Big changes are coming for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in the new Congress. Most of the shifts are sparked by incoming Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who will head the panel thanks to her party's newly won Senate majority. She's expected to pursue a much more pro-environment agenda than the one followed by outgoing chairman James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.). Boxer also is expanding the number of subcommittees from four to six, including three with jurisdiction over air pollution issues.
There's a battle looming on the Republican side, too. Inhofe is being challenged by long-time committee member John W. Warner (Va.) over who will be the EPW panel's ranking GOP member.
Boxer has one of the greenest voting records in the Senate, scoring 100% on the latest League of Conservation Voters scorecard. She already has made clear she wants to tackle global warming. Along with Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Boxer wrote President Bush Nov. 15 asking for a "commitment to work with the new Congress to pass meaningful climate change legislation in 2007." Her new subcommittee list underscores that point.
When Democrats led the committee in the past, an industry source contends it produced legislation "far too left-of center to be able to survive on the Senate floor .That will be particularly true with Boxer at the helm." But another source says Boxer's familiarity with California's needs gives her "an understanding of the importance of infrastructure projects to the nation's economy....I think she's somebody we definitely can work with."
David Conrad, senior water resources specialist with the National Wildlife Federation, says, "We would hope that the new lineup would bring with it a lot more attention to the Corps [of Engineers] program and the environment, and more focus on what the longer-term national needs are in water development than the rather scattershot approaches that have prevailed over the last decade."
Lobbyists are eyeing the Warner-Inhofe tussle. Inhofe has chaired EPW since 2003, but Warner joined the committee eight years earlier than the Oklahoman. Each lawmaker thinks GOP rules favor him. EPW panel Republicans will vote on a ranking member, probably in January, a committee aide says. Then, all Senate Republicans will vote.
Cathy Connor, Parsons Brinckerhoff senior vice president for government affairs, says Warner would be more moderate than Inhofe on environmental matters, but she sees little difference between the two on transportation. "They're both obviously strong supporters of infrastructure," Connor says.