National Journal: GOP's New Normal
June 14, 2012
Posted by Katie Brown Katie_Brown@epw.senate.gov
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GOP's 'New Normal'
By Amy Harder
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Once cast aside even by his own party for being Washington's loudest climate-change denier, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member James Inhofe, R-Okla., is now the driving force behind GOP attacks on President Obama's energy and environment agenda.
"Even the Republican Party was afraid to invite Inhofe to speak on global warming and environmental issues because they considered him outside of the mainstream," said Marc Morano, who was Inhofe's communications director and speechwriter from 2006 to 2009. "Now he is the new normal. He is the new mainstream."
The positions of Inhofe haven't changed. Republicans have just moved closer to Inhofe.
"I was all alone starting in 2001. When you're an army of one you don't get much attention," Inhofe said with a quiet chuckle during an interview this week at his office in the Russell Senate Office Building. (It's a particularly large space whose previous occupant was then-Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.) Inhofe recounts the climate-change debates throughout the last decade when he played an integral role in defeating cap-and-trade bills sponsored by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and former Sen. John Warner, R-Va., and more recently a measure by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Lieberman.
"We were successful mostly because I was right on these issues," said Inhofe, who published a book earlier this year on how global warming is "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," a phrase he first uttered in 2003. "When you stop and look, you take the time to realize the science was cooked," Inhofe said.
In truth, most scientists around the world agree that climate change is occurring and that human activity is a primary cause. Regardless, Inhofe and conservative tea party activists were successful in turning the political tide against proponents of action on climate change.
Environmentalists concede Inhofe's views are resonating more with his GOP colleagues than they did during the climate debates when he was mocked for what were seen as outlandish acts, such as flying to the 2009 United Nations climate negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark, for a mere two hours to give a speech and for helping his family build an igloo during a record snowfall in Washington in 2010 to taunt former Vice President Al Gore's efforts on climate change. (A photo of the igloo hangs by Inhofe's desk.) "It's an unfortunate reflection of the fact that so many Republicans in Congress today are so extreme," said Tiernan Sittenfeld, a lobbyist for the League of Conservation Voters. "Inhofe may seem like less of a gadfly than he used to, but it's only because there are more members of Congress who share his antiscience and anti-public-health views."
Just two years after Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham tried to muster support for a cap-and-trade bill, climate-change policy is all but dead inside the Beltway, and once-prominent GOP backers of climate policy, including McCain and presidential candidate Mitt Romney, are now questioning the science behind climate change. Inhofe, meanwhile, is turning his sights to what he describes as an overzealous Environmental Protection Agency waging a "war on coal."
Inhofe is forcing a politically charged vote on a recently-finalized EPA rule to reduce mercury and other pollution from coal-fired power plants. He was also successful in compelling the resignation of regional EPA Administrator Al Armendariz after digging up and publicizing a YouTube video of Armendariz saying EPA's "general philosophy" with its enforcement policy should be to "crucify" oil and natural-gas companies.
But the 77-year-old senator, who grew up in Tulsa, isn't just leading a polarizing charge against EPA. He is forming surprising alliances with senators on both sides of the aisle.
McCain, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Inhofe, the second-most-senior Republican on that panel, scored a surprising victory last month by getting just enough votes in a defense authorization markup to pass an amendment curtailing the military's use of biofuels. Inhofe is also working with Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., to examine potential changes to an existing federal mandate for biofuels.
Shedding the polarizing reputation the Environment and Public Works Committee has acquired on energy and environment issues in recent years, Inhofe and panel Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., are working surprisingly well together on the transportation bill. Boxer acknowledged that in a hearing this week.
The transportation bill is stalled in bicameral conference talks, and Inhofe's role is critical in breaking the logjam. He serves as a bridge between the more-moderate Senate and tea party-infused House Republicans, who are standing firm in their insistence that the Keystone XL oil pipeline be included in the package Surprisingly, Inhofe isn't gunning to get that controversial project included. If Inhofe and House Republicans were to succeed in forcing approval of the project, it would be a huge political victory for Republicans going into November. But Inhofe isn't thinking about that, at least when it comes to the transportation bill. First and foremost, Inhofe said, "I want a bill."
Don't expect the same bipartisan cooperation when it comes to EPA-either now or next year. Inhofe's term doesn't expire until 2014.