WASHINGTON – Republican Rep. Doc Hastings says any criticism of his environmental record is off base for one reason: He’s spent his entire career in Congress trying to clean up a massive nuclear dump in his central Washington state district.
“If you can’t say that is being environmentally sensitive, then I don’t know what your definition of environmentally sensitive is. … When people try to characterize me as being against the environment, I honestly have to shake my head,” he said in an interview Thursday.
Last week, Republicans formally took control of the House of Representatives and Hastings became a new face of power on Capitol Hill. As Hastings took the gavel as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, environmentalists braced for the worst, while business interests applauded.
His record as a 16-year House member has been polarizing: In 2009, Hastings received a score of zero from the League of Conservation Voters, and he has a lifetime rating of 96 from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“On environmental issues broadly, he’s really just about one of the worst, easily,” said Leda Huta, the executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition.
Hastings, a 69-year-old former paper executive, is regarded as a particularly close ally of the oil and gas industry, which gave him than $84,000 during the 2010 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Hastings voted against a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and against proposals to create more federal wilderness and conservation areas. He also opposes the Endangered Species Act.
“It’s well-known that his scores on environmental issues broadly are not good,” said Tom Uniack, the conservation director of the Washington Wilderness Coalition.
Business interests couldn’t disagree more.
“I can tell you we are excited about him taking over the committee, and think he’ll do an outstanding job,” said Dan Naatz, vice president of federal resources at the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
Naatz said Hastings “understands the challenges that Western states in total face” with the use of public lands.
“Certainly there are areas that should be single-use only: national parks and wilderness areas,” Naatz said. “But the vast majority of the federal lands in the West are designed for multiple use. Oil and gas production is one of those, in addition to recreation, agriculture and timber production, and Mr. Hastings has long been an advocate of that.”
John Stuhlmiller, the director of government relations with the Washington Farm Bureau, said Hastings will be “a champion” for Western states.
“We’re excited frankly about it. … He’s our guy,” Stuhlmiller said. “He’s representing our state, and we’re very encouraged by that. We’re just anxious to see how things start moving in Congress.”
And yet Huta, of the Endangered Species Coalition, said the 2010 election was none too good for animals on the verge of extinction. And she feared that the Natural Resources Committee would move soon to weaken protections for endangered species.
In an interview, Hastings reiterated his opposition to the Endangered Species Act.
“I can tell you that I have been a critic of the Endangered Species Act since I got here,” Hastings said. “None of that has changed. But we have to look at things we can accomplish.”
Hastings said that trying to roll back the Endangered Species Act this year “is not necessarily high on my list of to-dos,” because of opposition from President Barack Obama. But he isn’t ruling it out.