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Environmentalists Treading Carefully in Rxn to LaHood Pick

Rep. Ray LaHood has a terrible record on the environment. The Illinois Republican, picked by President-elect Barack Obama to head the Dept. of Transportation, voted to expand oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to gut a green-building initiative, to slacken protections of grasslands and wetlands, and to kill a proposal hastening the nation’s move to renewables. And that was just this year.

The League of Conservation Voters — examining the 13 energy and environment-related House votes in 2008 — scored LaHood at 46 percent. His lifetime environmental score with LCV is 27 percent.

Yet some environmental groups are expressing a sort-of roundabout optimism that LaHood will somehow emerge as leader on conservation from his new post in the White House. Here’s Brent Blackwelder, head of Friends of the Earth, in a statement released today:

While his overall record on energy and environment issues is poor, LaHood has in recent years broken with many in his party to support crucial investments in passenger rail and public transportation, and he is a member of the Congressional Bike Caucus. These are reasons to hope he may be open to the visionary transportation policy that is needed to move our country forward.

The tests could come early. Obama has said that his first priority next year will be an enormous economic stimulus package likely to include billions for infrastructure projects like roads, sewers and bridges. If approved, it will put LaHood on the front-lines of implementation.

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