GOP Takeover In The House May Spell Doom For Obama’s Environmental Policies

November 8, 2010 5:19 a.m.

Republican Members of the House of Representatives are set to take on a larger role in setting environmental priorities and funding scientific research in the 112th Congress, in the wake of a blue-ribbon report that once again warned that the U.S. is in danger of slipping in global science and technology.

So it’s a bit troubling that some of them don’t believe in climate change and still others want to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of some of its power to regulate pollution. And then, of course, there’s the guy who apologized to BP on behalf of the government after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

So, where do those guys stand on environmental policy? Pretty far from where the Administration wants to go, it seems.Rep. Ralph M. Hall (R-TX), at eighty-seven years old, is the oldest member of Congress. He currently serves as the Ranking member on the House Committee on Science and Technology and is set to become its chair in January. A staunch supporter of the oil and gas industry in his home state of Texas, Hall has, in the past, voiced his support for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. His positions and votes on environmental issues have earned him a zero-percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters every year since 2004, when he received a rating of 13 percent.

Then there’s Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) — the man best known for apologizing to BP’s Tony Hayworth in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill — who is now the most likely candidate to pick up the gavel of the powerful Energy & Commerce Committee. Barton, a climate change skeptic, once told former Vice President Al Gore that he was “not just off a little, you’re totally wrong” on global warming, as the Center for Public Integrity recalls. He added that “global warming science is uneven and evolving.” He’s also been vociferous in his opposition to any “cap-and-trade” bills.

In the process of fighting for the chairman spot, Barton dashed off a mass e-mail to K Street lobbyists which included articles from trade publications that outlined his agenda as chairman for the next Congress, touting the fact that he “led the charge against radical cap-and-trade legislation” and writing that “the cavalry is riding to the rescue.”

But since GOP rules limit Republicans to six years at the top of any committee, Barton will need a waiver to get the top spot. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) are gunning for the gavel of the Energy and Commerce Committee as well, Roll Call reports.

Shimkus is no friendlier, or more thoughtful, a choice for committee chair. He once floated the idea that since plants need carbon for photosynthesis, climate change legislation which limited man-made carbon dioxide emissions would kill the world’s plants.

And Fred Upton has advocated eliminating the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming altogether. Speaker Nancy Pelosi created the climate change panel to develop recommendations on legislative proposals, rather than draft legislation itself. But Upton has criticized its advisory nature, declaring that the panel’s “sole purpose is to write reports. The only jobs created by this committee are within the confines of Capitol Hill. The American people do not need Congress to spend millions of dollars to write reports and fly around the world. We must terminate this wasteful committee.”

Moreover, Upton has spoken out against the Environmental Protection Agency, calling it “job-killing” and a “regulatory train wreck.” In an editorial published last month, he wrote, “If the EPA continues unabated, jobs will be shipped to China and India as energy costs skyrocket. Most of the media attention has focused on the EPA’s efforts to regulate climate-change emissions, but that is just the beginning.”

Republicans have said they plan to start the battle against the Administration’s environmental priorities with attacks on “Climate-gate,” the scientists who connect air pollution to climate change and focusing their ire at the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority over air pollution.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson conceded that a Republican Congress could gunk up her agency’s work and White House officials said they will stack up the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to prepare for the battles ahead.

Given that it’s difficult to predict the committee assignments of incoming GOP freshmen, and there’s no way of knowing which of them will be in a position to influence scientific and environmental policies. But the future doesn’t look bright. Half of the incoming GOP freshmen members don’t believe that climate change is caused by humans and 86 percent of them are against climate change legislation which would increase government revenue.

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