What the election means for the Interior Department


The scandal-plagued Interior Department has certainly provided plenty of material for journalists during the seven-plus years of the Bush administration. Unfortunately, the tabloid-style headlines have come at a price: the pervasive mismanagement of the nation's natural resources, from endangered species and clean water to federally-owned oil and gas reserves. Are things likely to be any different under a McCain or an Obama administration? CQ Politics has tried to answer this question by publishing a list of each candidate's likely picks for Secretary of the Interior. If the list is accurate, it lends real credibility to the Obama camp's contention that a McCain presidency would mean more of the same.

According to CQ, McCain's top picks would be Wayne Allard, Steve Pearce, and current Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. Allard is the retiring Colorado senator who earned a 20% rating from the League of Conservation voters during the 107th Congress. Pearce, a U.S. House member from New Mexico who looks likely to lose his ongoing Senate race to Democrat Tom Udall, owns an oilfield services company and has received more donations from oil companies than from any other industry. His lifetime LCV rating is 1%. He has voted for bills designed to scale back the Endangered Species Act and the Environmental Policy Act, and wrote in the Albuquerque Journal that "Inflexible environmental extremists create a tremendous problem for our environment."

CQ's Obama shortlist, on the other hand, contains Brian Schweitzer, governor of Montana, and two U.S. House members: Mark Udall and Jay Inslee. Udall would get picked only if he loses his race for the Colorado U.S. Senate seat that Allard is vacating. Schweitzer's support for "clean coal" might rankle some environmentalists, but he is a Western populist who might be able to win grassroots support for more environmentally-friendly Interior Department policies. Inslee, a member of House Energy and Commerce Committee, has been a strong proponent of action on climate change -- he was, for a time, a guest blogger at climateprogress.org -- and was the House sponsor of the Roadless Area Conservation Act, a bill that would make permanent the Clinton-era rule protecting National Forest roadless areas.

With 79% of Americans now convinced the country is on the wrong track, both presidential candidates are trying to lay claim to the mantle of "change." But when it comes to the Interior Department, it's becoming more and more evident that one of them is just posturing.

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