New York Times / Greenwire
Inhofe confident he'll be EPW chairman
Robin Bravender, E&E reporter
The Senate's top global warming skeptic is confident he'll reclaim the gavel of the Environment and Public Works Committee next year, and he's got big plans in store.
"I'll be chairman," Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe said in an interview yesterday.
Inhofe was chairman of the panel from 2003 to 2007 and has served as ranking member since Democrats seized control of the chamber and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) took the gavel.
With an outside chance that Republicans will win back the Senate this fall, Inhofe is already making plans to overhaul the powerful panel.
His top priority, he says, is to stop "wasting time" on global warming hearings and get down to business on issues he says have been neglected, like overseeing U.S. EPA and passing major transportation and water infrastructure bills.
"We haven't really been doing anything because they've been wasting all of our time on all that silly stuff, all the hearings on global warming and all that," Inhofe said.
He wants to start probing some EPA regulations that he called "pretty outrageous," like rules dealing with airborne dust and lead in ammunition. Inhofe said he is also eager to hold investigations into who is really pulling the strings at the agency -- Administrator Lisa Jackson or White House climate and energy advisor Carol Browner, a former EPA chief.
"I'd like to know when you have someone who is put in a czar position and is not confirmed, just what their role is and what is her relation to Lisa Jackson," he said.
Inhofe also wants to scrap some of the subcommittees that Democrats created when Boxer took over.
When Inhofe was in charge, the panel had four subcommittees: Transportation and Infrastructure; Clean Air, Climate Change and Nuclear Safety; Fisheries, Wildlife and Water; and Superfund and Waste Management.
Boxer renamed several of those panels and created three new subcommittees: Children's Health; Green Jobs and the New Economy; and Oversight.
"I think we need to restructure the committees," Inhofe said. "Maybe back the way they were before, because if you get too many of them it gets a bit out of hand."
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), ranking member of the EPW oversight panel, said he would be thrilled to see Inhofe take charge.
"I'm all for it. I'm all for it. I would love to serve on the committee with Senator Inhofe as chairman. I think he'd be absolutely terrific," Barrasso said yesterday.
Democrats and environmentalists, however, are far from eager to see Inhofe reclaim the gavel.
"Since he denies the existence of global warming as a problem and shows no concern about carbon pollution, I think on the biggest environmental issue of the day, we would, as a committee, likely be found wanting," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee.
Frank O'Donnell, president of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, said Inhofe's return would be "a return to the Dark Ages" on global warming.
The panel could see some major leadership changes even if Democrats retain control of the chamber, as Boxer struggles to keep her seat as California's junior senator.
Boxer is facing a tough re-election battle against wealthy Republican Carly Fiorina, and a Rasmussen Reports poll released last week showed the two candidates in a dead heat.
Should Boxer lose but Democrats keep the majority, the leadership post is widely expected to go to Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who is the third most senior Democrat on the committee after Boxer and Sen. Max Baucus of Montana. Carper could also become the ranking member if Boxer is defeated and the Democrats lose their majority.
Either way, Baucus would likely want to keep his post as the chairman -- or the ranking Democrat -- of the powerful Finance Committee.
Carper, chairman of the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee, is known for his work on air pollution issues and has co-authored a series of bipartisan bills aimed at slashing harmful pollutants from power plants. He is also known for reaching across the aisle, and he is widely viewed as more moderate than Boxer.
"Carper's a different person," Inhofe said. "He would have more of a position toward the middle than Barbara. Barbara tends to be more polarized on the far left than he is. So in that respect, that might make it easier on some of these issues. There are some areas where we may want to compromise a little bit, and he would be more inclined to do that."
O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch said "it would be a good thing in a lot of respects" if Carper took the reigns of the EPW Committee, in part because Boxer is perceived as highly partisan.
"I think it is one of the little dark secrets that's never discussed is that people all think Barbara Boxer is fantastic when it comes to content but she's lacking when it comes to leadership and style," he said. By contrast, O'Donnell added, "Carper's a moderate but he's a guy who has a proven track record of working with people from both parties."
Other environmentalists say Boxer has done the best she could on a highly polarized committee.
"Because there's so much focus on energy and the energy battles, people often overlook the work that she's done on a bipartisan basis to build consensus on a very tough committee," said Jeremy Symons, senior vice president for conservation and education at the National Wildlife Federation.
"Basically, Senator Boxer has been a champion on clean water and clean energy, and people give her a lot less credit than she deserves for building consensus and moving legislation forward."
Democrats on the panel rallied around the California Democrat, refusing to comment on how the committee would look without her.
