The League of Conservation Voters has analyzed the voting record of the 109th Congress, and the Republican leadership’s environmental performance has been an abomination at best. The executive branch is “working hard” to turn back the clock on hard-won and vitally necessary environmental programs. Consequently, we need both houses of Congress to provide indispensable checks and balances, using investigative committees to make sure that we, the taxpayers, are getting what we expect in the stewardship of our natural resources. Unfortunately, it seems that our hen houses are being watched by foxes in Congress that are essentially accomplices of President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and theirbig-money contributors.
In the Senate, there are five major environmental committees. What follows is the name of each committee, the Republican chair and his voting percentage in favor of the environment, and the ranking Democrat and his respective voting record. (1) Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry: Republican Chambliss 0% and Democrat Harkin 95%; (2) Appropriations: Repub. Cochran 0% and Dem. Byrd 65%; (3) Commerce, Science, and Transportation: Repub. Stevens 5% and Dem. Inouye 65%; (4) Energy and Natural Resources: Repub. Domenici 5% and Dem. Bingaman 70%; and (5) Environment and Public Works: Repub. Inhofe 0% and Ind. Jeffords 85%.
In the House, there are also five major committees responsible for the care of our environment. (1) Agriculture: Republican Goodlatte 0% and Democrat Peterson 50%; (2) Appropriations: Repub. Lewis 6% and Dem. Obey 100%; (3) Energy and Commerce: Repub. Barton 0% and Dem. Dingell 89%; (4) Resources: Repub. Pombo 6% and Dem. Rahall 83%; and (5) Transportation and Infrastructure: Repub. Young 0% and Dem. Oberstar 83%.
With the Republican leadership, who control the votes on key committees, supporting environmental issues an average of only 2% of the time, the renegade Bush-Cheney co-presidency has exactly the kind of congressional oversight that it wants: Basically, none at all. The anti-environmental philosophy of the leadership in both the White House and Congress is basically that of former Interior Secretary James Watt. Watt believed that since Armageddon is at hand, we need to use up our natural resources before it’s too late! To put it another way: We humans may not be the only species on this planet, but we certainly plan to act like we are. Our president de facto, Mr. Cheney, says that supporting the environment may be personally virtuous; but he seems convinced that it doesn’t really matter and the voters don’t care anyway. The seemingly deranged mentality of this bunch is really hard to fathom, and the Republican committee chairmen are downright scary.
Take Richard Pombo (CA), for instance. He’s the reactionary Republican chairman of the House Resources Committee who authored one of the most reprehensible bills ever conceived. He labeled his H.R. 3824 the positive sounding “Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005.” The Defenders of Wildlife, the Wilderness Society, and countless others have correctly identified it as “The Wilderness Extinction Act!” Its purpose is to destroy the Endangered Species Act and return to the days before its passage in 1973. Our president de jure, Mr. Bush, is probably salivating over the prospect of signing this wretched act. As summarized by the Center for Biological Diversity, this malicious bill will eliminate habitat protection, undermine species recovery, exempt pesticides from environmental review, divert the nation’s environmental budget to corporations, and politicize science.
Regrettably, our own 4th district representative, Mike Ross, actually voted for Mr. Pombo’s odious bill! Mr. Ross has split his votes on environmental issues with a 50% record. However, on this issue he joined with Rep. John Boozman of NW Arkansas, who routinely votes the Republican Party line (0% on pro-environment issues). It is quite possible that Mr. Ross did not have a chance to read much, if any, of the bill. It has become a standard Republican tactic to rush a bill of this kind to passage without adequate hearings or debate before anyone has a chance to find out what is actually in it. However, Vic Snyder, the gem of Arkansas’ congressional delegation, did learn enough about the bill to vote against it. Mr. Snyder’s pro-environment record is 78%. Since we hope to verify the rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker, hopefully, no Arkansas senator will vote for such an abhorrent bill. Please write or call Lincoln and Pryor.
Sen. Ted Stevens (AK) and Representative Don Young (AK) both chair committees on transportation and both are ardent anti-environmentalists who favor drilling in the “American Savannah” – the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. No congressman can claim ignorance on this issue. It is pathetic that some, even now, still lie about how this will lower gas prices in ten years and reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil.
Everyone knows that the amount of oil that they hope to extract from ANWR will have a negligible impact on either. The temporary financial beneficiaries of arctic drilling will be the state treasury of Alaska, those who receive jobs, and Exxon Mobil. The permanent losers will be the delicate pristine landscape, the caribou, polar bears, wolves, walruses, musk ox, migrating seabirds, and, of course, you and me and the generations who follow.
Mr. Ross, I’m sorry to say, voted for the drilling in ANWR on two energy bills; however, he redeemed himself on two other House votes on the issue. He may have compromised his votes to assure highway funding for South Arkansas from the committees headed by Stevens and Young. If I’m right, he risked losing his soul; but, his gamble has so far paid off. However, Exxon Mobil’s puppet in the White House has again proposed using our tax dollars in his 2007 federal budget for destructive ANWR drilling! Note: Snyder, Lincoln, and Pryor have consistently opposed ravaging the refuge.
What is at stake is the present and future quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the forests and wildlife. As they go, so do we. Although we must wait two and a half more years for any hope of a reversal of the diabolical policies of Bush-Cheney, we can still make a difference in November 2006 on the state and local levels and in the U.S. Congress. Those of us who care should take the time to vote for candidates who support the environment and not those who favor its destruction. Each of us has the opportunity to act on the words of Anne Frank, the Jewish teenager who died before her 16th birthday at Bergen-Belsen, a Nazi concentration camp: “How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world.”
by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published May 8, 2006,
in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.