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They're Back...

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San Francisco -- Just when we thought we were getting a fresh start with a new decade, some of the worst actors from the previous one popped back up to say, "You're not finished with us yet."

Richard Pombo, the unlamented former chair of the House Natural Resources Committee who tried to sell off our national parks, has announced that he will run for Congress, not in his old Congressional district (where his family has deep and lucrative real estate development roots) but in a neighboring district where incumbent George Radanovich is retiring. Were he to win,  Pombo would have the chance to sell off a really big  park, since his new district would include Yosemite National Park.

Pombo will face a hotly contested Republican primary, though, and is vulnerable as a carpetbagger. I also expect that voters in his new district will remember -- or be reminded  of -- his seedy relationship with former Congressional influence peddler Jack Abramoff. I was very proud in 2006 when the Sierra Club and a coalition of environmental groups replaced Pombo with Representative Jerry McNerney.

The other ghost of the decade past is a project by Senator Lisa Murkowski to gut the Clean Air Act by specifying that air pollutants that cause climate disruption are not subject to the law. Murkowski's amendment to this effect was rejected by the Senate last fall, but, just before Christmas, she and other Republicans held up voting on an essential bill to allow the federal government to continue borrowing money until Senate Democrats agreed to give her a vote on her proposal to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from following the U.S. Supreme Court decision that it must regulate pollution that causes global warming under the Clean Air Act.

Before Murkowski was carrying this water, we watched the Bush administration stonewall for two years after the Supreme Court ordered the EPA to act (by the outré expedient of refusing to open the email to the Administration from the EPA with its legally required finding that, yes, Virgina, carbon dioxide does disrupt the climate).

It's important to note how this plays out. The Senate Republican leadership won't allow the Senate to vote on climate legislation that it knows a majority would approve. At the same time, it insists that the Senate get to vote on amendments that have already been rejected -- but only under ground rules that prevent the majority from offering its own alternatives. Murkowski claims she is gutting the Clean Air Act only so the Senate can pass its own version of climate legislation rather than rely on the Clean Air Act. But she won't agree to help bring such climate legislation to the floor, and she hasn't sponsored any of her own. So while Murkowski gets to offer her amendment to prevent Clean Air Act action on climate, Senator Boxer cannot offer a bill that would put in place the kind of comprehensive climate action that Murkowski claims to favor -- the rules the Republicans have insisted on won't allow it.

This is both obstructionism and hypocrisy at its worst. It's driven not by policy concerns over energy and climate but by a purely partisan political desire to prevent President Obama and the majority of the Congress from doing what the American people elected them to do -- govern. Every senator needs to stand up to these kinds of petty, rule-or-ruin tactics. Congress needs to vote on comprehensive climate and energy legislation -- and the EPA needs to carry out the Clean Air Act. Murkowski is trying to prevent one by gutting the other. And she needs to be called on it.

If you agree, I encourage you to email your own senators to let them know that 2010 is not the year to start  backpedaling on progress toward a clean-energy future for America.


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