Monday, November 13, 2006

The green implications of the US mid-term elections

Capitol Hill, Washington.
The midterm elections not only shifted the balance of power to the Democrats in Congress they also shifted the political terrain in a number of state houses. And these changes might make America a little greener. No longer is it just about playing defense on environmental issues. For years environmental battles here in Congress had been about stopping things: stopping the oil exploration in the arctic refuge, stopping offshore drilling, stopping changes to major laws like the clean air act and the endangered species act. Now those who are interested in a more environmental agenda, instead of stopping things they have a chance to try to start something. They get a chance to play a little offense for a change. So, here is a short (and somewhat cribbed) breakdown on who to watch out for and what issues they will shout for.

  • Nancy Pelosi. Top of the agenda for California democrat and next speaker of the US House of Representatives is clean energy alternatives to oil imports.
  • The Senate Environment Committee. The chair will go from Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe to California Democrat Barbara Boxer. These two lawmakers are diametrically opposed when it comes to their view on the environment. Unlike Inhofe, Boxer views climate change as a real threat and is very outspoken on the need for the Bush administration to do more about it. Accountability of companies who contaminate land and water will be high on her agenda, and she has spoken up for the need to reinstate a tax on industry to pay for cleaning up toxic sites.
  • The House Resources Committee. West Virginia Democrat Nick Rahall is taking over from California Republican Richard Pombo. (scourge of environmentalists, Mr Pombo's history includes: attempts to weaken the endangered species act, supporter of drilling for oil in the Arctic, supporter of more drilling offshore, proposed the selling off parts of national parks) Now out of fashion and out of office after 7 terms in Congress. Not only did Pombo loose the chair, he lost his seat, and pretty much all those ideas go out the door with him.
  • Montana backed John Tester for the Senate; an organic farmer who also speaks very skeptically about free trade.
  • Southern Arizona chose 36 year old Gabrielle Giffords, who has a record in her state legislature on water and climate change issues. She wants to pay people to defray the cost of putting solar panels on homes and increase mile standards for cars.
  • Jerry McNerny. The first alternative energy expert in Congress; he's a wind energy engineer.
  • The House Energy Committee. Keep an eye on John Dingell, the veteran Congressman who is returning to that position and that chairmanship that he had 12 years ago. Back then he was very famous as a very tough investigator, digging into what the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency were up to.
  • The House Government Reform Committee. California Democrat Henry Waxman is taking over there, so expect more hearings and more investigations into things like climate change, were scientists censored when they tried to ring the alarm bells on climate change, how the rules were written on mercury emissions from power plants, how did the Bush Administration come up with its energy policy and who was holding the pen when these rules were written.

It looks like it's going to be a very interesting time across the water....

  • With thanks to Living on Earth. The full written and audio transcript of LOE's 'The Election and the Environment' interview can be found on their website.
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