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Originally published Monday, October 31, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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In a "green" pickle, Reichert edges away from Arctic drilling

As a decision on oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge looms in Congress, Rep. Dave Reichert finds himself pulled as never...

Seattle Times Washington bureau

WASHINGTON — As a decision on oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge looms in Congress, Rep. Dave Reichert finds himself pulled as never before between his district's environmental bent and his loyalty to the Republican leadership.

The Auburn freshman has taken some perplexing and seemingly contradictory positions on environmental issues, including Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) drilling and the Endangered Species Act.

Reichert has now said he's told GOP chiefs that he doesn't think he can support the House budget bill, which could come up for a vote as early as this week, because it includes the ANWR drilling provision.

His swing vote could be important: GOP "greens" have broken ranks with their leadership this year, and environmental votes have been closer. Earlier this month, a bill to roll back parts of the Clean Air Act to boost gasoline production passed 212-210. Reichert supported the bill but could have caused a tie by voting no.

Republican leaders and the White House have lobbied heavily to open ANWR to drilling, but Reichert said he's heard overwhelming opposition from his district about the plan.

Political quandary


Two of Rep. Dave Reichert's positions on environmental issues:

Favored by environmentalists: Voted for an amendment to strip ANWR drilling from the energy bill. It failed.

Opposed by environmentalists: Voted for the energy bill, which included provisions to drill in ANWR. It passed.

Reichert said Reps. Cathy McMorris, R-Spokane, and Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, working on behalf of the House leadership, have asked him about his upcoming vote on the budget bill. Hastings is a member of the powerful Rules Committee that would permit the ANWR drilling provision in the budget bill.

"I told them I'm not inclined to vote for this," Reichert said.

The ANWR vote comes as major environmental groups complain that Reichert has been acting eco-friendly for his Eastside constituents back home while voting against the environment while in D.C.

Reichert's votes


A sampling of Rep. Dave Reichert's positions on environmental issues

Favored by environmentalists

Voted to amend the energy bill to stop liability waivers for the makers of the water pollutant MTBE. It failed.

Voted against an amendment to permit more natural-gas exploration in protected areas. It failed.

Voted against the Endangered Species Recovery Act, which would revoke many longtime species protections. It passed.

Co-sponsored the Wild Sky bill to establish a new wilderness area in the Cascades.

Co-sponsored a National Parks funding bill, HR 1124, to aid parks through a taxpayer IRS form check-off box.

Opposed by environmentalists

Voted against an amendment to preserve key sections of the Endangered Species Act. It failed.

Voted to allow the Department of Homeland Security to waive environmental and health safety laws. It passed.

Voted for the Gasoline for America's Security Act, which would rescind parts of the Clean Air Act. It passed.

Co-sponsored a bill to eliminate some critical-habitat protections for endangered species.

Co-sponsored a bill to remove pesticide protection for salmon and other endangered wildlife.

Source: Seattle Times staff research

As evidence, they point to Reichert's two votes last month on controversial changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). He left other lawmakers confused when he voted against an amendment, supported by many environmental groups, that would have derailed a GOP bill to weaken the act but then turned around and voted against main GOP bill, too.

The amendment failed, while the GOP bill passed.

Reichert said his votes are based on facts and his district's concerns, not always on what the House leadership wants.

"My district is very in tune with environmental issues," he said. "I look at the facts. I'm going to make some people mad, some happy."

He said he couldn't support the ESA amendment because it didn't go far enough to protect habitat.

Some environmentalists don't buy that, saying that once the bill's passage was assured, Reichert opposed it only for political reasons.

"If you look closely, this was an anti-ESA vote all around," said Jamie Clark, executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife.

The ANWR issue poses another difficult dilemma for Reichert. Last year, as a candidate, Reichert said he would support ANWR drilling if it were environmentally sound.

But in April, he voted for a losing amendment to remove ANWR from the House energy bill. He then voted for the overall bill anyway. However, in August, he co-signed a letter with GOP moderates asking his leadership to keep ANWR out of the budget resolution. Meanwhile, Democrats are targeting Reichert's 8th District seat and recruiting environmental groups in an effort to stop his re-election next year.