"I won't speculate on that," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats, called Boxer "one of the strongest environmentalists in the U.S. Congress."
"She has played a fantastic role in protecting the environment and in trying to transform our energy system," Sanders said. "I have absolute confidence that the people of California are going to re-elect her. I have absolute confidence that she's going to remain as the chairperson of our committee.
White House: Global Warming Out, 'Global Climate Disruption' In
September 16, 2010
From the administration that brought you "man-caused disaster" and "overseas contingency operation," another terminology change is in the pipeline.
The White House wants the public to start using the term "global climate disruption" in place of "global warming" -- fearing the latter term oversimplifies the problem and makes it sound less dangerous than it really is.
White House science adviser John Holdren urged people to start using the phrase during a speech last week in Oslo, echoing a plea he made three years earlier. Holdren said global warming is a "dangerous misnomer" for a problem far more complicated than a rise in temperature.
The call comes as Congress prepares to adjourn for the season without completing work on a stalled climate bill. The term global warming has long been criticized as inaccurate, and the new push could be an attempt to re-shape climate messaging for next year's legislative session.
"They're trying to come up with more politically palatable ways to sell some of this stuff," said Republican pollster Adam Geller, noting that Democrats also rolled out a new logo and now refer to the Bush tax cuts as "middle-class tax cuts."
He said the climate change change-up likely derives from flagging public support for their bill to regulate emissions. He said the term "global warming" makes the cause easy to ridicule whenever there's a snowstorm.
"Every time we're digging our cars out -- what global warming?" he said. "(Global climate disruption is) more of a sort of generic blanket term, I guess, that can apply in all weather conditions."
It's unclear why Holdren prefers "global climate disruption" over "climate change," the most commonly used alternative to "global warming."
Asked about the speech, Holdren spokesman Rick Weiss said only that the Office of Science and Technology Policy has been transparent about Holdren's remarks.
"The PowerPoint for Dr. Holdren's Oslo presentation has been public on our website since the day after he returned," he said.
In a 2007 presentation, Holdren suggested a similar phrase change -- "global climatic disruption."
The explanation he gave last week was that the impact from greenhouse gas emissions covers a broad "disruption" of climate patterns ranging from precipitation to storms to hot and cold temperatures. Those changes, he said, affect the availability of water, productivity of farms, spread of disease and other factors.
He's not the first scientist to publicly veer away from "global warming." NASA published an analysis on its website in 2008 explaining that it avoids the term because temperature change "isn't the most severe effect of changing climate."
"Changes to precipitation patterns and sea levels are likely to have much greater human impact than the higher temperatures alone," the report said.
But Republicans predicted that re-branding the issue would have limited effect on the legislative effort. GOP strategist Pete Snyder said he doubts the term is going to change hearts and minds.
"Are they going to change the name of weathermen to disruption analysts?" he quipped. GOP lawmakers already exploited a terminology change of their own by re-branding the "cap-and-trade" bill as "cap-and-tax."
Holdren's "global climate disruption" isn't the most convoluted term to grace the climate debate, however.
According to the NASA article, early studies on the impact humans had on global climate referred to the relationship as "inadvertent climate modification."
Kerry forecasts cloudy future for Senate climate bill
By Darren Goode
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) -- whose never-say-die attitude fueled months of long-shot climate talks -- admitted defeat Tuesday.
"Anything that's comprehensive or with a cap ... will not pass right now," he told reporters. In fact, he said, even something as limited as a renewable electricity production mandate faces very long odds of getting through this year.
"That's going to be very difficult," he said. "That's a longer legislative initiative."
The future of climate change and energy policy, he said, will depend on several factors, including the outcome of the coming midterms, in which Democrats are all but certain to lose seats.
"There are a lot of imponderables, none of which can be answered until after the November" election, he said.
The key, at least this year, will be how long any lame-duck session will last.
"There are certain things that can be done conceivably; it really depends on that window of opportunity," he said of action during a post-election session.
That, he said, could include such energy items as a renewable electricity mandate, strategies to produce more natural gas and electric vehicles that were included in an aborted Senate oil spill and energy package this summer, as well as building efficiency mandates and incentives.
If Republicans win big in November, they may not want to work on much of anything in a lame-duck session. But if the election is more of a wash, both parties may be more inclined to be legislatively productive, Kerry reasoned.
Kerry seemed somewhat downbeat, though, on future prospects for major climate and energy policy. "This is a new Senate and a new age with a certain amount of politics governing a lot of what's happening right now, so I can't predict all that will take place except to say that nothing surprises me anymore," Kerry said.
Regardless, he said he will continue to try to be a leader in the climate debate.
