prepare for Bush's agenda
leaders signal interest in reviving Arctic drilling, increasing
selective logging in fire zones
Scripps Howard News Service
Prospects for controversial environmental proposals backed
by the Bush administration -- ranging from drilling for
oil in the Arctic to more logging in national forests --
are much brighter in light of the Republican takeover of
Environmentalists are bracing
for "the biggest attack on national environmental laws
since the Gingrich Congress in 1995," said Phil Clapp,
president of the National Environmental Trust, an environmental
"Every computer in every corporate
lobbyist's office in this town is clicking away today
sending memos to the corporate home office, 'We have the
White House, the House and the Senate, but we may not
have them after 2004. One of the things we want is relief
from federal environmental laws,'" Clapp said.
House Republican leaders signaled
Wednesday that they would like to revive a major energy
bill -- one of the administration's top legislative priorities
-- that has been languishing because of differences between
Senate Democrats and House Republicans over energy industry
tax breaks, drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge and a requirement that electric utilities increase
the use of renewable energy, among other issues.
Looking toward next year, Republicans
are also likely to revive an administration proposal to
reduce the risk of wildfires in national forests by increasing
selective logging. Critics say the plan is a giveaway
to the timber industry.
Bush's "clear skies" initiative
to reduce air pollution from electric power plants, effectively
blocked by Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., the current environment
committee chairman, is also likely to be revived.
Jeffords and Senate Democrats
opposed the bill because it didn't reduce carbon dioxide
emissions, the chief greenhouse gas responsible for global
warming. Democrats and environmentalists also criticized
the Bush bill for making too little effort to reduce dangerous
mercury emissions. Utility companies have said reducing
mercury emissions would be too expensive and too difficult.
Beyond the administration's immediate
legislative proposals, the shift in control of the Senate
means it will be far more difficult for Democrats to act
as a check on controversial administration efforts to
reinterpret the way federal environmental laws are applied.
For example, Jeffords, who caucuses
with the Democrats, has used his committee's subpoena
power to pressure the Environmental Protection Agency
to justify a new rule related to power plant emissions
that the agency is expected to unveil later this month.
Environmentalists charge the rule would weaken the Clean
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.,
chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee,
has been investigating industry influence on the administration's
environmental decision-making across the board.
Replacing Jeffords as environment
committee chairman will be Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla.,
a longtime champion of the oil industry. Jeffords has
a 75 percent voting score from the League of Conservation
Voters. Inhofe's rating is zero.
Conservative activists and industry
lobbyists are delighted with the changeover. Fred Smith,
president of the industry-oriented Competitive Enterprise
Institute, predicted a fundamental shift in the substance
of debate on environmental issues within the Senate.
With Inhofe as panel chairman,
"I think we're going to see a lot more decentralization
(of environmental regulation)," Smith said. "There will
be a willingness to allow states to vary or waive federal
standards" and to give states "more flexibility" in enforcing
environmental protection laws.
But Jerry Taylor, natural resources
director of the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank,
cautioned that the Republicans' slim majority and the
Democrats' ability to block most legislative proposals
means relatively few GOP initiatives on the environment
may actually pass.
"I don't see it making that much
of a difference," Taylor said. "As long as the Democrats
have a strong environmentalist core in their voter base,
they will have ample incentive to filibuster things like
drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."