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New Senate Leadership Mostly Hard-Liners

by Cat Lazaroff

Bush Makes Full Court Press To Confirm Judges
(ENS) WASHINGTON -- The Republican leadership has elected new chairs of all Senate committees and subcommittees, choosing leaders who illustrate vividly the shift in legislative priorities that will come with the Republican controlled Congress. The Republican announcements were followed by Democratic decisions regarding Senate leadership on Wednesday, and today, by the selection of California Representative Nancy Pelosi as the new House minority leader.

With the Republican party now holding a four- seat majority in the Senate, all committee and subcommittee chairs will be turned over to senior Republicans when Congress returns in January for the 108th Congress. On Wednesday, with little controversy or debate, the party annointed its new Senate leaders, replacing, in many cases, environmental champions with senators who generally vote against increasing protections for the environment.

Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma will take over leadership of the crucial Environment and Public Works Committee, which reviews almost all major legislation concerning conservation and environmental enforcement. As the longest serving Republican senator on this committee, he will succeed Senator Jim Jeffords, the Vermont Independent whose abdication from the Republican party gave power to the Democrats in June 2001.

While Jeffords is widely admired by conservation groups for his pro-environment stance, Inhofe is just the opposite. The League of Conservation Voters, a nonprofit group which monitors the environmental voting records of all Congress members, gave Inhofe a 0 percent rating for his lifetime voting record, noting his support for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and opposition to increased fuel efficiency standards, among other environmental issues.

Inhofe intends to protect the oil and gas industry, as he has stated many times over the past decade. In these February 24, 1999 comments to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Carol Browner, he said, "I hope we can work together and provide some regulatory relief to the oil and gas industry. I am concerned not about any specific rule, but about all pending regulations across the entire agency."

Believing that the states "are in the best position to enforce the environmental laws and regulations," Inhofe can be expected to limit the role of federal agencies, particularly the EPA. He said on June 10, 1997, "The EPA should be limited to an oversight role for consistency only and for providing advice to the States. They should not be in the business of second guessing States or playing the big bully on the block."

In contrast, Jeffords scored 76 percent for his votes in the 107th Congress, supporting proposals to require more energy production from renewable sources and opposing a vote to override objections by Nevada lawmakers and citizens and send the bulk of the nation's high level nuclear waste to a repository at Yucca Mountain.

Inhofe is considered one of the most conservative senators, and is a strong supporter of Bush administration proposals to increase domestic energy production and offer new incentives to the oil industry. Jeffords used his tenure as committee chair to launch investigations of industry involvement in administration initiatives like the national energy plan.

A slightly less conservative senator will take over the helm of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Pete Domenici of New Mexico will chair the energy committee when the panel's senior Republican member, Frank Murkowski of Alaska, steps down to become Alaska's new governor.

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has jurisdiction over a sweeping array of issues, including energy resources and development, including regulation, conservation, strategic petroleum reserves and appliance standards; nuclear energy; Indian affairs; public lands and renewable resources; surface mining, federal coal, oil, and gas, other mineral leasing; territories and insular possessions; and water resources.

Domenici was in line to chair the Budget Committee, a position he has held before, but opted to take over the energy panel because of the importance of energy issues to his home state of New Mexico. He takes over from Senator Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat, keeping state issues front and center on the Energy Committee.

But while Bingaman voted in favor of environmental issues 64 percent of the time in the 107th Congress, according to the LCV, Domenici favored environmental issues just eight percent of the time, and holds a 15 percent environmental voting record over this five Senate terms. While Domenici is considered a moderate voter on many issues, he is expected to support the Bush administration's controversial national energy plan, which emphasizes fossil fuels and nuclear power.

"I am eager to take on this new challenge as chairman of a committee with such import to issues both nationally and in New Mexico," Domenici said. "The task ahead for me is something both new and exciting, and significant in terms of setting natural resource and land policy for the country. I want to find balanced, common sense approaches to these issues."

Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi will chair the Agriculture committee, taking over from Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin. Cochran cast pro-environment votes just eight percent of the time in the 107th Congress, though he did help craft an agriculture proposal supported by many environmental groups: a 1996 bill to phase out federal subsidies for most crops, which has since been overturned by later legislation.

However, Cochran opposed February 2002 proposals to end subsidies for large, polluting factory farms, and to offer money to states to buy agricultural water rights to conserve water for fish and other freshwater species. Harkin, who had an 84 percent pro-environment voting record in the 107th Congress, voted in favor of both of these proposals.

The Senate Appropriations committee, which crafts budget proposals for every federal agency, will now be chaired by Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, the Senate's senior Republican member.

While Stevens, who has an eight percent pro-environment voting record for the 107th Congress, votes as a moderate on some issues, he has not been a friend to conservation groups, and is expected to support the Bush administration in its budget priorities.

