Senate Environment Committee says goodbye to Jeffords

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(Host) Vermont’s Jim Jeffords is in his final days as a U.S. Senator this week. Jeffords bade farewell to the Senate in a floor speech in September. He’s served in the body for 18 years. But today the Senate’s environment committee suspended some bitter debate to say goodbye to its former chairman. Our correspondent Todd Zwillich was there.

(Zwillich) It was the final hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee before Democrats take control of the Senate in January.

Chairman James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma called the hearing to chastise the press for perpetuating hysteria over what he calls the hoax of global warming.

But when Jeffords entered the committee room, Inhofe suspended the proceedings to allow the Vermont Independent to say goodbye to his colleagues and his staff.

(Jeffords) “I’m going home. As my friend Robert Frost once said, home is the place, when you have to go there, that they have to take you. My farm is on the west side of Killington Peak in the small village of Shrewsbury, Vermont. The snow comes early there. I filled the woodshed for the winter already. My snowshoes’ hanging on the hook in the shed.”

(Zwillich) Inhofe recalled 2001when Jeffords left the Republican Party and tipped control of the Senate-and the committee to Democrats.

(Inhofe) “I liked you just as much when you were a Republican as when you caucused with the Democrats. And while we differ in our philosophy and views, you’ve always been fair. You’ve been a good personal friend. And I appreciate so much the service you have rendered.”

(Zwillich) One of those differences is global warming. Jeffords did not stay for the hearing on the media’s coverage of climate change. But he made his views known.

(Jeffords) “I am sorry that I was not able to do more to change
the minds of a few skeptics that remain in our nation. The climate is warming. It is due to human activity.”

(Zwillich) Democrats gave Jeffords the chairmanship of the environment committee when he switched sides. He led the panel for about a year and a half until Republicans retook the Senate in 2003.

California Democrat Barbara Boxer will take over the committee in January. She has promised an aggressive agenda on climate change and on legislation dealing with air and water pollution.

(Boxer) “I will never forget our friendship and your courage and your dedication.”

(Zwillich) Staff and even a few audience members wiped away tears as Jeffords returned to Robert Frost to paint a distinctly Vermont picture of his retirement.

(Jeffords) “Whose woods these are I think I know, his house is in the village though. He will not see me stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, miles to go before I sleep. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

(Zwillich) Jeffords is expected to cast his final vote on Thursday.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Todd Zwillich on Capitol Hill.”

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