A Western obstructionist gets obstructed


Updated 9:49 a.m., 11/12/12

James Inhofe, a 77-year-old senator from Oklahoma, a grown man with no history of mental illness, claims to have uncovered divine logic that refutes the science of global warming. He has sanguinely decoded the rubric among verses in the first book of the world’s most famous text -- the Bible. Here is the text:

“As long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.” Genesis 8:22

To an untrained eye, this passage says that as long as our planet isn’t gone, it will be here, doing the same thing it’s always done. But Inhofe sees something bigger. Here he is in a radio appearance this year for Voice of Christian Youth America:

“My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what he is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”

James Inhofe

It's then been an irony of political power that, from 2003-2007, Inhofe chaired the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, which drafts legislation pertinent to pollution, off-shore drilling, pesticides, wildlife, public lands and water. After the Democrats took over the Senate in 2009, he became the leading Republican on the committee. If Republicans had won the Senate last week, Inhofe was slated to regain his prior role as committee head. Since Democrats maintained control, though, in part because surprise wins by Montana's Jon Tester and North Dakota's Heidi Holtkcamp, the Oklahoma senator, a seemingly venerable foe of anything scientific or environmental, won’t regain his chairmanship.

As HCN reported in 2010, Inhofe and his senate colleague, Tom Coburn (R-OK) stood as a huge legislative and regulatory obstacle to wildlife protections, wilderness designations and buyouts of oil and gas leases in the West. In the four years Inhofe chaired the Environment and Public Works Committee, he held kangaroo courts pitting rabid climate skeptics at hearings against meek climate scientists. Had his party gained control of the Senate, he would have furthered his anti-climate change agenda even as his own state faces severe drought and neighboring states come to grips with the threat of extreme ecological change.



Since Democrats control the upper chamber, California Senator Barbara Boxer from California will retain her chairmanship of the committee. She'll steer legislation dealing with climate change, EPA regulations and a number of large water infrastructure projects coming down the pipe. Inhofe's minority lead role in the committee is term-limited by the Republican caucus, so he will pass the torch as ranking member to David Vitter (R-La.), a more moderate climate skeptic. (If such a thing exists.) Vitter doesn’t believe climate change increases flight turbulence, like his liberal colleague Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), so he shows signs of reason, but he also identifies as a “big (climate) cynic” and does not believe humans have been a major factor in global warming. Vitter's priorities lie in off-shore drilling, evidenced by his letter to the Department of Interior three days after the election questioning the economic viability of acreage granted to a wind farm off the coast of Delaware compared to benefits that oil and gas would reap from that lease.

The other big Senate committee change of consequence for Western resources was on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where Washington Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, takes over for retiring Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico. Oil and gas companies may find a “tonal” shift on energy policy coming to the Senate, according to a report, based on Wyden's voting history, from energy policy research group The Rapidan Group and Goldwyn Strategies. Wyden wants to put federal limits on exports of liquefied natural gas, which would keep domestic prices low and decrease market volatility -- bad for the bean counters, but good for your electric bills. His home state, notably, would be affected by proposed liquefied natural gas ports exporting to China and other countries.

Senators Boxer and Wyden will keep the climate skeptics and environmental obstructionists out of the committee for at least another two years. In that time, perhaps Inhofe and other purists can study Leviticus. I like this verse:

“For all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled.  And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.” Leviticus 18:27-28.

Neil LaRubbio is the editorial fellow at High Country News. His Twitter handle is @VictorAntonin.

Images courtesy of flickr user Gage Skidmore.

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