Eye on Washington - Dec 2014/Jan 2015
The Swing to the Right
This November, the national political pendulum swung back to favor Republican representatives. This swing is not an atypical part of American history, but only time will tell if the pendulum swings back in 2 years or if this vote represents a bigger ideological shift with more lasting results.
In the U.S. Senate, every committee will be chaired by a Republican. Some of those likely chairs—like oil company-friendly Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and proud climate change denier James Inhofe of Oklahoma—have a record of limiting or removing protections provided by environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. Look for a re-birth of the still-smouldering 1980’s Sagebrush Rebellion to take federal lands and give them to states for development.
Keystone a Clue to Next Two Years
Before all the votes were counted on election night, congressional winners were already voicing a commitment to passing legislation requiring the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would bring Canadian tar-sands oil to Texas refineries where it will in all likelihood be exported. With a Republican majority in both the House and Senate, the next Congress will be able to stop any filibuster to halt the pipeline construction legislation.
Congress could also target the EPA and reverse recent changes such as removing recent air quality controls on coal-fired plants and stopping the extension of clean water protections to smaller tributaries and wetlands.
In our region on the North Coast, results showed entrenched partisan constituents with Democrat, Rep. Jared Huffman winning a whopping 71% of the vote while nearby Republican Reps, Doug LaMalfa and Tom McClintock received over 60% of the vote. All three of these California congressmen currently sit on the House Natural Resources Committee. Just over the border, in Oregon, Democrat Senator Jeff Merkley was re-elected in what was seen as a tight race.
Lame Duck Congress
Many voters already consider the current Congress to be a do-nothing “Lame Duck,” and it is highly unlikely that the session of Congress through the end of the year (the so-called Lame Duck session) will be any more pro-active as Republicans are likely to wait for their new members to join their ranks in January before taking any action. New committee leadership will be determined then as well, which will determine what legislation will be considered for the next two years. Democrats maintained all four Senate seats in California and Oregon, but they will be in the Senate minority in the new year.
Grass Roots Efforts
Oddly, in spite of a conservative electorate mood, states passed measures by popular vote that are considered liberal such as raising the minimum wage, reproductive rights and legalization of marijuana. Support for such measures could signal an opportunity for conservationists to work successfully at a grass roots level locally and regionally to protect resources.