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Why the next Congress will be 'greener,' but only by a few shades

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In other areas, too – the energy and pollution associated with motor vehicles, for example, or power generation impacting fish and wildlife habitat – local interests could conflict with long-term goals of environmentalists.

New committee chairs to watch

The biggest immediate changes will be in committee leadership. Rep. Richard Pombo (R) of California lost his reelection bid to political novice Jerry McNerney, a wind energy engineer. It was an indication of the clout the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and other activist groups had in this election. Mr. Pombo will be replaced as House Resources Committee chair by longtime environmental champion Rep. Nick Rahall (D) of West Virginia, a leader in the effort to reform the hardrock mining law of 1872, which left thousands of polluted sites across the West.

In the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, Barbara Boxer (D) of California will assume the chairmanship from James Inhofe (R) of Oklahoma, who has called the Environmental Protection Agency "a Gestapo bureaucracy" and who once called global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will be chaired by Democrat Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, another advocate of dealing directly with climate change.

Much has been made of the centrist – sometimes even conservative – stance of the new crop of lawmakers. But their campaign statements and records on environmental issues would indicate that most are quite green. Related to this, voters in many states passed pro-environment ballot measures, an indicator of political support. And in some ways, the old guard – and not just Democrats – is likely to have even more prominence. Two important Senate proponents of addressing global warming have been Republican and likely presidential candidate John McCain of Arizona and Democrat-turned-Independent Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

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