By John Heilprin Associated Press
Washington (AP) — The Democrats who will steer environment
issues in the new Congress are polar opposites of their Republican
predecessors, but changing environmental policy is like turning
around an aircraft carrier – it’s very slow.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, a liberal California Democrat and one of the
biggest environmental advocates on Capitol Hill, recently was named
to chair the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. She
replaces Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, who says global warming
is a hoax and wanted to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency
established by President Richard Nixon.
On the House side, the approach to endangered species and
opening public lands to private development will do an about-face
with Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., expected to take over the House
Resources Committee. He would replace GOP Rep. Richard Pombo, a
California rancher, defeated for re-election after
environmentalists spent nearly $2 million against him.
“Our long national nightmare is close to being over,” said
Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust,
paraphrasing Gerald Ford on assuming the presidency after Nixon’s
resignation over Watergate.
Democrats will focus on cutting pollution blamed for global
warming, accelerating toxic waste cleanups, reversing Bush
administration tax and regulatory breaks for energy producers, and
switching the government’s course back to strict protections for
Their environmental allies are back on offense. “We’ve been
forced to play defense most of the past six years,” said Gene
Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.
Energy companies likely will be put on the defensive. Rep. Nancy
Pelosi, D-Calif., the presumed next speaker of the House, already
has promised to repeal oil industry subsidies.
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the likely next chairman of the
House Energy and Commerce Committee, plans to investigate
Republicans’ oil subsidies included in the energy bill President
Bush signed into law last year. Dingell said he also was interested
in revisiting Vice President Dick Cheney’s secretive energy task
Environmentalists say any global warming policy must be
accompanied by higher fuel economy standards for cars and light
trucks. On that issue, they worry that Dingell, who represents
thousands of auto workers and is a strong ally of the auto
industry, could stand in the way.
Dingell has opposed raising those standards because of concerns
that jobs could be lost and automakers might suffer even more than
they are now economically.
Among Boxer’s first moves will be a bill to curb greenhouse
gases, modeled after her home state’s approach, which seeks to
lower emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
“Some of the practical solutions are in the California approach”
of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, she said.
Already, John McCain of Arizona and other Republican senators
have proposed bills or expressed support for mandatory caps on the
U.S. fossil fuel-burning emissions of carbon dioxide.
Even some Republicans say that Bush might eventually agree to
address global warming by imposing a nationwide cap on greenhouse
gases. A system for companies to swap the rights to pollute would
be established under the cap.
That would require a second 180-degree reversal of his stance on
global warming. He entered office in 2001 pledging to regulate
industrial carbon dioxide emissions, but came out against
regulation shortly afterward. To date, Bush has favored voluntary
strategies and more research and development.
“The president has indicated that a market-based cap is on his
list of options. And it’s pretty high on the list; it’s in second
place,” said Tucker Eskew, a Republican consultant and former Bush
White House aide.
Boxer also plans hearings on her longstanding complaint that the
EPA has maintained a sluggish pace in cleaning up Superfund
toxic-waste sites. The EPA says the sites are getting bigger,
costlier, and more complex to remedy.