"It's not that even that Congress has even voted
to pass particular pro-environment legislation; it's that
the house leadership and the committee chairs haven't
even allowed such legislation to come to the floor. They
haven't even wanted a debate on it. So I think having
different leadership, having different committee chairs
who care about protecting the environment, who care about
clean air, clean water, and open space is going to be
a whole world of difference."
So now that the Republican leadership is out who is taking
their place? One legislator who is expected to gain a
lot of power is Democrat John Dingell of Michigan. He
will chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Dingell says he, and other Democratic committee chairs
will first use their power to make sure that existing
environmental laws are being enforced by the Bush Administration.
"This administration has been totally unsupervised
by the Congress, and checks and balances which are so
important to the Founding Fathers, and legislative oversight,
have simply not taken place since the Bush Administration
Dingell will be joined by many other legislators who
are likely to have strong environmental agendas. People
like Barbara Boxer, Harry Reid, and Henry Waxman. They
have several issues in mind that they feel have been mishandled
by the Bush Administration. Top on their list is energy
policy and global warming.
On energy, environmental lobbyists say high gas prices
have made the issue one that resonates with voters.
Karen Wayland is the legislative director for the Natural
Resources Defense Council. She says the new Congress will
revisit the tax breaks and other financial incentives
given to oil companies in the last energy bill.
"I think what something the House will do at least
will be to look at the royalty relief that Congress has
given to the oil companies and sort of try to roll back
some of the royalty relief; make the oil companies pay
full price for extracting oil from our public lands and
then use that money to invest in clean energy."
Democrats are also expected to make a push for national
renewable energy standards, and higher fuel economy standards
for cars and trucks.
As for global warming, the Democrats say the Bush White
House and the Republicans in Congress have completely
ignored the issue. The Democrats are expected to introduce
several global warming bills in the next session.
But while the Democrats gained a lot of power, they still
will have to work around the threat of a presidential
veto. And in the Senate, the republicans still hold more
than enough seats to block legislation.
Darren Samuelsohn is a senior reporter with Greenwire,
a Washington DC based news service covering energy and
environmental policy. Samuelsohn says while the Republicans
still hold a lot of power, it's interesting to see how
much of it was eroded overnight.
"As you start to talk about it and think about it,
it's across the board: it's judges, it's legislation,
it's oversight. And then the thing that really nobody
outside of Washington ever really kind of knows what's
going on about, but the whole huge appropriation - the
whole federal budget process. That will now be Democrat
controlled and we're talking about hundreds of billions
of dollars that get spent every year."
Samuelsohn says the Democrats will now face the challenge
of finding more money for their favorite environmental
programs, while at the same time making good on campaign
promises to cut the huge federal budget deficit.
For the Environment Report, I'm Mark Brush.