In contrast, the Democratic chair, eight term Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, had a 56 percent pro-environment record in the 107th Congress. But both of these senior senators share a fondness for pork barrel spending, particularly when it comes to pet projects in their home states.

Besides taking the Appropriations chair from Byrd, Senator Stevens will also take his title as President Pro Tempore of the Senate, traditionally the most senior member of the majority party in the Senate. Stevens becomes the longest serving Republican in the Senate upon Senator Strom Thurmond's retirement at the end of the 107th Congress.

The U.S. Constitution provides for a President Pro Tempore to preside over the Senate in the absence of the vice president, and the Senate President Pro Tempore is also the third person in line of succession for the presidency, following the vice president and the Speaker of the House.

Oklahoma Senator Don Nickles will be the next chair of the Senate Budget Committee, because the committee's senior Republican, Pete Domenici, will take over the Energy Committee. The Budget Committee is responsible for writing Congress' annual budget plan and monitoring the impact of revenue and spending decisions on the federal budget.

The committee also oversees the Congressional Budget Office, which is charged with providing objective, nonpartisan analysis of the budget and economic impact of legislation.

Nickles, a conservative who has voted against nearly every major piece of environmental legislation during his four terms in office, takes over from Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat who voted pro-environment 56 percent of the time in the 107th Congress.

"The Senate Budget Committee is vitally important to guiding the decisions of the Senate and ensuring that our government works efficiently and effectively," Nickles said after his election as committee chair. "I'm looking forward to working with President Bush and Senators on both sides of the aisle to reinstate a realistic, fiscally responsible budget process that will promote economic growth, homeland security and national security."

John McCain, a moderate Republican from Arizona with a 37 percent pro-environment voting record in the 107th Congress, will take over the Commerce Committee from Ernest Hollings of South Carolina.

McCain voted in favor of granting so called fast track authority to President George W. Bush, allowing the White House to negotiate trade agreements that Congress may reject but may not alter, a power that some say will result in less emphasis on environmental and human rights protections in international trade.

McCain has usually voted in favor of boosting vehicle fuel efficiency and supporting alternative fuels and public transportation.

Virginia Senator John Warner will chair the Senate Armed Services Committee, taking over from Carl Levin of Michigan. This committee determines priorities for the nation's military, and will play a major role in determining whether to exempt military training centers and operations from a variety of environmental laws.

For example, the 2003 Defense Authorization Bill sent to President George W. Bush late Wednesday includes a provision to exempt the military from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, meaning the armed services cannot be penalized when their operations kill protected birds on American soil.

Warner said last week that as committee chair, he would work to "provide the support and resources necessary for our men and women in uniform, active and reserve, to successfully perform their current missions around the world; and to assist our military in building the capabilities necessary to transform the force to successfully confront future threats."

Warner voted in favor of environmental issues 16 percent of the time in the 107th Congress, compared to Levin's 72 percent record.

Susan Collins of Maine, a junior senator who begins her second term in January, will chair the Governmental Affairs committee, which oversees the actions of all government agencies. She takes over from environmental champion Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who used his position as chair to launch investigations of Bush administration efforts to overturn or undermine environmental legislation.

Collins has a 64 percent pro-environment record for the 107th Congress, compared to Lieberman's 88 percent record.

The remaining committee successions include:

  • Banking, Housing and Urban Development: Richard Shelby of Alabama, a conservative and former Democrat who switched parties in 1994, will take over from Paul Sarbanes of Maryland. Shelby opposes government regulation of big business, and almost never votes in favor of environmental issues.

  • Finance: Charles Grassley of Iowa will take over the Finance Committee from Max Baucus of Montana, reversing the switch that took place in June 2001 when the Democrats took control of the Senate. Grassley, a conservative who rarely votes in favor of environmental issues, has said that his priorities as Finance chair will include reforms to welfare, Medicaid, and the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

  • Foreign Relations: Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana becomes senior Republican and chair of the Foreign Relations Committee due to the retirement of Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina. Lugar, who held the Foreign Relations chair 16 years ago before leaving to chair the Agriculture committee, succeeds Joe Biden of Delaware.

  • Health, Education, Labor and Pensions: Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, a moderate, will take over from Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts as chair of the Senate Health Education committee, which oversees some of the nation's largest domestic programs. Gregg is known for his willingness to work with Democrats on liberal issues such as the environment and education, and has a 44 percent pro-environment voting record for the 107th Congress.

  • Judiciary: Conservative Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah will resume the chair of the Judiciary Committee, putting him in a position of approving the Bush administration's nominees to the federal bench. He succeeds Patrick Leahy of Vermont, whose 96 percent pro-environment voting record in the 107th Congress stands in sharp contrast to Hatch's four percent record.

© 2002 Environment News Service and reprinted with permission

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Albion Monitor November 12 2002 (

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