Front Porch Blog

2010 Elections and Mountaintop Removal

Election Brings Change, Opportunity for Those Working to End MTR

Last night saw the United States Congress go through its 3rd straight “change” election, this time in favor of the Republicans. As bad as last night was for many incumbent Democrats, most pundits and pollsters had seen it coming for a long time. Almost all of the folks who lost their races were predicted to lose, with Republicans perhaps very marginally over-preforming expectations. Many folks have asked what this means for Congressional efforts to stop the destructive practice of mountaintop removal, so I thought I’d put up a quick summary.

The Clean Water Protection Act will end the 111th Congress with at least 173 bipartisan cosponsors. In such a dramatic “change” election, we were bound to lose some of these members, we just weren’t sure how many. The good news is that most of our politically-savvy mountain loving friends in Congress were spared the worst of the disaster.

House of Representatives
Democrats took a beating in the House, as Republicans flipped more than 60 seats for a majority of what will likely be just over 240 seats. This is, in many ways, a correction for the past 2 cycles, when Democrats picked up hordes of Republican-leaning seats for fun. With 17 CWPA cosponsors already leaving for higher office or to retire, we stood to lose significant ground on election day, but held fairly steady. In all, we lost far fewer CWPA cosponsors than I had expected to lose.


1. Our allies weren’t the ones who lost.
– Just about every potentially “pro-MTR” Democrat lost, including Rick Boucher (VA), Mike Oliverio (WV), Lincoln Davis (TN), Zack Space (OH), and Charlie Wilson (OH). There are literally no democrats left in central or northern Appalachia except for Nick Rahall and two young Democrats in western PA where they don’t do valleyfills. Rahall is now completely isolated among his party.

– Other Dems who lost read like a “whos who” list of our top targets that never signed onto the bill (Oberstar, Ortiz, Teague, Titus, Taylor, Schauer, Bocierri, Mitchell, Boyd, Nye, Kratovil, and on and on and on…).

– 15 CWPA cosponsors, most notably Tom Perriello, lost their re-election battles. However, most of our regional supporters pulled out victories, including Chandler, Shuler, Yarmuth, Cooper, and Connolly. Regardless, I had thought we’d have a total turnover of 40+ members, but even with the 17 retirements it only ended up being 31 total. It looks like we’ll go into the next Congress with around 142 returning cosponsors, exactly the same number as we began the 111th Congress with.

2. On average, Dems in Congress will be more progressive. Both Dems and GOP members will have more flexibility to do the right thing.
– Of the roughly 54 conservative blue dogs from the 111th Congress, a whopping 29 of them will not be returning. The CWPA has fairly strong blue dog support, and 8 of our 13 blue dog cosponsors held on, but the point is that the Democratic caucus will tend to be more progressive as a whole.

– More importantly is the fact that The “pro-MTR” democrats were decimated. Nick Rahall is going to have a lot harder time putting together a coalition of anti-CWPA Democrats if there are absolutely no other Democrats from anywhere near Massey country. Not to mention that since Rahall will no longer preside as Chairman of a committee, he will have much less influence over what his fellow Democrats do. Dems who had been on the fence out of respect to Mr. Rahall will have more freedom to do what they want to do (which according to Nick Rahall, is vote for the CWPA.)

– Its hard to sustain a majority this large (just ask the Democrats), and many Republicans will also be looking for popular bipartisan bills such as the CWPA as they gear up for extremely tough reelection fights in just two years.

3. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I) will look radically different
– Firstly, Republicans will now control the gavel and will have a majority of members on the committee. The partisan breakdown of the Committee will be roughly 42R-33D, reflecting the GOPs final majority in the full chamber. Committee assignments will be given in January.

– Secondly, Chairman Oberstar (D) has lost, meaning another Democrat will now be the “ranking member” on the T&I Committee. The next two in line are Nick Rahall (WV) and Peter Defazio (OR). Presumably, Rahall retains his “ranking member” status on Natural Resources, and the honor goes to Mr. Defazio in the T&I Committee.

– The most “senior” Republican on the Committee is John Mica (FL-07), and he is favored to be the next Committee chairman.

4. There is still strong, bipartisan, coast-to-coast support for ending mountaintop removal.
– We re-picked-up a former Republican cosponsor – Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA-08) – who was a cosponsor in the 109th Congress. Five of our Republican cosponsors ran for re-election and won, so we’re heading in with 6 returning Republican cosponsors.

– We also return with 8 blue dog cosponsors and 8 bipartisan cosponsors from MTR states (Gordon retired, Perriello lost).

The bottom line is, we return to the 112th Congress with weakened opposition and in fine position to pass legislation like the Clean Water Protection Act.

I haven’t had time yet to look into the Senate quite as far, and with smaller batches of data its a little bit harder to draw trends. It could have gone a lot better for the pro-mountain crowd, but strategically I think the Senate is basically a wash for our purposes. Democrats took a few hard knocks though, and Republicans will gain about 6 seats once all the races are counted. NONE of the cosponsors of the Appalachia Restoration Act lost, which is always a positive.

Notably, a Republican CWPA cosponsor (Mark Kirk) was promoted to the Senate in IL in the place of Roland Burris (D). Conversely, a very pro-mountaintop removal Democrat (Joe Manchin) won easily in WV. Manchin, Kirk, and Chris Coons (D-DE), will be sworn in before the upcoming lame duck session because of the nature of their elections. Barbara Boxer, the Chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee won her re-election easily, which means that we will have an EPW chairwoman who cares about our issue for at least 2 more years.

What are your thoughts on the election? Any races you were especially surprised by?





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