It's official: The Tea Party toppled Lisa Murkowski. On Tuesday, the Alaska incumbent conceded the state's Republican U.S. Senate primary to staunch anti-government challenger Joe Miller, the state's newest overnight political sensation. (Take note, Harry Reid.)
Murkowski was the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Her loss will shake-up that important committee's hierarchy, a potentially significant setback for environmentalists since Murkowski was one of few in her party to publicly own up to the realities of climate change. She called Alaska "ground zero for climate change," and uttered other phrases that rarely pass Republican lips: "I believe it is a reality that man is contributing to the current warming trend. Accordingly, it is appropriate, and quite frankly our responsibility, to take steps to curb the growth of greenhouse gases."
But actions speak louder than words. If incumbent North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr wins his race, he'll occupy the top Republican spot on the energy committee, and climate policy likely won't suffer or profit as a result, according to Greenwire:
Joseph Romm, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, said despite much of her rhetoric, Murkowski has voted with her Republican colleagues when it comes to energy and climate change issues.
"Ever since Murkowksi became part of the Republican leadership, she has started toeing a pretty standard party line," Romm said.
"She talked a pretty good line but didn't vote or do much different than Burr," Romm said. "I think she gives a better face to the Republicans on this issue than Burr would, but I don't think there is much different. They are a bit of a birds of a feather," he said.
(Similar as their voting records appear, though, as David Roberts notes, Burr's "approach in the ENR Committee would almost certainly be more rigid and ideological than Murkowski's.")
Murkowski tarnished any green image she had this year by trying -- and failing -- to scrap the EPA's authority to regulate carbon. As a result, environmentalists aren't exactly mourning her loss.
But perhaps they should be, says Stephen Stromberg, in a gloomy though practical analysis of what lies ahead:
(S)he is one of the last few Republicans in Congress who favors addressing climate change robustly.
And even if her presence in the Senate wouldn’t have resulted in a yea vote on comprehensive climate legislation, at least she wouldn’t have contributed to the rank know-nothingism on climate change that her victorious opponent embraces. The unrepentant disregard for evidence and reasonable argument among the Tea Party types winning these GOP primary races will make Congress even more rhetorically hostile to acting responsibly.
Cally Carswell is High Country News' multimedia fellow.