Heee’s baaack

When the votes from Election Day were tallied, results of one contest in particular elicited cheers from environmentalists around the country. While the outcome of the presidential election remained uncertain, the green-minded could at least take satisfaction in knowing one of their most significant enemies had gone down in defeat.

It appeared environmentalists wouldn’t have Michigan Sen. Spence Abraham to kick around anymore. After six years of compiling what they consider one of the worst environmental records on Capitol Hill, Abraham was sent packing. U.S. Rep. Debbie Stabenow defeated Abraham by a razor-slim margin, and at least some of the credit for the victory belonged to groups such as the Sierra Club, which put a high priority on removing Michigan’s junior senator from office.

But the environmentalists didn’t have long to relish Abraham’s ouster. Like a recurring nightmare, Abraham is already back, this time as George W. Bush’s nominee to head the Department of Energy.

“It’s like a perverse form of recycling,” laments Dan Farough, public education campaign coordinator for the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club. “We vanquish a bad guy and he reappears somewhere else.”

Farough has good reason to be disappointed. The Sierra Club, he says, put a couple hundred thousand dollars into issue ads and other efforts designed to inform voters about Abraham’s “abysmal” environmental record. In its 1999 environmental scorecard, which rates legislators on a scale of zero to 100, the League of Conservation Voters gave Abraham a cipher.

During his campaign, explains Farough, Abraham was doing his best to convince the public he was a friend of the environment. It was a greenwashing campaign that began in 1998, when Gov. John Engler appointed Abraham to head the Clean Michigan bond initiative.

But Abraham has compiled a record that is difficult to disguise.

For example, says Farough, Abraham in 1999 opposed efforts to implement the “relatively modest” goal of resuming research on automobile fuel-efficiency standards. He has consistently opposed clean water programs and supported laws weakening the chemical industry’s toxic-emission reporting requirements. And he has long been a proponent of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

Perhaps most perplexing of all is the fact that he twice sponsored legislation that sought to abolish the Department of Energy. Now he’s slated to head the department he wanted to eliminate.

“He’s the wrong man for the wrong job,” says Dave Dempsey of the Michigan Environmental Council. “He’s shown throughout his career that he has absolutely no grasp of the wrenching changes that are coming in American energy use. He’s a defender of the old guard that just wants to drill for oil to support gas-guzzlers.”

In that respect, Abraham will be a perfect complement to an administration headed by former oil-industry executives Bush and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney. Bush has made no secret of the fact that one of his first initiatives as president will be to open up Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil companies.

For his part, Abraham’s anti-environmental stances have been well-rewarded. According to the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Environmental Working Group, in the 2000 campaign he was the No. 1 recipient of campaign contributions from political action committees representing industries that benefit most from anti-environmental policies. PACs representing auto manufacturers, oil companies, coal producers, the chemical industry, steel companies and others contributed $459,000 to Abraham’s 2000 Senate campaign, according to information posted on the Environmental Working Group’s Web site www.ewg.org.

It doesn’t appear, however, that a serious attempt will be made to block Abraham’s appointment. Environmentalists will more likely expend their influence fighting the nomination of Gale Norton as secretary of interior. A protégée of James Watt, the far-right Interior head under Ronald Reagan, Norton is expected to draw stiff opposition during her nomination hearings.

Which means Abraham will soon be back, in a position to do more damage than ever. His nomination sends a clear signal of what to expect from the Bush administration, says Dempsey. There will be a head-in-the-sand approach to the issue of global warming. Efforts to expand alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power will languish. The dinosaur mentality that promotes the use of high-polluting fossil fuels such as oil and coal will be guiding this nation’s energy policies for the next four years.

“In short,” concludes Farough, “the selection of Abraham is an extension of George Bush and Dick Cheney. George Bush has made a lot of proclaiming himself a uniter and a healer. This selection is not likely to unite or heal, let alone address this nation’s dependence on oil.”

Curt Guyette is the MetroTimes news editor. E-mail [email protected]
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