REP. WAYNE T. GILCHREST has earned a reputation as a strong advocate for the environment, a stance that has often put the Eastern Shoreman at odds with his Republican colleagues. So it was a shock when Mr. Gilchrest changed his vote Friday and decided to support an energy bill that's little more than a handout to oil and gas companies and would have a disastrous effect on the environment. His reversal broke a 211-211 deadlock and allowed the legislation to pass the House.
Mr. Gilchrest says it was a party vote, a chance to show that House Republicans are still united. "This was a pure political vote," he said yesterday. "The bill is not likely to go anywhere in the Senate." That may be the case, but it's questionable whether First District voters elected Mr. Gilchrest to vote his conscience only when his party permits. A total of 13 fellow Republicans felt strongly enough to stick by their votes in opposition. No Democrat voted for the bill.
Certainly, it would be hard to support the proposal on its merits.
The legislation attempts to exploit the damage done by the recent Gulf Coast hurricanes by giving billions of dollars more in tax breaks to the oil-refining industry than were already granted by the Bush energy plan that passed two months ago. It also rolls back numerous environmental laws, including some that have little to do with oil refining.
Environmental groups are angry with Mr. Gilchrest and believe House leaders pressured him into changing his vote. Mr. Gilchrest denies this, but it's no secret that he's been at odds with Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo of California. Mr. Gilchrest chairs Mr. Pombo's subcommittee on fisheries, but opposed the chairman's recent effort to weaken the Endangered Species Act.
This suggests there was some horse trading going on. If so, we hope the compensation was worth it. The fact that the Senate can block the House's mistakes isn't a sufficient excuse for supporting such irresponsible legislation.