"It's a passion of mine and I intend to continue to be involved, but we'll have to see where we are with the Senate next year as to what's possible," he said. "There are a lot of other priorities, a lot of other things."
He added, "But I intend to stay front and center on an issue that I've been in involved in for, what, 23, 24 years. Longer actually. ... But they're a lot of people that need to be involved. I'm not the only person here that wants to get something done. We need to have a large coalition, that's the only way we're going to get it done."
Senator Inhofe fully supports the intent of legislation introduced this Congress by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) - Jason's Law - to provide increased safety for truck drivers. In fact, this is not new legislation. The language of the Schumer bill was included in the multi-year highway bill Senator Inhofe authored, SAFETEA-LU, signed into law August 10, 2005. The good news, therefore, is Jason's Law is already on the books. (See Section 1305)
As chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Senator Inhofe successfully worked to prioritize funding for safety in the 2005 highway bill. Out of concern for the operators that are the engine of the trucking industry, Senator Inhofe included a $25 million pilot program to address the shortage of long term parking for commercial motor vehicles on the National Highway System. Inhofe believed that it was essential that we make safe and reliable resting areas for truck operators a priority and ensure that our drivers are safe when they are not in service. Doing so also has the added benefit of reducing congestion and improves air quality. It is important that the concerns of individuals who are responsible for moving the freight that drives the economy are not overlooked in our national transportation policy.
The program in SAFETEA-LU allows States, metropolitan planning organizations (MPO's), and local governments to apply for funding to address the shortage of commercial vehicle parking. Unfortunately, in the early years of the program, due to lack of interest from States and local governments, money was rescinded from the program. In the years since, however, about $17 million has been awarded through the program.
Senator Inhofe appreciates the hard work and determination of Hope Rivenburg to bring attention to this important issue. Having lost her husband Jason, for whom the bill is named, she has tirelessly worked to promote awareness of safety for truck drivers. As we work to reauthorize the next highway bill, there will be opportunities to consider making the program better. Senator Inhofe will continue to work with his colleagues on the Committee to make positive changes to our national transportation policy to benefit the movement of freight and the individuals who move it.
The Denver Post
Editorial: Political theater or poor policy?
Whether or not President Obama's plan to spend $50 billion on transportation is a ploy to help fellow Dems, it's a lousy idea.
President Barack Obama's latest plan to spur the economy back to health has rightly found a new group of detractors. This time, though, it's his fellow Democrats, many of whom are locked in tight races, who are saying no.
Their rush to say no makes us wonder if the president put forth a serious plan or if this latest blueprint to stimulate the economy, in part by spending $50 billion to rebuild roads, railways and airports, is more political theater than legitimate policy.
Several Colorado Democrats who supported past stimulus spending - and at much greater levels - are rejecting the president's proposal.
Michael Bennet, in a close Senate race with Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, says he won't support Obama's infrastructure plan unless the money comes from unspent stimulus money.
Rep. Betsy Markey, in a re-election fight with state Rep. Cory Gardner, agrees with Bennet. Rep. John Salazar, also in a tough re-election battle with state Rep. Scott Tipton, says he too is skeptical of new spending.
Even Diana DeGette, who's running against Republican Mike Fallon but is considered to be in a safe seat, told us she wouldn't support the infrastructure plan unless the money came from the Transportation Department or other existing revenue.
Obama would seek to avoid adding to the debt by financing the plan in part with higher levies on oil and gas companies - an obvious problem for Colorado politicians who want the support of those industries.
The obvious question is whether Obama is propping up a straw man for Democrats in tight races to knock down, and thereby look more serious about returning the nation to a path of fiscal discipline.
Besides, true believers in Keynesian economics - that is, infusing the economy with massive government spending in down economic times - argue that another stimulus bill would have to be much larger than what Obama is prescribing.
That said, Bennet and Co. are correct to stand against the plan.
Paying for the plan with new taxes in a down economy is not acceptable. And the country just can't take any more debt.
Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an Obama cabinet member, said last week that our debt threatens our national security. "It undermines our capacity to act in our own interest, and it does constrain us where constraint may be undesirable. And it also sends a message of weakness internationally."
When Obama and Democrat- controlled Washington first proposed nearly $800 billion in deficit spending to try to spur the country out of recession, we decried the effort because it was more of a political wish list than an actual plan to get folks working. We had hoped to see far more spent on infrastructure, such as the plans Obama now touts.
But now, with a $13 trillion debt, we agree with Bennet that unless the president can pay for the plan with existing money, he should shelve it.
Meanwhile, we'll assume this is not all simply political theater because an anemic economy is no place to play partisan games.