Last week brought an end to the remarkable run of Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who announced his intention to leave Washington and turn the reins of the federal treasury over to his well-groomed deputy, Lawrence Summers, known affectionately to some enviro insiders as Darth Vader. Although Wall Street may be comfortable with Summers, environmentalists are not.
In 1991, while at the World Bank, Summers signed an internal Bank memo that argued, “The economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable.” He later issued a public apology, claiming he only sent out the memo to stimulate debate. Enviros are also vexed by Summers’s role in developing the administration’s stance on climate change for the December 1997 talks in Kyoto.
“I don’t think that Larry Summers could be any more of a problem on environmental matters than he already has been,” Phil Clapp, head of National Environmental Trust, told Muckraker, anticipating Summers taking over at Treasury. “He was the primary opponent within the administration of a strong position on global warming and pollution reduction. In essence, he produced cost figures that made it look like [Kyoto] was a giant disaster for the economy. … He was the principle reason that the administration came out with such a weak position going into Kyoto.”
Stuart Eizenstat, on the other hand, who is moving over from the State Department to be Summers’s number two, is generally well liked in environmental circles. He was the administration’s top negotiator during the Kyoto talks.
Seismic tremors rippled through the environmental world last week when a three-judge appeals court panel in Washington, D.C., threw out air quality standards the EPA drew up in 1997, arguing that the Clinton administration overstepped its bounds and failed to adequately articulate the standards’ benefits. The decision not only rocked the green world, but drew into question the extent to which any federal agency can issue binding regulations. It also served as a cautionary tale about the power of the federal judiciary and the rugged politics of judicial appointments.
In this case, the two judges in the majority, Douglas H. Ginsburg and Stephen F. Williams, were both Reagan appointees and the dissenter, David S. Tatel, a Clinton appointee. Several sources quickly informed Muckraker that Ginsburg also happens to be a board member of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE). Diligent enviros will recall that FREE is a conservative group that sponsors cushy Montana retreats for judges at which they are instructed on the economic impact of certain environmental regulations. The group is not, how shall we put this … friendly to environmental causes. NET’s Clapp was among the first to note Ginsburg’s affiliation in an alert his group put out blasting the decision and ridiculing the two Reagan judges.
Next stop for the EPA is likely an appeal to all members of the federal appeals court to reconsider the panel’s verdict. Should that fail, it would be on to the Supreme Court, where the justices would almost certainly accept the case. A quick Muckraker survey of some leading enviros turned up general agreement that the high court would toss out the lower court ruling, but no one is popping champagne corks yet.
Ted’s Excellent Adventure
All this goes to show that a president can’t really mess around when appointing judges to the federal bench. Which makes one wonder about the bizarre saga of Ted Stewart, chief of staff to Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt (R) and a likely Clinton appointee for an opening on the bench in Utah.
Stewart is far from simpatico with Clinton administration enviro policy, but he has a very powerful patron in Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who, in addition to wearing natty suits and heavily starched collars, chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, gateway for all would-be federal judges.
Despite pressure from Utah Democrats and environmentalists, who want Vice Pres. Al Gore to flex some muscle and nix Stewart, the White House has given signals recently (notably to the New York Times in a story on the subject) that it may throw Hatch a bone by nominating Stewart, thus freeing up some judicial nominees whom Hatch might otherwise block. (For the record, Hatch’s office denies blocking anybody.)
The Other Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Muckraker was thoroughly entertained watching the House-Senate conference committee horse-trade over the supplemental Kosovo spending bill last week. Some Senate-sponsored anti-enviro riders tanked (Pete Domenici‘s on the silvery minnow, Richard Shelby‘s on Alabama sturgeon, Ted Stevens‘s on fishing in Glacier Bay), while others held fast (Slade Gorton‘s on the Crown Jewel Mine).
But perhaps Muckraker’s favorite part was observing crotchety Sen. Stevens (R-Alaska), who at one point looked ready to charge a defenseless C-SPAN camera operator. After a long day of bickering, senators were milling with congressional members and aides, making plans to haggle into the night. The C-SPAN cameras, as is their wont, kept rolling. Stevens, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was not pleased. He glared at a camera operator and demanded that the lights be switched off, even threatening that the cameras wouldn’t be let in again if he didn’t get his way — so of course he did get his way. Which shows that C-SPAN is welcome to broadcast the public pontifications of Washington heavyweights, but when the real dealing starts and the lobbyists begin to swarm, the cameras must go.