WASHINGTON - Fresh from his face-to-face tussle with former Vice President Al Gore, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) is vowing to stall Gore's hotly anticipated Capitol concert to draw attention to global warming.
Inhofe's belief that climate change is "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" is common knowledge in the capitol, and environmental groups cheered the new prospects for carbon-capping legislation when he ceded the Environment and Public Works Committee gavel this session. But Inhofe's parliamentary powers can block indefinitely the resolution that would permit Gore to choose the capitol's West Front for the U.S. leg of his seven-continent Live Earth concert tour — a collaboration between Gore and promoter Kevin Wall, who masterminded previous blockbuster charity concerts Live Aid and Live 8.
"There has never been a partisan political event at the Capitol, and this is a partisan political event," Inhofe said yesterday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) attempted late last week to pass the authorizing measure for Live Earth by unanimous consent. But Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) raised an objection on the floor, seeking more time for his side to look at the resolution.
Inhofe appeared to see little room for an accommodation that could allow the concert to go forward. "There's no compromise. Either we change the rules or we don't."
Inhofe added that other members share his concerns, including unnamed Democrats as well as Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), ranking member of the Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over the concert resolution.
Democrats "may not be willing to stand up to Al Gore, but many of them found it just as objectionable as Republicans do," he said.
Bennett's office did not return a request for comment by press time.
Inhofe's latest challenge to Gore comes after their forceful exchange during last week's hearing in the environment committee, when Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) stepped in to stop Inhofe from dictating terms of response to the 2000 presidential nominee. Gore declined to sign a personal energy usage pact proffered by Inhofe.
The Mall is already booked during the July 7 date slated for Live Earth, so the exigent need to secure use of the Capitol led Rules Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to support unanimous passage, Rules staff director Howard Gantman said.
"They have made it clear that they're opposed to it," Gantman said of the GOP. "They're blocking passage of the bill. As far as next steps, if Republicans wanted to discuss their opposition, we would do so."
Chad Griffin, an adviser to Live Earth, was taken aback by Inhofe's objections to using the Capitol to promote environmental health. The West Front was used to inaugurate Earth Day in a 1990 event, for which Gore, a former senator, sponsored the authorizing resolution.
"This is a totally non-partisan event," Griffin said, noting that Reid cosponsored the concert resolution with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).
The Capitol concert would be free of charge, incurring a $5 million cost to Live Earth. Promoters would recoup that amount if they were forced to choose another venue, Griffin said. Reid added language to the resolution ensuring that the Capitol Police would be reimbursed in advance for their estimated $1.5 million in security costs.
"It was a priority for Live Earth that the taxpayers not pay a single dime" for the show, Griffin said. "Given that, we remain optimistic."
Snowe, a longtime supporter of carbon emissions curbs who co-chairs an international climate-change group, said yesterday that she was surprised the concert idea had become controversial among her colleagues. She expressed hope that concert organizers would not be forced to move the U.S. performance out of Washington if the Capitol proves impossible.
"That would certainly provide an unfortunate message on behalf of the U.S., that somehow we're languishing in our desire to combat the problem," Snowe said. "We should be a leader in this endeavor."
Reid remains optimistic that the climate-change fight can come to the Capitol dome, spokeswoman Liz Oxhorn said.
© 2007 Capitol Hill Publishing Corp., a subsidiary of News Communications, Inc.