05/19/2006 05:39 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Cowardice or Common Sense?

Washington, DC -- Well, the Republican leadership completely lost control of its caucus this week -- taking six successive losses in floor votes on the House Interior and Environment Appropriations bill.

The House voted, 217-203, to overturn a proposal by Pennsylvania Congressman John E. Peterson to lift the moratorium on off-shore natural gas drilling. It then overwhelmingly voted to stop the subsidies that support clear-cutting in the Tongass National Forest, with 68 Republicans voting against Alaska Congressman Don Young, once one of the bullies of the Tom DeLay leadership machine and still the head of the House Appropriations Committee, now wounded by his role in the "Bridges to Nowhere" scam. Young was provoked by the bipartisan opposition to his boondoggle to interrupt Representative Steve Chabot (R-OH), declaring, "That money doesn't go to jobs, it goes to the Forest Service. It has nothing to do with jobs." Out of the mouths of babes!

Next up was the Oberstar amendment to prevent the EPA from carrying out the "No Protection Policy" The Farm Bureau, the road builders, the contractors, public utilities, mining and timber companies, realtors, and others put on a full court press. But faced with data showing that more than 100 million Americans get their drinking water from sources that depend on the protection of headwaters and small streams for their quality, 37 Republican abandoned their leadership and Oberstar's amendment passed easily.

Then the House approved the Hinchey amendment to stop the federal government from giving oil and gas companies "royalty relief" in a time when they are making record profits, 252-165. It adopted by 231-187 the Pallone/Solis amendment to prohibit the EPA from weakening by tenfold the requirements that companies report their releases of toxic chemicals, despite heavy lobbying by National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB). Finally, it wrapped up a good weak by approving by consensus the Hastings amendment to ensure that the EPA will protect all communities equally from exposure to abnormally high levels of water pollution, air pollution, and toxic waste.

How did beleaguered House Resources Committee Chair Richard Pombo vote on these amendments? On royalty giveaways to the oil companies, which he had supported in committee, he flip-flopped and voted against his oil buddies; and he ducked the drilling moratorium vote, even though he had consistently supported ending the moratorium previously, including at a debate with me before the Society of Environmental Journalists last fall.

Folks asked me today why I thought we won. Was the Congress finally coming to its senses?

"Maybe. But more likely panic is setting in," was my response.