U.S. Rep. Barney Frank announced Monday that he won't run for re-election in 2012, heralding the end of three high-profile decades in Congress for the Massachusetts Democrat. Frank is known for his liberal politics, blunt demeanor and quick wit, and he's a longtime advocate for financial regulatory reforms as well as gay rights.
Frank has been especially prominent lately thanks to the "Dodd-Frank Act" of 2010, a set of reforms to the U.S. financial system he co-authored with Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. But despite his focus on finance — he became chairman of the House Financial Services Committee in 2007 — Frank is also known for supporting a variety of environmental causes, from fighting industrial air pollution to sustaining commercial fisheries.
The League of Conservation Voters has given Frank a lifetime approval rating of 92 percent, according to Project Vote Smart, while other groups such as Environment America, the American Lands Alliance and the American Wilderness Coalition have rated him 100 percent on environmental issues.
In 2006, however, the American Wind Energy Association rated him zero percent. He had initially opposed a major wind farm in Cape Cod, but later flipped, telling Cape Cod Today in June '06 that his opposition "was a mistake." He had been deferring to fellow New England Democrats like Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Bill Delahunt, who both opposed Cape Wind, but later said that "while the general principle of following the lead of my colleagues on matters that affect their particular districts physically is an important one, it should not be allowed to override fundamental policy questions."
"This is one of those instances where a series of forceful and thoughtful arguments against my position from people in my own district and elsewhere did lead me to reconsider," he added. Frank has continued to criticize the project, however, telling the Cape Cod Times in February 2011 that he's "disappointed in both state and federal officials," who should have been "more careful and deliberate" in their site planning.
Here are a few highlights from Barney Frank's environmental record, courtesy of OnTheIssues.org:
- Climate change: Frank voted in 2000 to ratify the U.N. Kyoto Protocol, but the bill ultimately failed and the U.S. never ratified the treaty (which is now on the operating table in Durban, South Africa). He introduced a cap and trade bill in 2005 that didn't make it out of committee, and later voted for a similar bill in 2009, which passed the House but not the Senate.
- Oil drilling: Frank co-sponsored a bill in February 2001 to protect parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling, and in August 2001 he voted to prohibit all oil drilling and development in ANWR. He also voted against opening the Outer Continental Shelf to oil rigs in 2006 and 2011.
- Renewable energy: Frank voted in 2001 to approve incentives for alternative-fuel vehicles, and voted in favor of a 2007 bill investing in domestic biofuels like corn ethanol. He also voted for clean-energy incentives in the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008.
- Transportation: Frank voted in 2006 to restore $214 million in federal funds for Amtrak, and in 2008 he voted in favor of $9.7 billion in improvements and operating costs for the rail agency. He has also supported many fuel-efficiency rules over the years, including the 2009 "Cash for Clunkers" program.
- Water pollution: In 1993, Frank co-sponsored an amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act, introducing 15 new contaminants for regulation by the EPA.
After being elected to the House in 1980, Frank faced few serious challengers from 1984 until 2010, when he edged Republican Sean Bielat 54 percent to 43 percent. Frank told reporters Monday that redrawn district lines were a factor in his decision to retire, since the new districts are expected to favor the GOP. No Republican has held a Massachusetts House seat since 1996, however, and many pundits are predicting the party will have a difficult time wresting Frank's district away from the Democrats.
Still, Frank's retirement will remove a reliable environmental advocate from Congress at a potentially critical time. In April of this year, Frank voted against a bill aimed at stopping the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, already a fallback option after the 2009 House cap and trade bill — which Frank also supported — died in the Senate. The contentious plan will likely face further challenges in 2012 and beyond, as will a variety of other environmental initiatives in the GOP-controlled House.
Here's a video of Frank announcing his retirement Monday:
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