WASHINGTON – The Maine delegation here continued its strong advocacy for environmental regulation in 2006, according to a nonpartisan ranking group.
Senators and representatives from the state ranked seventh among all state congressional delegations for their environment-friendly votes on high-profile issues such as global warming, according to the League of Conservation Voters.
League officials also stressed the importance of “venerable moderate Republicans,” including Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, in the political debate. Snowe and Collins ranked the highest among Senate Republicans.
The Maine contingent, however, represents an aberration in an overall complacent Congress on energy policy and environmental issues, said Tony Massaro, the league’s senior vice president of political affairs and public education. Massaro condemned the 109th Congress for failing to pass strong regulatory initiatives and stressed the importance of bipartisan support.
Some political analysts predict a shift in power on Nov. 7 from House Republicans to Democrats, and the Senate “could come down to one seat,” Massaro said. Control of Congress hinges on candidates’ inclusion of renewable-energy initiatives into their campaign platforms, he said.
“In this election, at all levels of government, energy policy is front and center in all voters’ minds,” Massaro said Wednesday at a press conference.
The 2006 National Environmental Scorecard, which the league said was released before the election to inform voters, typically favors Democrats because of their general pro-regulation stance.
Snowe, however, ranked 86 percent out of a possible 100 points while Collins received a 71 percent score, making them the top environment-friendly Republicans in the Senate. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island also received a 71 percent score.
Democratic Reps. Michael Michaud and Tom Allen collectively ranked fifth among all House delegates. Michaud received a 75 percent mark while Allen had a perfect score.
Congress ranked low overall with House and Senate members receiving a 48 percent and 45 percent mark, respectively.
Massaro praised Snowe, a candidate for re-election, for being an “environmental champion.” The league endorsed the incumbent over Democratic challenger Jean Hay Bright, an organic farmer from Dixmont, who places renewable energy as the third-most important issue in her campaign.
“We look at incumbents first,” Massaro said. “Senators like Olympia Snowe earned our continued support, so they’ll get the continued support.”
The league regularly funds environmentally strong candidates during elections but has not contributed to any of the Maine delegates in 2006.
Hay Bright dubbed Snowe’s voting record as “pitiful” despite the ranking and said the senator’s votes don’t coincide with the public stance she has taken on the issues. Republicans like Snowe “deliberately look away” from crucial legislation, she said.
“They don’t seem to think we need clean air for some reason, even though we need it to breathe,” Hay Bright, who is trailing Snowe in the polls, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Senator Snowe is part of that.”
Hay Bright criticized Snowe’s support of oil-drilling operations in the United States and said the government instead should enact policy to boost innovation in renewable energy. In the only negative mark on her scorecard, which analyzed seven environmental votes in the Senate. Snowe voted to permit drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska.
Hay Bright said Maine’s notoriety as being the “tailpipe of the nation” and bastion for air pollution from the Midwest makes the environment a top priority in the coming election. As the state’s economy transforms from forestry and other resource-based industries into a tourist destination, she said, more user-friendly methods to maintain the environment must be established.
Restoring the Penobscot River to its “former glory” and replenishing its Atlantic salmon population will be Snowe’s top environmental priority in the coming election, according to the incumbent.
“[It’s] a unique and historic opportunity that deserves and requires our full attention,” she said Wednesday in a statement.
Mark Anderson, coordinator of the ecology and environmental sciences program at the University of Maine, said the environment was sent to the “back burner” for the sake of more pressing issues of national security. The tendency for Snowe and Collins to stray from other Republicans on environmental voting reflects her constituency, he said. Despite the league’s claim, however, Anderson said the environment won’t play a vital role in the election.
“They’ll provide this obligatory lip service for preserving the environment,” Anderson said Wednesday. “But beyond the rhetoric, I don’t see the issue as dominant. With the trouble in Iraq, it’s just not part of our collective consciousness.”