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The Environmental Weenie-ism of “Puddles” Chafee


(Ned Lamont is over at Kos chatting with people, go say hello.) 

Writing in the Providence Journal, John E. Mulligan has a very enlightening article on Lincoln Chafee’s recent vote (along straight party lines) to kill a Democratic bill meant to limit the chlorine gas treatment of sewage:

Outside a quiet Senate committee room Tuesday morning, a lobbyist for Greenpeace confronted U.S. Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee to protest his role in killing a Democratic bill meant to protect sewage plants from terrorists.

Rick Hind told Chafee: You cast the deciding vote to shield the chemical industry’s "bad legislation" from Democratic amendments. You are part of "the dishonesty in Washington" that denies the threat of volatile waste treatment gases in 100 cities, he said. The man from Greenpeace spoke in low, angry tones partly to tell "hard truths" to a Republican who usually hears praise from environmentalists, he said, and partly to be quoted in Chafee’s home state newspaper.

"Praise from environmentalist?"  I suppose that would be The Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, both of whom have endorsed Chafee.  But Mulligan goes on to analyze the cynical cocktail weenie politics behind those endorsements:

On the one hand, many environmentalists revere Chafee as the lone Republican willing and able to block legislation they view as attacking the nation’s air and water quality laws. Not even the "greenest" Democrat wields such power in a Senate ruled by the GOP.

"Senator Chafee keeps all kinds of bad things from happening," said David Willett, of the Sierra Club, the granddaddy of U.S. conservation groups, which recently gave Chafee its only endorsement of a Senate Republican.

On the other hand, even Chafee’s friends in the environmental movement chide him when he votes with his party on measures they oppose. The latest examples were his votes last week to help push the Republican wastewater plant security bill through the environment panel on a straight party-line vote — and to table a Democratic version that would have required more spending and speedier action to address the issue.

"We’re disappointed, of course," said Tony Massaro, a top lobbyist for the League of Conservation Voters, which has also endorsed Chafee. "We’d like everybody we support — and everybody in the Congress — to be 100-percenters" on environmental issues, Massaro said.

Some people take a harder line against Chafee; often, they are Democrats opposed to the Bush administration and congressional Republicans, not only on environmental questions but across the board.

Their argument includes environmental issues but transcends them as well. If the Democrats were to seize back control of the Senate from the GOP — which holds 55 of 100 seats today — there would be no need of a Chafee to stand in the way of the Bush administration’s most objectionable initiatives on the environment or on other fronts. Nor would there be much worry in a Democratic Senate, by this reasoning, that a Chafee would sometimes help his party on controversial nominations or key procedural gambits.

That partisan logic would suggest a vote against Chafee, even if he scored 100 percent on every environmental scorecard, because his defeat would represent a step toward a Democratic Senate majority.

Even Chafee himself acknowledges the cynical nature of the gambit being played by these groups:

That, of course, "is the whole premise of the Democratic campaign against me," said Chafee, "but it hinges on a lot happening around the country." Chafee was hinting, not in so many words, at the rationale that some environmentalists give for backing Chafee: He is an invaluable hedge against the possibility that the Republicans will remain in power. 

So Chafee, a weak-kneed, only-when-they-let-me environmentalist at best, is being supported against his Democratic opponent with both money and volunteers by institutional environmentalists solely as a "hedge" against the horrors of continued GOP hegemony.  In doing so these groups actively work against a Democratic majority in the Senate — Chafee’s seat is key to reclaiming that –  and noboy is arguing that this would not be better for environmentalists across the board.

Meanwhile, by endorsing Chafee and funneling both money and resources to him, they are actively woking to defeat Democrats like Sheldon Whitehouse:

Alex Swartsel, spokeswoman for Democratic Senate candidate Sheldon Whitehouse, countered that Democratic control of the Senate is the only satisfactory "check" against Mr. Bush, whom she called "the worst president in history" on environmental issues.

"The Republican Party knows that when they really need him, Senator Chafee will be there for them," said Swartsel. Among other issues, she cited last week’s wastewater votes in the environment committee and Chafee’s recent support for a top appointee to the Environmental Protection Administration whom environmentalists generally opposed.

And how does Big Green Lincoln Chafee respond to this criticism of being a tepid puppet at best when it comes to environmental issues?

When Rick Hind, of Greenpeace, confronted him on the issue Tuesday, Chafee flushed red and grew terse. "Do the best we can," he replied.

Later, he came up with a defense of the Republican waste-plant security bill: It would study the chemical risks as a reasonable first step, whereas the Democratic version would impose immediate and onerous federal mandates on local governments.

Oh I get it, that’s right.  Regulation bad, Ronald Regan, blah blah blah. Yer a mensch, Lincoln.  A real rock.

Go back to crying in the men’s Senate bathroom and whimpering about how mean they all are to you and leave the critical protection of the environment to the adults.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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