Despite the media’s waning obsession with the scandal surrounding New York Congressman Anthony Weiner that ultimately led to his resignation on June 16, environmental activists’ concerns about what his loss might mean for their causes continue to grow.
Weiner had a strong environmental record during his 12 years serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. He defended the Endangered Species Act; supported the Obama administration’s popular “Cash for Clunkers” program that helped Americans exchange old cars for more fuel-efficient models; and helped prevent the slaughter of 30,000 previously protected wild horses by the Bureau of Land Management. He scored a 90% with the League of Conservation Voters, a non-partisan national organization dedicated to pushing environmental legislation. Weiner’s environmental work also included the implementation of the removal of toxic PCBs from the Hudson River in New York; opposition to a plan to thin out forests to prevent wildfires—which Weiner called “reckless”; and the funding of environmental education for children.
Not that Weiner’s environmental record was spotless. “The feeling among environmental leaders,” wrote StreetsBlog contributor Glenn McAnanama after attending an environmental Q&A with congressman Weiner in August of 2007, “was that Weiner falls into that frustrating camp of New York City Democratic politicians who say all the right things and seem to agree with progressive goals on the surface, yet when it comes to putting a real plan into action…[he] seems to be more worried about upsetting vocal constituents than achieving tangible gains.”
But Weiner’s resignation could mean cutting short some of the progress that had been made in advancing environmental causes in Congress, especially as deficit concerns continue to top political agendas across the country. Earlier in the year the GOP-controlled House sought to defund U.S. membership in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and to limit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions through its 2011 budget proposal. Current bipartisan discussions on raising the nation’s debt ceiling may result in more cuts to the EPA and the government’s fiscal capacity for environmentally responsible programs.
The future of environmental progress in the halls of Congress is further complicated by the looming congressional redistricting process based on the results of the 2010 Census. Weiner’s Ninth District is potentially on the chopping block in New York, a state that must discard two of its 29 seats in the House of Representatives. The Democrat-controlled New York State Legislature has little incentive to preserve a seat vacated because of scandal and is now poised for a special election.
What remains clear is that in all the coverage of Weiner’s scandal and resignation his “political record has been largely overlooked and forgotten,” as Merlin Miclat writes on the environmental blog GreenAnswers. He adds: “Sadly, most people will remember the congressman for his misbehavior that cost him his seat, rather than as an eco-friendly congressman and a prominent voice for the preservation and improvement of the environment.”