Politics: Voters? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Voters.

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
News from the Field, January 1997

Politics: Voters? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Voters.

As the new Congress rolls in, meet the environmental bigwigs who'll be pulling the strings
By Juliet Eilperin

Sure, being a member of congress has its perks--but it's not the be-all and end-all of beltway clout. Introducing the environment's movers and shakers on Capitol Hill, the five most influential power brokers you've never heard of. Remember, real D.C. big shots don't even bother with elections.

The Broker: Mark Rey, professional staffer, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Means of Muscle: Don't be fooled by the innocuous-sounding title. Alaska Senator Frank Murkowski doesn't make a move as chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee without first consulting Rey. Word is that when Rey calls for a kibosh on a piece of e-legislation, it's done. The former American Forest & Paper Association staffer earned a feather for his cap last session by helping to attach the now-famous timber salvage rider to a budget bill that President Clinton signed--a coup for logging interests that earned Clinton the ire of environmentalists.
Hidden Agenda: Rey says his lips are sealed regarding pending legislation, but with a new Senate that's considered more ideologically conservative than last term's, look for Rey to draw up Murkowski's dream bill: opening up Alaska's Tongass National Forest to large-scale logging.

The Broker: Phil Schiliro, chief of staff for Representative Henry Waxman (D-California).
Means of Muscle: Schiliro was long the man to see to get the environmental ball rolling in the old, Democrat-controlled House, but many predicted his demise after Waxman became a member of the minority. Yet Schiliro proved to be even more adept on the defensive. Seeing voters' clammy embrace of Gingrich, Schiliro bussed Waxman around town, labeling the Speaker an extremist. The tactic worked, and a chastened Gingrich was forced to backpedal.
Hidden Agenda: Disappointed to still be in the minority after the November election, Schiliro, along with Waxman, is hoping to cajole enough moderate Republicans to join them in supporting Superfund reforms, a revised Clean Air Act, and his pet project, the so-called citizens' right-to-know provisions concerning air and drinking-water contaminants.

The Broker: Robert Szabo, partner, Van Ness Feldman.
Means of Muscle: A powerhouse lobbyist and former aide to retired Senator Bennett Johnston of Louisiana, Szabo commands the attention of lawmakers by pairing cash-dripping clients like Chevron USA and Kaiser Aluminum with small farmers. Last session his clout landed him at a desk beside Republican Senator Slade Gorton of Washington, where they penned a Senate bill that would have weakened the Endangered Species Act.
Hidden Agenda: Scorned by the public uproar over the proposed gutting of the nation's environmental laws, Szabo says he plans "a more modest agenda this time." That remains to be seen, but this month he will be prodding his Senate confidants to introduce business-friendly revisions to the Clean Water Act--and will again be targeting the Endangered Species Act.

The Broker: Wesley Warren, deputy chief of staff, Council on Environmental Quality.
Means of Muscle: The CEQ, and Warren in particular, has been seen as the voice of reason on environmental policy in the Clinton administration. During the last congressional session, Warren sold industry barons and Republican members of Congress on the theory that Gingrich's so-called regulatory reform wouldn't benefit them--rather, it would have created more bureaucracy. Result? The bills got shot down, and Warren gained respect within the business community.
Hidden Agenda: Warren will start focusing on an EPA-implemented program called Project XL, which helps polluters monitor themselves within federally mandated guidelines. While some greens accuse Warren of bowing to polluters, it hasn't hurt his standing with Mr. Big. Clinton asked him to help set up the Council on Sustainable Development, another compromise-oriented group.

The Broker: Gregory Wetstone, legislative director, Natural Resources Defense Council.
Means of Muscle: As political guru and arm-twister of the 400,000-member e-group, Wetstone went on the offensive last session, helping to defeat a bill gutting the budget of the EPA and side-tackling a weakened Clean Water Act revision. A master of the media, Wetstone, along with NRDC poster-guy Robert Kennedy Jr., convinced Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau to run a series lambasting what they saw as corporate America's antienvironment stance.
Hidden Agenda: Acknowledging the still-uphill battle for getting big-time environmental bills out of the Republican-controlled 105th Congress, Wetstone will be seeking out the moderates in both parties to push viable legislation addressing global warming, increased pollution standards, and--good luck!--beefing up the Endangered Species Act.

Copyright 1997, Outside magazine

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