Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont, who shifted the balance of power in the Senate to the Democrats in May when he left the Republican party, became chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee this week.
The committee has jurisdiction over endangered species, wildlife refuges and nuclear power plants.
Jeffords, now an independent, was unanimously approved by Democrats as the first head of a standing Senate committee in 68 years who is not a member of a major political party.
Jeffords promised to challenge Bush on his environmental protection record.
"I''ve been disappointed by his environmental record," Jeffords said. "I hope he will begin to see things differently."
The Bush administration has come under heavy criticism from environmentalists and Democrats over recent environmental policy decisions such the rejection of the Kyoto treaty to combat global warming and a broken promise to impose emissions reductions for carbon dioxide at electrical power plants.
Shortly after Bush reneged on his promise to impose mandaroty emissions reductions for carbon dioxide at electrical power plants, Jeffords and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced legislation that would require such cutbacks.
As environment committee chairman, Jeffords will now be able to call a hearing on the bill.
One of Jefford''s first moves as committee chairman was to meet this week with EPA Administrator Christie Whitman.
by Virginia Sutcliffe