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Senators Blast Bush Environmental Record Preceding Judicial Vote

Inside EPA Clean Air Report
July 29, 2004
Avery Palmer


Senate Democrats and environmentalists say last week's failure of a procedural vote on a controversial Bush judicial nominee serves as a referendum on the Bush administration's allegedly dismal environmental record.

Republicans failed to win 60 votes to end debate and move forward with a vote on the nomination of William G. Myers III to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. This brings to 10 the number of nominees Democrats are blocking. But the complaints about Myers have focused squarely on his environmental record, since he is a former top Department of Interior (DOI) attorney who critics say used his position to help former industry clients.

Also last week, the Senate blocked the nomination of a Michigan judge, David W. McKeague, who environmental groups oppose due to his record on natural resource cases.

The vote on Myers is the first in which the long-standing controversy over President Bush's appellate nominees has centered over his record on the environment, rather than other ideological issues. However, environmentalists have opposed some of the other nine blocked nominees based on their records on issues such as access to the courts and private property rights.

"There are a number of critical issues at stake in judicial nominations and environment is at the top of the list" concerning Myers, Doug Kendall of the Community Rights Council said in a July 20 statement.

The Senate voted 53-44 on July 20 in a cloture motion that required 60 votes to end debate and allow the nomination to go forward. The vote was largely along party lines. All Senate Republicans and two Democrats, Joseph Biden (D-DE) and Ben Nelson (D-NE), voted for cloture.

Activists opposing Myers believe the cloture motion may have been one of the key environmental votes of the year, since Congress is unlikely to consider major bills on issues such as air pollution or climate change. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) may include the vote in its annual scorecard, which ranks lawmakers on their environmental records. An LCV source says the group has made no decision on the scorecard, but it is a possibility because Myers has "a long record of anti-environmental action."

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, said in a floor statement the day of the vote that the Myers nomination was part of a larger attempt by the White House to undermine environmental laws -- and he argued that federal courts were a crucial backstop for upholding key protections.

"If you watch what the Bush administration does, instead of just listening to what it says, there is much evidence of this administration's outright contempt for high environmental standards," Leahy said. "This nomination, in itself, says something about that. I hope that the Senate's vote today will say something about the higher priority that the Senate makes of environmental quality." Leahy's statement is available on InsideEPA.com.

Activists say Myers has favored industry and private property rights at the expense of environmental concerns, and charge that he wants to restrict the access of environmental groups to courts (Clean Air Report, March 25, p25). Myers has worked as a lawyer representing ranching and mining interests, and most recently was DOI's top lawyer.

Conservative groups counter that Democrats are using the nomination as a political tool to oppose environmental policies they disagree with. "They're trying to besmirch this good man's reputation because they want to score a political point about the president's environmental agenda. That's dirty politics," one source says.

The Senate also voted July 22 to block three Michigan nominees to the 6th Circuit appeals court: McKeague, Henry W. Saad, and Richard A. Griffin.

Leahy delivered a second speech July 20 highlighting McKeague's position in several environmental cases. These include a series of decisions that interpreted the National Environmental Policy Act to allow more logging on public lands; and another ruling that blocked a citizen from suing under the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act.

The Bush administration is now seeking to make the Democrats' blockage of nominees an issue in this year's presidential election campaign. Supporters of the president argue Democrats are engaged in obstruction to block qualified nominees only to score political points.

The conservative source says the nomination fight may sway moderate voters concerned about legal gridlock, in an election that has polarized voters on major domestic and international issues. "The war [in Iraq] is probably a tie with most voters," the source says. "The economy is probably a tie. So what's left when you're trying to sway blue-collar swing voters?" The source adds, "Judicial nominees is a populist issue."

Republicans are expected to seek second cloture votes on many of the nominees after Congress returns from its summer recess, this source says.

Recent press reports have also suggested that Republicans may attempt what is popularly known as the "nuclear option" by changing Senate procedures to require a 51-vote simple majority on judicial nominees. But sources stay the jury is still out on whether Republicans will consider this controversial move, with the fear that it could come back to haunt them if they lose their majority in Congress. Democrats say they would seek to block this, and would block every other issue for the rest of the year should Republicans go forward, essentially shutting down the legislature.


Source: Clean Air Report via InsideEPA.com
Date: July 29, 2004
Issue: Vol. 15, No. 16
© Inside Washington Publishers

 

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