What will Sen. Pete Domenici’s retirement mean for the environment?
But while Sen. Wide Stance (R-Idaho) is sticking around for now, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) will certainly be retiring at the end of the 110th Congress — so it behooves us to look back on his career, examine his impact on the environment, and look ahead to see what his retirement might mean for the 111th Congress.
Domenici, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee from 2002 to 2006, hasn’t been the greenest Republican over the years, but neither has he been the brownest. His lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters is 13 percent, and his rankings have actually gone down in recent years, even as he’s accepted the seriousness of the climate crisis and teamed up with fellow New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) on climate discussions and energy efficiency.
Of course, he’s never ceased to tout nuclear energy, push for offshore drilling, or fight to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, and one of his major accomplishments was pushing through the industry-friendly Energy Policy Act of 2005, much loathed by enviros. Last Congress, his LCV score was 7 percent.
That low score, according to LCV spokesperson David Sandretti, is because “the environmental community is rallying behind a sustainable energy future and Domenici’s been on the wrong side of those issues.”
So what does Domenici’s retirement mean for New Mexico? It means there will be a heavily contested race for a New Mexico Senate seat in the coming months.
Sandy Buffett is executive director of Conservation Voters of New Mexico. Her organization focuses on internal state politics, but she has her fingers on the pulse of the New Mexico congressional delegation, and was kind enough to offer me some insight earlier today. “Sen. Domenici has had a long, distinguished career as a public servant,” she said, but added, “He’s one of the few that’s been standing in the way of key global warming legislation. The possibility his retirement creates for opening up a seat to somebody who would actually bring visionary global warming and clean energy legislation is really exciting.”
Two well-known politicians are already rumored to be considering a run for the Republican nomination in the race to replace Domenici — Reps. Heather Wilson (of New Mexico’s 1st congressional district) and Steve Pearce (of the 2nd), both of whom have weak environmental records. If both of these congresscritters choose to run for the Senate nomination, their House seats would be put into play, possibly to be won by greener public servants. Wilson — whose district includes Albuquerque — is particularly vulnerable. Her career has been plagued by scandals (most recently involving former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias), and she has already come extremely close to losing her seat. The likeliest heir to the first district seat in Congress is Democrat Martin Heinrich, who serves on the Albuquerque City Council and has one of the strongest environmental records in the state.
And which Democrat will run against the Republican nominee for Domenici’s seat? That’s still up in the air. Real-estate developer Don Wiviott has already declared his candidacy; the New York Times says he “is known for building energy-efficient properties with features like cisterns for water recycling.” Buffett said that Tom Udall — currently in the House representing New Mexico’s 3rd district — would be a strong contender, but that he’ll probably “wait to see what Richardson does.”
Yes, that Richardson.
“Having Gov. Richardson as our senator would be a guaranteed vote for clean energy,” said Buffett. “It would likely be his for the taking.”
All enviros need to do is convince him to drop out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Think that’ll happen? (Don’t answer!)