As Democrats rode a multidimensional wave of voter anger to congressional dominance last week, I began to worry. After all, I was the new guy in the editor’s chair; I’d barely had time to find my computer, much less write any of the nuanced election analysis you expect from High Country News. Then I relaxed, because I remembered something: We have Ray Ring.
As you’ll see when you flip to our cover story, Ray — our Northern Rockies editor and a time-tested authority on Western politics — has offered up a top 10 list on the election’s results. But it’s less a lineup of political facts than an interpretive guide to them, a suggestion as to how one might reasonably think about the election, if one cared about the West’s future, had no political axes to grind and possessed the deep and broad experience of Ray Ring. I’ll be surprised if you don’t take at least a few fresh political thoughts away from Ray’s list.
One of his points deserves emphasis, just because it’s so true and easily overlooked. With the change in congressional control, several bêtes noires of the environmental movement will lose committee chairmanships and be replaced by greener Democrats. But as Ray reminds us, Democratic control of Congress does not necessarily mean that Democrats will control environmental policy.
Even with a Democratic House and Senate, Bush political appointees still head the executive agencies — the departments of Agriculture and Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency, primarily — that interpret and enforce environmental law. Over the last six years, those agencies have been, in even a charitable analysis, corrupted. Time and again, environmental science has been disregarded or "edited" to follow the administration’s ideology and reward its political supporters.
As you’ll come to see, I’m no knee-jerk lefty in matters green (or any other color). To my mind, decisions about the use of Western resources absolutely should come down on the side of mining, drilling and other extractive industries — when such use can be proven, in the broadest sense, wise. But to be accepted as wise, environmental choices must be underpinned by hard science, not greed and dogma thinly disguised with pseudoscience.
Since the election, Democratic congressional leaders have expressed hope for bipartisan cooperation; when they mention conflict with the administration, it’s usually in the context of oversight hearings on Iraq. Certainly, the war is important. But so is the West.
In September, Earl Devaney, the respected inspector general for the Interior Department, told Congress that "simply stated, short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of Interior."
Well-publicized hearings to determine the precise definition of "anything" — at Interior and other federal environmental agencies — might be a reasonable way for congressional Democrats to challenge the executive branch portion of the "culture of corruption" that they have claimed, these many months past, to be running against.
Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at firstname.lastname@example.org.