Monday, November 13, 2006

Speaking of the defeat of "Dirty Dick" Pombo, anyone who thinks that this midterm election didn't change anything is invited to think again


In writing about Jerry McNerney's defeat of "Dirty Dick" Pombo, I meant to refer to the final mischief Dirty Dick is trying to perpetrate as outgoing chairman of the House Resources Committee, as laid out in today's lead editorial in the New York Times.

Of course, the House version of the "energy bill" referred to in the editorial was already Dirty Dick's abomination, and it's obvious why Chimpy the Prez is making one last effort to ram a so-called energy bill through the lame-duck Congress. As of January, even the less vile Senate bill should be a dead duck in its present form. Ironically, as the editorial underscores, the defeat of the House Republicans generally and Dirty Dick specifically makes vigilance all the more crucial now that we can expect the outgoing GOP congressional majorities to try to wreak all the havoc they can before turning over the keys.

November 13, 2006

Don't Force an Energy Bill

President Bush's call for the lame duck Congress to pass pending "bipartisan energy legislation" before it leaves Washington forever is a very good example of why the House and Senate should limit their work in this final session to as few measures as possible. Congress needs to pass the budgets it failed to get done before the elections. And since no time should be lost in the Bush reassessment of Iraq, the Senate should consider the nomination of Robert Gates to be defense secretary.

And that should be the extent of the agenda.

The energy bill Mr. Bush apparently had in mind is in fact two bills, one in the Senate and another in the House. Both would authorize increased offshore drilling for oil and natural gas. But there are huge differences between them.

The Senate bill, co-sponsored by Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, is a narrowly drawn measure that would open a section of the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas exploration and use part of the royalties to help rebuild Louisiana's battered wetlands and barrier islands. This page, setting aside earlier misgivings, has supported her bill because of its limited scope and its demonstrably worthy environmental objectives.

The House bill, by contrast, is a broad, mischievous and badly conceived piece of work sponsored by Richard Pombo, Republican of California, that, in a stroke, would lift a long-standing federal moratorium on oil and gas drilling along the entire American coastline. The bill has been vigorously opposed by most state governors from Maine to California.

There has always been a danger that the two bills would go to a conference committee where--the Senate's assurances notwithstanding--the usual horse-trading would produce a bad bill much along the lines of the House measure. That danger may now be greater. Mr. Pombo's defeat in last Tuesday's election raises the distinct possibility that he will make one last desperate effort to help his friends in the oil and gas industry before he retires into well-earned political obscurity.
[Emphasis added.]

The terrain during a lame duck session is notoriously treacherous. Our suggestion, therefore, is that Congress take a deep breath and postpone any energy legislation until next year. At that point, Ms. Landrieu, whose party will be in charge, can try again. Alternatively, she could work with other leaders to produce a true energy bill--a comprehensive measure that would also seek to reduce consumption by encouraging more efficient cars and alternative fuels. As Ms. Landrieu concedes, drilling is only part of the energy equation. That is especially true for a country that uses one-quarter of the world's oil while holding less than 3 percent of its reserves.

Several such bills have already been introduced in the Senate, with considerable bipartisan support. This is where Congress--and, one hopes, a newly receptive Mr. Bush--should put their efforts in the new year.

The ranking Democrat on the House Resources Committee, by the way, has been West Virginia Rep. Nick J. Rahall, who issued the following statement the day after the election:

Today, I thank the American people, who have demonstrated their will that it is time to lead our nation in a new direction. For too long now, this Congress has pursued policies that are out of touch with American expectations for conserving our unique natural and cultural heritage--and my colleagues and I are looking forward to working together to restore the balance that has been lost along the way.

Nowhere will this be more true than for the House Resources Committee, if my colleagues in the House Democratic Caucus so choose to select me as its next Chairman. I have always been a believer in the "two E's"-- endowment and empowerment--which together will go a long way toward realizing the potential of our nation's most precious resources and preserving our country's heritage for future generations.

I don't know what exactly this means, except that Representative Rahall would really like to snag the committee chairmanship. However, if you don't think it makes a difference whether Dirty Dick or Congressman Nick chairs House Resources, you're nuts.

Over on the Senate side, chairmanship of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee seems likely to pass from the relatively sane (for a Republican) Pete Domenici to fellow New Mexican Jeff Bingaman (left). As Republicans go these days, Domenici is a pretty decent guy, as witness (presumably) the relatively less appalling Senate energy bill. But even if Domenici tried, how likely was he to be able to singlehandedly hold off the powerful energy-industry interests so deeply embedded throughout his own party's administration?

Meanwhile, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, is one of the nuttiest nutjobs on Capitol Hill. As an unwavering believer in the Rapture, he doesn't seem to believe mankind has any role in shepherding the environment. So I suppose even Holy Joe Lieberman, apparently slotted to succeed him (assuming he remains a Democrat--or maybe either way, if the Republicans try to get His Holiness to make the Big Switcheroo by offering to make Inhofe disappear and turn the committee over to him), is an improvement.

Hey, everything is relative.


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