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Land Matters: These Won’t Be the Days

It wasn’t I who named Sen. James Inhofe, the senior senator from Oklahoma, one of “America’s Dumbest Congressmen.” It was Radar Online, back in 2006, and the competition was pretty tough. Actually, Radar ranked him the third dumbest person on Capitol Hill, mostly for his loud denials that climate change is occurring and that it is caused by humans. The senator believes in fairy tales. He published a book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. Just after the midterm election in November, he told Jake Tapper of CNN that to say the scientific consensus is in on climate change is just not correct. Inhofe likes to repeat that climate change can’t be real because “God is still up there” and it’s absurd to think humans could take over His job. On that note, God is still up there while all kinds of havoc goes on down here, including that Inhofe, once again, will become chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in January when the Republicans take back control of the chamber.

Who’s crazy in this scenario? Mainly the registered voters—64 percent of them—who didn’t vote in the midterm. But here we are, and it’s going to be a rough couple of years for anyone sick of federal inaction on the environment. Though to hear the incoming Senate leadership talk since the election, we may pine for gridlock between now and the end of 2016. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada), unimpressive as he has been as the Senate majority leader, was the Obama administration’s main hedge against harassment by Senate Republicans on just about every issue, including the EPA’s new rules to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent from coal-fired power plants before 2030. The best that can be said now is that at least the new Senate majority doesn’t have a supermajority, so there’s always the veto.

Inhofe and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who will be the new majority leader, know they can’t outright kill the EPA’s new rules, or others, but they can do everything short of that by cutting the agency’s funding or delaying the rules’ enforcement. Whereas Inhofe can be considered delusional, McConnell’s hatred of the coal-plant rules relates in large part to the economy of Kentucky, which relies on mining and burning a lot of coal. For their money, the climate “deal” with China—they cut and we cut carbon emissions, though not fast enough—that President Obama announced during his November visit with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, was dead to McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) before Obama boarded the plane home.

There is also rapid talk among Republicans about ways of forcing Obama to approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a decision that earlier this year he punted until after the midterm. If the leadership votes to approve the pipeline as part of a big spending bill, it’s not clear that Obama wouldn’t sign it if the alternative were, say, to shut down the whole government.

Surely the presumed incoming chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), has some ideas about Keystone XL; they aren’t likely too different from those of the current Democratic chair, Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who in the weeks before her December runoff with Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, is desperate to have the pipeline approved to show her oil-state bona fides. In any event, Murkowski’s energy guy on staff, Robert Dillon, told The Hill newspaper that with Murkowski in the committee’s middle chair, we’ll see legislation that “never saw the light of day” when the Democrats were nominally in charge.

We at LAM were saddened to learn of the death on September 15 of George Hazelrigg, a longtime contributor to the magazine. George spent 35 years as a career State Department diplomat in Europe, Africa, and Central America. He retired from State in 1996 and completed a master’s degree in landscape architecture at Virginia Tech and began writing pieces for LAM as well as teaching. He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Vivien Hazelrigg, his son, Stanley, and his daughter, Nadine. We will miss kibitzing with George and working on pieces with him. As he would say in signing off his e-mails, La lucha continua.

Bradford McKee
Editor

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