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Obama’s Environmental Policy At Risk During Midterm Elections

Benjamin Gottlieb |
October 21, 2010 | 4:52 p.m. PDT

Associate Editor

President Barack Obama brings his fight to keep Democrats in control of Congress to USC on Friday, amid grave concerns that a GOP victory will drastically alter the administration's environmental policy.

If the GOP gains a majority in the Senate, staunch global warming cynic Rep. James Inhofe of Oklahoma is slated to once again become majority leader of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

“That situation would be similar to having the chief navigator on Columbus’s maiden voyage believing that the earth is flat,” said David Graham-Caso, a press secretary for the Sierra Club. “It would be a major problem.”

Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe (Creative Commons)
Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe (Creative Commons)

The EPW committee is responsible for all proposed legislation for U.S. environmental policy, including pollution and wildlife regulations and public works projects. Inhofe – who was the committee’s Majority Leader from 2003-2007 – came out against global warming on the Senate floor in 2003, calling it the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” According to Inhofe’s address, the debate over global warming is “predicated on fear, rather than science. "

Because Inhofe’s views on global warming and domestic environmental policy clash with those of the Obama administration, his reappointment as chairman of the committee could potentially create a major policy shift. Principally, Inhofe is critical of President Obama’s “cap and trade” policy, which provides economic incentives for companies that reduce their pollutant emissions.

“Cap and trade is dead, whether Republicans are in charge or Democrats,” said Matt Dempsey, Press Secretary for Senator Inhofe. “The Democrats had 60 votes and it still wasn’t enough to pass the President’s plan.”

With recent polling figures compiled by RealClearPolitics.com suggesting the Democrats could loose the Senate majority, Dempsey said the senator is already planning his reappointment.

“It's very simple. We would reinforce the [EPW] committee on jobs and the economy… period,” Dempsey said. “Also, as part of focusing on the economy, we would increase regulation of the Environmental Protection Agency.”

With help from a Democratic majority in Congress, the Obama administration passed a number of laws on energy and the environment, including regulations for the U.S. to catalogue greenhouse gas emissions from large emission sources.  According to the administration, the regulation is an important initial step toward measurable and transparent emission reduction.

However, with Inhofe’s appointment close to certain, the GOP could effectively stall many of the President’s environmental ambitions.

“To advocate for responsible climate policy is going to be hard with [Inhofe] as chairman,” Graham-Caso said. “The committee would have a chairperson that is obstructing climate legislation… there are ways around it, but the committee chairman has a lot to say about what goes in front of the committee.”

Congress scholar Christian Grose said it would be a major blow to Obama’s pledged domestic and international environmental commitments if the Democrat's lost control of the Senate.

(Creative Commons)
(Creative Commons)
“If you’re an environmentalist, Inhofe is the worst person to chair that committee,” said Grose, a USC political science professor. “When he was previously chair of the committee, he wasn’t the type of person that advocated for climate change or fighting global warming.”

Despite the blow to Obama’s policy, Grose said the Democrats will most likely retain filibuster power in the Senate come Nov. 2. 

“The likelihood that the democrats will lose 60 seats is very unlikely,” Grose said. “It’s looking like the GOP will only have 57 or 58.”

As long as the GOP does not win 60 seats, the Democrats will be able filibuster any sort of conservative environmental legislation. Without the filibuster, the President’s veto power would be the last defense against anti-environment legislation, Grose said.

Dempsey said Inhofe would offer a reauthorization of his highway bill, the Water Resources Development Act, and the Economic Development Administration--all of which Inhofe considers to be “job bills.” Inhofe also aims to curb the Environmental Protection Agency’s policies that he considers to be hurting the job market. 

“The EPA has proposed new job killing global warming regulations for places that come under greenhouse gas regulations, including regulations on nursing, schools and churches,” Dempsey said. “As chairman, we would do appropriate oversight and do our best to stop the EPA in its tracks.”


To reach Benjamin Gottlieb, click here. Follow Benjamin on Twitter @benjamin_max.



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