Douglas and Clinton
How delighted Jason Gibbs must have been to utter the following sentence: "Governor Douglas believes we need people in the United States Senate who understand how important it is to protect and improve our environment."
Gibbs is Gov. James Douglas' principal spokesman, and he was responding to a letter from Sen. Hillary Clinton to New York environmental officials supporting a test burn of tires at the International Paper plant in Ticonderoga, N.Y.
IP wants to conduct a two-week test burn at the plant, and Clinton weighed in on the company's behalf, saying the plant was the source of hundreds of jobs.
Douglas has opposed the test burn because data suggest pollution from burning tires would contain harmful levels of zinc and mercury, which would waft on westerly breezes across Lake Champlain to Addison County and beyond.
Now Clinton has given Douglas the perfect opportunity to establish his bona fides as an environmentalist. And just so it is not lost on anyone, Gibbs' statement stated plainly Douglas' thoughts about the U.S. Senate.
The question of the moment in Vermont political circles is whether Douglas intends to run for the U.S. Senate seat that Sen. James Jeffords will vacate next year. If he means to do so, he will have to persuade Vermonters that he shares their environmental values. For Vermont politicians, taking a swipe at IP is a time-honored way of doing so. Taking a swipe at Hillary Clinton is a bonus for Douglas.
It is a worrying sign that Clinton has taken the side of IP in the dispute over tire burning. In the wake of the 2004 election, she has sought to carve out a moderate role for herself, positioning herself for a presidential run in 2008. If she believes moderation in politics means siding with polluting industries, then that is a dangerous portent for where centrist Democrats might be headed. President Bush's coziness with industrial polluters is one of his serious errors and an important vulnerability for Republicans.
Enter Jim Douglas. He can do what Jeffords did so well all those years, defending the purity of Vermont skies by beating up on a New York company. Douglas has also parted ways with the Bush administration over its efforts to gut the Clean Air Act in order to allow increased pollution by Midwestern companies.
IP's plans have given Douglas an opportunity to present himself as Mr. Clean Air because the company insists on proceeding with its test burn without installing the kind of technology that has made burning tires acceptable at other sites. It is arguable that the residents of Shoreham won't be seriously injured by two weeks of zinc from the plant. But why not demand adequate technology before giving IP the idea that burning tires might be OK?
Clinton may be trying to portray herself as beyond the control of environmental interests. It's a silly ploy, but it is one Douglas is happy to exploit. Of course, Douglas' likely opponent, should he run for the Senate, would be Rep. Bernard Sanders, and Sanders is no friend of IP.
But for the moment, Hillary Clinton has allowed Douglas to deliver Vermonters a message: The Senate needs more environmentalists.