Democratic Congress Expected to Right Environmental Wrongs

WASHINGTON, DC, November 9, 2006 (ENS) - Democrats will control both the House and Senate when a new Congress convenes in January, after one of the closest races of the 2006 midterm election was settled in Virginia.

Republican Senator George Allen has conceded defeat in the U.S. Senate race, handing a victory to former Navy Secretary James Webb, and shifting power to the Democrats.

Senator Allen, who trailed Webb by a narrow margin, had the legal right to seek a recount - an opportunity he declined today to avoid causing "more rancor by protracted litigation."

Webb

Jim Webb has written six best-selling war novels. He has traveled worldwide as a journalist, and his PBS coverage of the U.S. Marines in Beirut earned him an Emmy Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. (Photo courtesy Webb for Senate)
In his acceptance speech, Webb, a former Republican who served as Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, said Democrats would press the Bush administration to change course in Iraq.

The Democrats' victories were fueled in large part by public dissatisfaction over President George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq war. They plan hearings into the decision-making that led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The results of the Virginia race give Democrats not only a 51 seat majority in the 100 member Senate but control of Congress for the first time in President Bush's six years in office.

Senate Democrats held a victory rally on the grounds of the Capitol shortly after Allen's concession speech.

They pledged to work in bipartisanship with the President, but on their own terms.

The new Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said, “America needs change, and change starts in Iraq. The President must listen and work with Democrats to fix his failed policy. Americans have demanded a new direction. Democrats are ready to deliver.”

Reid

Senator Harry Reid, from the small Nevada town of Searchlight, will become Senate Majority Leader in January. (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
President Bush is less likely to be able to advance the stalled Yucca Mountain geological repository for America's highest level radioactive waste, as Reid and the entire Nevada Congressional delegation are long-standing opponents of the facility planned for 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

"Will we stand up to the President when we think he is wrong? Yes," said Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat. "But our real mission is to work together and help American families and make a better America."

Conservationists hope the new Congress will restore environmental protections that the Bush adminstration and Republican Congress stripped away.

Democrats will be able to accomplish this when they take over committees. Much of what makes it to the floor of the House or the Senate for a vote must first go through a committee, where it can be stalled if it runs afoul of committee chairs.

One of the most obstructive Republican committee chairs has been Congressman Richard Pombo of the House Resources Committee.

Representing the agricultural district of Stockton, California, Pombo made it his mission to revoke the Endangered Species Act and enforced a six-point screen on any proposals for new Wilderness protection, so that few measures made it to the House Floor.

He was defeated by Jerry McNerney, an engineer and renewable energy specialist who is the CEO of a company that produces wind-energy turbines.

Pombo will now be replaced as the chair of the House Resources Committee by Ranking Democrat Congressman Nick Rahall of West Virginia.

Rahall

Congressman Nick Rahall has represented Southern West Virginia in Congress Since 1977. He has worked to pass mine safety legislation, establishing the Gauley River National Recreation Area, and the Bluestone as a National Scenic River. (Photo courtesy Office of the Congressman)

The House Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, another important environmental post has been chaired by Congressman Greg Walden. He is considered "second only to Pombo in his anti-environmental record," by Bark-Out.org, an Oregon based forest conservation group.

Over the past six years, the Forest Service has removed requirements for analyzing the environmental impacts of logging and restricted public participation in the management of public forests.

Walden is a supporter of fire salvage logging conducted by the U.S. Forest Service. But environmentalists such as Bark-Out say salvagers take old-growth trees in areas that could recover if allowed to regenerate naturally, and at a financial loss to the taxpayers.

Walden will be replaced as subcommittee chair by Congressman Thomas Udall of New Mexico, who has earned a 95 percent pro-environment rating by the League of Conservation Voters. He has voted to yes to preserve Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge instead of drilling it, no to deauthorizing "critical habitat" for endangered species, and no on speeding up approval of forest thinning projects.

Udall

Congressman Tom Udall led efforts purchase the pristine Baca Ranch in northern New Mexico for public access and enjoyment, to create a National Historic Trail to honor Native Americans of the Long Walk, and to designate the Ojito Wilderness Area. (Photo courtesy House Veterans Affairs Committee)
Global warming is likely to receive more attention in the Democratic Congress. A number of Democrat and bi-partisan bills have already been introduced, including one by Congressman Udall.

Udall and Wisconsin Republican Tom Petri, re-elected unopposed, introduced the “Keep America Competitive Global Warming Policy Act of 2006,” last month.

Udall and Petri say that it is time for America to take steps to address global warming. “Our bill is modest, certain and efficient,” they said. “It begins to slow the growth of greenhouse gases, but minimizes the negative impacts to the U.S. economy.”

Senate Democrats, including new members elected on Tuesday, will caucus November 14 to formally select their leaders.

The Energy and Natural Resources Committee is likely to be chaired by Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat, who would take over from fellow New Mexican Republican Pete Dominici. Bingaman helped write and supported the 2005 energy bill, but he did not succeed in including tax breaks for conservation and renewable energy development.

The Environment and Public Works Committee chair is likely to be California Democrat Barbara Boxer.

For the nonprofit League of Conservation Voters, the Democratic sweep was about public dissatisfaction with the Bush energy policy.

LCV President Gene Karpinski said, "The American people's vision of an energy future that is very different from current policies is the winner, and Big Oil is the big loser."

"Energy independence and the creation of a new energy economy was the singular domestic issue that cut across partisan, geographic and demographic lines, Karpinski said.

In ballot initiatives across the country, voters nationwide approved $5.7 billion in new public money to protect land for parks and open space-the highest amount ever according to the Trust for Public Land, a national land conservation organization that has tracked conservation funding results since 1988.

Voters passed 99 out of 127 measures, or 78 percent. The monetary increase can be attributed in large part to a California measure, Proposition 84, that included $2.25 billion to improve drinking water, flood control, protection of coastlines, and state parks.

A complete list of results from local and state balloting on conservation and parks is available online today from LandVote 2006, http://www.landvote.org.

"The 2006 election results demonstrate that no matter what their party affiliation, American voters overwhelmingly vote 'green' for open space," said Ernest Cook, director of conservation finance for The Trust for Public Land.

Since 1994, voters have approved more than 1,500 conservation measures, generating more than $43.3 billion in new public funds for conservation.

Meanwhile, the current Republican-led Congress will reconvene next week in a so-called lame duck session to finish this year's business.