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Committee chairs often have 'horrific' records on science, matters they oversee

Kate Raiford
Published: Thursday November 2, 2006

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Senator James Inhofe, R-OK, calls climate change a hoax, voted against stem cell research, and since the 2002 election has taken more than $500,000 in campaign contributions from the oil, gas and electric industries. He's also the chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

"Inhofe is really horrific when it comes to the environment. He's continuing to perpetuate misinformation," says Tirenan Sittenfeld, legislative director of the independent organization, the League of Conservation Voters. She says he's not the only one.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-TX, is a skeptic on global warming and sponsored the House version of the Clear Skies Act, which would actually increase the amount of pollution permitted, according to the Sierra Club. He's also the chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Barton is the primary House author of the Bush Administration's Energy Policy Act of 2005, which was passed by Congress in July. Among other things, it encourages increases in nuclear and coal use. (However, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was removed from the Act.) Between 1997 and 2004, Barton received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the energy industry, the Washington Post reported.

This year he received more than $383,000 from oil, gas and electric companies.

But don't blame President Bush, Sittenfeld said. It's not the Administration that selects the chairmen; it's Congress. That doesn't make it any less unfortunate, she added.

Every year, the League of Conservation Voters compiles an environmental scorecard of Congress members, based on how they voted on select issues. One of the lowest scorers, at 17 percent this term and 7 percent overall goes to Rep. Richard Pombo, R-CA, chairman of the House Resources Committee. For example, he voted to increase offshore drilling and against the Clean Water Act.

For the current Congress, Inhofe has a score of 0 percent and an Barton 8 percent rating. But these are not the only policy makers with a record that would make a liberal cringe.

Rep. Paul E. Gillmor, R-OH, chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials, voted against stem cell research and against the Kyoto Protocol. He also voted yes for deauthorizing "critical habitat" for endangered species.

In the Senate, Ted Stevens, R-AK, Chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation is the longest-serving Republican. He is also the formerly unnamed senator who held up a bill that would make the government provide an online database of federal spending. He is in favor of drilling the Coastal Plan of the Arctic Wildlife Preserve. Howeever, he did support the bill for embryonic stem cell research.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-NM, chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, voted for offshore drilling and against environmental funding.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-OH, chairs the Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate Change and Nuclear Safety. He voted against EPA's clean air mercury emissions proposal and for drilling in the wildlife refuge. He and Inhofe co-sponsored the Senate Clear Skies Act.

The chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-WY, is against the proposed plan to reduce oil imports by 2025, and for the Bush Administration energy plan. Enzi's voting record is 100 percent anti-environment, according to the League of Conservation Voters.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, is chair of the Subcommittee on Bioterrorism and Public Health Preparedness. He supports stem cell research but is against the Kyoto Protocol. He is known for introducing "Bioshield Two," which would encourage the private sector to develop vaccines and drugs. It's been called "a drug company stockholder's dream and a consumer's worst nightmare" in a press release from the National Vaccine Information Center. In 2004, the League of Conservation Voters listed him in their Dirty Dozen's list of politicians taking the most money from oil and gas companies.

Other Republican leaders of science, environment and energy committees are more moderate.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-NY, is the chair of the Committee on Science and has a better track record for the liberal voter. He voted yes on stem cell research and yes on the Kyoto Protocol.

"He's a real environmental champion," Sittenfeld told RAW STORY.

The House's Subcommittee on Health chair, Nathan Deal, R-GA, is against the Kyoto Protocol and for the Bush Administration National Energy Policy. A spokesman said Deal must review all legislation before he can rule on stem cells, though he does not believe in manipulation of life.

Sittenfeld declined to speculate on a potential Democratic win of Congress this November, though she said: "Regardless of who's in charge, Congress needs to move in a drastically different direction."

Representatives from Barton's and Enzi's office could not be reached for confirmation by press time.

For more information about the voting records of these and other Congressmen, tracks voting records, positions and campaign contributions, along with offering biographies of the president, members of Congress and other elected officials. The site averages 16 million hits a day and now features information on state legislators, whom a Project Vote Smart spokeswoman calls "the ones that affect people the most in their communities."