Environment and Energy Priorities: A View from Congress
RFF Policy Leadership Forum w/ Representative Sherwood L. Boehlert
June 23, 2005
Representative Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-New York)
In his 22 years in Congress, Rep. Boehlert has proven himself a leading champion of clean air, clean water, land conservation, and efficient energy use, often noting that "meaningful environmental legislation may be our single most important legacy." He has supported agricultural conservation programs to preserve open space and wetlands and protect wildlife habitat; promoted the strengthening of fuel economy standards for cars and trucks; favored technologies to create clean and renewable energy sources; and sponsored legislation to significantly reduce power plant emissions that result in acid rain.
Boehlert has chaired the House Science Committee since 2001.The Committee oversees more than $30 billion in annual federal nonmilitary scientific and technology research and development programs, with jurisdiction over NASA, the National Science Foundation, and research and development initiatives within the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Commerce.
A graduate of Utica College, he is a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence and a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where he chaired the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee from 1995-2000.
Video of this RFF Policy Leadership Forum and commentary on Representative Boehlert's remarks follow below.
President and Senior Fellow
Resources for the Future
Representative Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-New York)
Question and Answer
Representative Boehlert Decries Inaction on Energy, Climate
House Science Committee Chair Also Notes Positive Signs Can Be Seen
Congressional inaction and lack of public awareness on key environmental issues such as energy, land, and water use and global climate change color the state of environmental politics, according to Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), in his remarks to an audience at Resources for the Future (RFF) on June 23. Boehlert, Chairman of the House Science Committee, spoke as part of RFF’s Policy Leadership Forum series.
“The state (of the political environment) is worse than what I would like and not so dire as some would suggest,” Boehlert noted. “But all is not well, either. Some on the right act as if we have infinite resources, and we have been granted unlimited license to exploit the earth for our immediate pleasure.”
With Congress in the middle of a contentious debate on both the energy bill as a whole and various climate change provisions, he noted that the rancor over these issues is not unique to this era. “It’s not as if our nation has been distinguished through most of its history by its sensible and farsighted energy policies,” Boehlert acknowledged. “We’re a big country and we like to live big--and we’ve repeatedly ignored energy issues until they’ve reached crisis proportions.”
Boehlert criticized his House colleagues for their reactions to climate change, while noting that the political tide on the issue seems to be turning. “The House may be the ultimate lagging indicator on climate; it probably has the highest population density of climate skeptics of any spot on the entire planet,” he said. “But the general direction of the debate in Washington and nationwide is toward recognizing climate change as a serious challenge.” Only time will tell, he said, if the tide will turn soon enough to make a difference.
Stumbling blocks on the road to such change is hampered by inattention or insufficient response to several specific policy issues. Boehlert cited an unwillingness by Congress to raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, despite studies showing that such action would reduce oil consumption in the United States and could be done without compromising vehicle safety.
“To me, it’s sad and distressing and foolhardy that we aren’t going to impose the kind of standards that I believe, based on expert opinion, are feasible,” he lamented. “But there are positive signs as well--we got more votes this time around for raising CAFE standards than we ever have before.” He noted that national security concerns around dependence on foreign oil are bringing new allies, including conservatives and corporate executives, to the table.
Boehlert clarified that, while this is a step in the right direction, it is not close enough. Pointing out that ideological divisions won’t help anyone, he called on environmentalists to reach out to moderate conservatives in an effort to build consensus on key environmental issues. He sees progress among conservatives on environmental issues, noting that Congressional votes on opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling were close, and that “those wanting to open ANWR framed many of their arguments in environmental terms.”
“A close vote does nothing to protect an acre of land or a herd of caribou,” he clarified. “But a close vote can lead to a different strategy and can portend a different future.”
To move closer to this future, Boehlert noted that the public needs to be better informed on environmental issues. He called on the media to provide more coverage, on the scientific community to offer guidance on the best and latest research conclusions, and on his fellow policymakers to work together to make wise choices.
“The moderate approach, I think, is still the way to move ahead on environmental issues,” he concluded. “That means getting the best science, arguing the facts, and doing the hard work of cobbling together practical solutions rather than retreating to ideological corners.”