Congressional "phenom"

For a freshman, Reichert has fashioned a high profile in Congress. Roll Call newspaper called him a "phenom" last month, and House GOP leaders are trying to help him shine.

He's the only sitting freshman with his own congressional chairmanship — the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness Science and Technology. He was appointed last month by Peter King, R-N.Y., the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.

Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt, R-Mo., credited Reichert this month with persuading GOP leaders to remove a provision in the House energy bill that would have allowed more oil tankers in Puget Sound.

"Dave made the case that it was important to him and his district that it not be there," Blunt said. "We're trying to be helpful to him here."

Last month, Reichert tried to navigate a safe passage on the Endangered Species Reform Act, a bill that would weaken the original ESA. The bill, offered by one of the most powerful GOP members on the Hill, Richard Pombo of California, would bolster private-property rights and let political appointees make scientific judgments about the status of declining species.

A group of 29 moderate House Republicans and most of the Democrats, led by Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, tried to salvage some of the ESA by offering a substitute amendment to Pombo's bill.

The idea was to undercut the bill, perhaps so much that Pombo might withdraw his own legislation rather than have it go to a vote with the amendment attached. A coalition of nine major environmental groups supported the amendment.

As the vote began, Pombo was still twisting arms, worrying GOP moderates that they would face retribution if they voted for the amendment.

Reichert was among the last to cast his electronic ballot. The amendment failed 216-206; Reichert voted against it.

Then he turned around and also voted against Pombo's main bill, which already had a big margin in its favor. It passed 229-193 but faces stiff opposition in the Senate.

Reichert's explanation that the amendment didn't contain enough environmental protections surprised amendment backers, including Dicks, and prompted suspicion among environmental groups.

"Reichert's the only one who voted against the substitute amendment and then against the Pombo bill," said John Kostyack, senior counsel for the National Wildlife Federation. "You can scour the ranks of the environmental Republicans and not find anyone who voted like this."

Reichert said he did not succumb to pressure from Pombo. His votes were prompted by calls from constituents, he said, who worried the amendment did not protect critical habitat for endangered wildlife.

But Dicks said the amendment "was pretty well understood, and much preferable to the alternative." One of the amendment's authors, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., "is as good an environmentalist as you've got on the GOP side," Dicks said.

Commitment questioned

Reichert's concerns for critical-habitat protection rang hollow with environmentalists.

In March, Reichert was one of 29 co-sponsors of a bill that would roll back critical-habitat protections for wildlife. Asked about that, Reichert's chief of staff, Mike Shields, said Reichert joined backers of the bill to get "a seat at the table" to discuss habitat preservation.

But the bill's author, Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., has advocated weakening the ESA for years and once called critical-habitat rules "the poster child of a broken policy."

"He can't hide behind saying the [ESA amendment] didn't do enough to protect habitat and then co-sponsor legislation that would have eviscerated critical habitat," said Clark, of Defenders of Wildlife.

Reichert, she said, went along with a voting strategy that appeared to save face with his constituents, but actually pleased Pombo.

"He voted with Pombo against the substitute because that vote was close and that was something Pombo wanted to stop at all costs," Clark explained. "When you connect the dots with the Cardoza support, then the 'no' vote on the Pombo bill afterwards becomes a giveaway."

Reichert has asked Majority Leader Blunt for advice on how to juggle competing environmental positions.

"Dave puts a priority on doing what's right," Blunt said. "He's not someone you would count on as an absolute certain vote because he looks at the issues in King County and his district."

Reichert acknowledges it's not easy being green. He must balance politics, public policy and the concerns of his district.

"There is a bigger issue of what I do as a congressman on environmental issues," he said. "For crying out loud, we're talking about Washington, D.C. This is the capital of politics. Are you telling me that people here don't make decisions — or votes — that are strategic?"

As a measure of his role in the ANWR debate, 30 downtown and Eastside Metro buses are carrying banner ads telling Reichert to vote against ANWR drilling.

"Our children deserve better," say the ads, which were paid for by the Sierra Club, the Alaska Coalition and the National Audubon Society.

"This is great," Reichert said of ads. "I couldn't pay for better name recognition."

Alicia Mundy: 202-662-7457 or amundy@seattletimes.com

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