Stilled by the events of Sept. 11, strong disagreements over the environment could resurface as early as this week to test the political truce in Washington, D.C.
Lawmakers are poised to resume a partisan fight over oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And as they return to the nation's domestic agenda, they must contend with global warming, national forest protections, arsenic in drinking water and air quality.
All are issues that had put the environment near the center of the policy divide separating the White House and congressional Democrats.
That divide all but disappeared, or so it seemed, as Washington came together in response to the terrorist attacks.
Major environmental groups laid down their swords, some purging their Web sites of anti-Bush rhetoric, delaying direct-mail appeals and encouraging members to redirect donations to rescue efforts, such as the American Red Cross.
Now, signs of renewed strife are emerging as some Senate Republicans seek to make domestic energy a national-security issue, and dissenters rise to argue that a national emergency does not require sacrificing environmental goals.
That discord could erupt when the Senate reconvenes this week, and especially if Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, joins Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., in trying to force a vote on an energy bill that would allow oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge.
Many environmentalists hope to delay a vote on the entire energy package until early next year. Inhofe tried to force the Senate to vote last week on the energy legislation by filing an amendment on an unrelated defense-authorization bill. The effort by Inhofe and others brought that bill to a standstill.
When the Senate adjourned for a long weekend, Inhofe had not given up on his plan to offer the amendment unless he gets a commitment from the Senate leadership to take up energy legislation by a date certain.
"I will not agree ... to attempts to force through a one-sided energy bill or to short-circuit Senate consideration of these important issues," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., Senate Energy Committee chairman.
Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., Environment and Public Works chairman, warned his colleagues that Inhofe's amendments could hurt public health and environmental quality and raise greenhouse-gas emissions at a time when the United States faces international criticism for failing to pay serious attention to climate-change issues.
But Murkowski said last week that the new war against terrorism makes it imperative that the United States develop oil reserves on its own soil, decreasing dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Since Sept. 11, lobbyists on both sides of the energy debate have remained relatively quiet.
But for environmentalists, the energy bill could be the point at which any truce ends. For them, the challenge is how to be loyal Americans at the time of national emergency while still being true to their values and to their supporters.
Before Sept. 11, the issue of global warming also loomed large.
Bush was receiving widespread public criticism for rejecting the Kyoto accord, the international agreement to reduce greenhouse gases.
The administration was under pressure to produce a U.S. strategy to unveil at the next international climate-control meeting, scheduled for late next month in Marrakech, Morocco.
But some of the administration's strongest advocates of a global-warming policy Secretary of State Colin Powell and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill are deeply involved in the immediate crisis.
The United States still plans to send a delegation to Marrakech, but expectations are not high that the administration will produce a viable option to Kyoto.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is delaying introduction of legislation that would change the federal government's approach to regulating pollution from power plants.
The EPA had said it would release its blueprint in September for controlling mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen-oxide emissions from power plants.
But EPA spokesman Dave Ryan last week said the schedule for that initiative and many others had slipped as a result of the terrorist attacks. Now the target for producing the administration's plan is sometime this fall, he said.
Copyright © 2001 The Seattle Times Company