E&E News — ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS:
Election’s impact on panel leadership raises key question — does Inhofe stay or go?
By Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter — Published: Tuesday, November 6, 2012
[Selected excerpts reprinted from E&E Greenwire – November 6, 2012 – subscription required]
The same two senators have headed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for a decade, but depending on how the votes fall today, that could change.
The panel, which oversees U.S. EPA and writes some of the federal government’s most sweeping infrastructure bills, could get a new ranking Republican if Democrats retain control of the chamber. And if pre-election polling proves wrong and the GOP gains both the White House and the Senate tonight, the panel’s leaders may stay the same, but their roles will change substantially to respond to new political realities.
Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) have been the top Republican and Democrat on the EPW Committee since 2003, with Inhofe handing off the gavel to Boxer in 2007 when Democrats gained control of the Senate.
The pair have a famously friendly personal relationship, and they have collaborated on highway funding and other issues. But it would be difficult to find two senators more diametrically opposed on issues of environmental regulation and global warming than Boxer, who cast herself as a crusader on climate policy even when she was running for re-election in 2010, and Inhofe, the chamber’s top climate skeptic, who earlier this year published a book titled “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.”
“James Inhofe singlehandedly reframed the entire political debate about the science of global warming and about the political cost of cap and trade,” said his former staffer Marc Morano, who is now publisher of the skeptic blog “Climate Depot.”
The Senate’s GOP caucus limits its members to six years as chairman and six as ranking member. So while Inhofe could serve another two years as chairman, if Republicans remain in the minority he will be pushed out and is expected to take the top Republican spot on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Under that scenario, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is in line to become top Republican on the panel, though Inhofe would remain a senior member and might even chair a subcommittee.
Different agendas, different state interests
Observers say that while there is no real difference between the two Republicans’ views on environmental policy, they do have different agendas that are in keeping with their two home states.
“I wouldn’t say his positions would be radically different,” said one Senate aide of Vitter. “I would say his priorities would be a little different.”
The next Congress will grapple with a water infrastructure bill and another highway bill, both of which will be important to Vitter’s Bayou State constituents.
But also of key importance to Louisiana is its oil and gas industry. And while Republicans and pro-business advocates are quick to note that Inhofe has been a champion for reining in regulations that EPA and other agencies have proposed for a variety of sectors, including petroleum, they would expect Vitter to maintain a laser-like focus on the industry.
Morano said that Republicans would “sorely miss” his former boss as top Republican on the panel, especially for his work in discrediting climate change science.
“I think Vitter will be much less focused on climate science, but otherwise, he and Inhofe are very much in tandem on many issues,” he said, though he added the Vitter could be “aggressive” on regulation and most industry advocates said that Vitter would be an effective leader on combating regulation of all kinds.
Segal agreed that the Louisiana senator was “by no means a shrinking violet” on those issues.
Meanwhile, Andrew Wheeler, Inhofe’s former staff director on the EPW Committee said Vitter had been a voice in every recent debate over Senate energy policy.
“It may appear that Inhofe has had more [interest], just because he has had the gavel and he has had the leadership position,” he said. “I don’t think that Senator Vitter has been less concerned; I just think that he hasn’t had the national platform.”
President Romney, Chairwoman Boxer?
But if Democrats retain control of the Senate tonight but lose the White House, the most interesting changes to the EPW Committee might be the role played by its chairwoman.
Boxer was aggressive in her oversight of the Bush EPA.
[Reprint from E&E Greenwire – November 6, 2012 – subscription required]