The Austin Chronicle

The Greening of Michael McCaul

By Lee Nichols, July 4, 2008, News

If you had to guess which of Austin's four congressional members last year helped form something called the Green Schools Caucus – devoted to pushing "the importance of healthy, environmentally friendly schools that promote learning and save school districts money" – who would you guess?

If you guessed Lloyd Doggett, you'd be wrong. The tree-hugging hippie in this case is Michael McCaul. If it shocks you that the second-term Republican, often described as "a rubber stamp for George W. Bush," would take up such a cause ... well, it probably should. To say major environmental groups do not look on McCaul favorably would be putting it mildly. The League of Conservation Vot­ers and Environment America both put out annual scorecards wherein they select what they feel are the major environmental votes before Congress and grade legislators up or down. According to the LCV, McCaul voted pro-environment only 7% of the time during his first term, and halfway into his second, he's only improved to 10%; EA scored him at 15%. (Doggett, by contrast, routinely scores in the upper 90% range and some years gets a perfect score.)

Be that as it may, the Green Schools Cauc­us work culminated earlier this month in the House passing House Resolution 3021, the 21st Century Green High-Perform­ing Public Schools Facili­ties Act. The bill, which now moves on to the Senate, directs the secretary of education to dole out grants and low-interest loans to local educational agencies for "construction, modernization, or repair" of public schools, including removal of environmental health hazards such as asbestos or lead paint and improving energy efficiency. McCaul was out of step with his party on the vote: He was one of only 27 Republicans (and the only one from Texas) to vote for passage, and all 164 "nay" votes came from the GOP.

"This is a win-win for our students and the environment," says McCaul's press secretary Mike Rosen. "Energy efficiency pays for itself short term and means potentially $20 billion in energy savings over 10 years. It greatly reduces carbon-dioxide emissions. In turn, students have better lighting, temperature controls, and air quality, which contribute to better health and increased academic performance."

Environmental groups lauded the bill but remain unimpressed with McCaul. In this case, they say, the "win-win" aspect of HR 3021 explains McCaul's green clothing. "Generally with Michael McCaul, his voting record is pretty terrible," says Luke Metzger of Environment Texas, the local chapter of Environment America. "He talks a good game. He aligns himself with perhaps less controversial issues like green schools or issues where there isn't a powerful special interest standing in the way. Any time that that happens, he regularly sides with big polluters and against the environment."

Rosen responds to such criticism by saying, "Congressman McCaul believes we must protect the environment but that our efforts must be balanced in order to not harm the industries that make our economy thrive." He also pointed out other bills wherein McCaul has supported renewable energy.

And of course, McCaul's November Demo­crat­ic opponent isn't impressed in the least. "Michael McCaul has voted too many times with George Bush to poison the planet," says trial lawyer Larry Joe Doherty, whose Washing­ton Co. ranch doubles as a wildlife preserve. "Now he's trying to keep his job, but it's too late for him to undo the damage he's done."

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