Even more environmentally minded politicians are set to tackle green issues during Obama’s administration. Yesterday, Sen. Barbara Boxer, head of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, announced that New Mexico’s Tom Udall and Oregon’s Jeff Merkley will become the newest members of the group. The new additions may give Dems a bigger majority in the committee.

From a Greenwire story (as quoted on BlueOregon.com):

"Adding Merkley and Udall suggests that committee Democrats plan to hold a three-seat committee majority over Republicans in the 111th Congress, though Boxer cautioned that committee organization remains unofficial pending an agreement among Senate leaders.

Democrats had a 10-9 advantage last year on the EPW Committee, a narrow edge that forced the majority to walk a delicate line when crafting legislation. Adding two more seats could pave the way for easier movement in committee on key environmental legislative items sought by President-elect Barack Obama."

Green-minded Dems could use all the advantages they can get, seeing as climate change denier Sen. James Inhofe is the committee’s minority leader. Luckily, the two newbies have pretty impressive environmental records.

Jeff Merkley, a member of Oregon’s House of Representatives for the past 10 years, is a huge proponent of capping carbon and investing in renewables. However, Merkley is also the son of a timber family, and has pushed for forest harvesting in the past.

Tom Udall moves from the House to the Senate, and has a long record as a liberal, green-minded politician. In the past Udall’s voted in favor of investing in solar and other renewables and upping CAFE standards, and against further oil and gas development. Udall also supports conservation efforts, and holds a 95% rating from the League of Conservation Voters.

With a green-jobs package likely to be part of an enormous stimulus plan proposed by Obama, there will be new focus on where the "E" portion meets the "PW" portion of the EPW Committee. “Economic recovery and job creation will be a central focus of the Environment and Public Works Committee,” Boxer said recently. Boxer agrees with the president-elect that investing in green technologies and creating green jobs should be a major part of the economic recovery package. 

What seems curious about the appointments is that Boxer left out Tom Udall's cousin, Mark, who also just upgraded from the House to the Senate and who's made renewable energy the cornerstone of his career. A massive buildout of alternative energy platforms, as the Renewable Portfolio Standard Mark has been pushing since the mid-90's would require, would certainly qualify as a "green job." Could the selection of Cousin Tom instead be an indication that RPS is off the table? Let's hope not.

Hopefully the new members—and the old members—of the committee have what it takes to help pull the economy out of the hole while also embracing green ideals.

And in an unrelated bit of trivia about Udall and Merkley, get this: Tom Udall is distant cousin to Oregon’s Sen. Gordon Smith—the very same senator defeated by Jeff Merkley this election. Bringing up that little-known fact will surely impress your friends, who will surely be discussing new additions to the Senate EPW Committee. 

This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in January 2009.

Copyright Environ Press 2009