Eye On Washington: December 2020

Dan Sealy, NEC  Legislative Analyst

(This Eye on Washington was written on November 8th and reflects the projected election results as of that date. Final election results may not be certified by states by the time this goes to print and the Electoral College casts their votes on Dec. 15th. In the next issue of EcoNews, Environmental Policy Intern, Kenneth Mort, will provide analysis of the election results for readers.Dan Sealy) 

US Senate

As of this date, the Senate is evenly split, 48 Republicans and 48 Democrats with two Senate seats representing Georgia that will not be decided until mid-January. The results of those two hard-fought  elections will determine the majority in the Senate and whether Leader McConnell (KY-R) will retain the Senate Leadership or if it will pass to a Democratic leader such as Chuck Schumer (NY-D.) Mark Kelly, former astronaut and husband of former US Rep. Gabby Gifford (who was critically wounded by a gunman) is not only expected to be a leader on gun safety, but also a leader supportive of climate crisis legislation. Colorado voters replaced incumbent Cory Gardner (R-CO) with pro-environment, former Democratic Governor, John Hickenlooper. 

Replacement of Senator Harris 

When Senator Kamala Harris assumes her duties as the Vice President, her Senate seat will be replaced through appointment by Governor Gavin Newsom (D.) A rumored list for her replacement includes: Reps. Barbara Lee of Oakland, Katie Porter of Irvine and Karen Bass of Los Angeles, current CA Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a longtime political ally of the governor and Mayor of Long Beach, Robert Garcia. Pundits have suggested the governor will likely replace Harris with another qualified minority figure. 

US House of Representatives 

Congressman Huffman was re-elected with wide support and will continue to be a strong voice for the environment. He will presumably also retain his chairmanship of the House Natural Resources (NR) subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, as will Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), current Chair of the House NR Committee. A primary change in the House NR Committee is the retirement of former chair of the committee, Rob Bishop (R-UT) who was a consistent, vocal opponent of many important policies for public land protection. It is presumed that Rep-Elect Moore, who replaces Bishop, will retain a seat on the House NR Committee. Rep. Haaland (D-NM), a member of an Indigenous tribe, retained her seat and will continue to provide a strong voice for environmental justice although there is some talk of her becoming part of the new Biden Administration. In that case, that seat would be appointed by the current Democratic governor of New Mexico. The 21st CA Congressional District is still a tossup although former US Rep. David Valadao has just over 4,000 more votes than incumbent, TJ Cox (D-CA). This race is important to north coast residents because Valadao has been aggressive with legislation to move water from northern California to his Central Valley District. Some influential US House voices for and against conservation legislation who have retained their seats include LaMalfa (R-CA,) McClintock (R-CA,) Levin (D-CA,) Lamborn (R-CO) and Cheney (R-WY.) 

Looking Back On 2020

“Mixed Bag” would be putting a wig on a watermelon. The Trump Administration tried to hand off the nation’s natural resources to exploiters while conservationists stopped or slowed those efforts with lawsuits. Congress was mostly mired in mud. Perhaps the crowning insult was the last-minute removal of the endangered Grey Wolf from protection nationwide. 

Certainly, the biggest success for the environment in 2020 was passage of the Great American Outdoors Act which permanently funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and attempted to address the long-bemoaned “backlog” of infrastructure neglect in National Park sites. Even this win was mired in the partisan mud with states on the Gulf Coast, where a majority of the funds are derived, lobbying unsuccessfully for a larger portion of the funds, pointing out they are also the most at risk for disasters like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Fortunately, that effort failed as did the effort to disallow the use of the LWCF for purchasing new lands for National Parks and Wildlife Refuges. 

Will Democrats Let Biden be the Moderate He Promised to Be?

Governing in a divided nation requires compromise to pass critical legislation. Public health, the economy, the environment and confirmation of every nominee President-elect Biden proposes will require passage through the expected Mitch McConnel / Republican Senate majority. President Trump’s answer to gridlock was avoidance of public critique of his nominees through bypassing the traditional confirmation process, using a series of deputies and acting agency heads. What sort of Sec. of the Interior will Biden be able to successfully maneuver through a Republican Senate confirmation process? Luckily both Biden and Harris know exactly how the Senate works. They also realize clear communication, careful listening and presenting nominees that represent the President’s policies while not riding roughshod over Republican concerns will all be required. Will the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party support such governing?  Will the grassroots of the Democratic Party be able to shake the divisions of the past to keep an eye on the big global picture of environmental protections? Or will the party  and the conservation community become mired in an internal quagmire that cripples progress? In the words of Speaker Pelosi, will they be able to celebrate winning the war though they lose some battles?