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Environmentalists inside and outside of Congress are ecstatic about the outcome of Tuesday's election. They say it will bring friendlier leaders to the committees that write environmental laws.

But as NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports, that does not guarantee action.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: Gene Karpinski heads the League of Conservation Voters. He says since President Bush was elected, environmentalists have spent most of their time deflecting attacks on environmental laws and protecting Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Mr. GENE KARPINSKI (League of Conservation Voters): We know we're going to not be stuck playing defense. We spent much of the last six years making sure they didn't drill in the Arctic Refuge. Let's hope that issue is finally off the table.

SHOGREN: Karpinski's group helped elect some new members to Congress. He's hoping they'll push initiatives that promote alternatives to oil, gas and coal.

Mr. KARPINSKI: We want to be on offense, and many of these candidates come here having pledged to support new clean energy policies.

SHOGREN: One is Jon Tester, the senator elect from Montana. He's a Democrat, an organic farmer, and a big supporter of alternative energy. Another is Jerry McNerney from California. He's also a Democrat and a wind power entrepreneur. McNerney defeated Representative Richard Pombo, who drove environmentalists crazy as head of the House Resources Committee. For years, he tried to weaken the Endangered Species Act.

Perhaps the biggest change will come on the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee. It's now headed by James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma who calls global warming a hoax. In January, Barbara Boxer from California is expected to take over. In an interview before the election, Barbara Boxer contrasted her views with Inhofe's.

Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California) On global warming, or some people call it climate change, you know it's Venus and Mars. It's Inhofe saying this is ridiculous, this is a sham.

SHOGREN: Boxer calls climate change the challenge of our generation.

Senator BOXER: So his attitude about it and my attitude about it are so different, it's night and day.

SHOGREN: Yesterday, Boxer told reporters in a conference call that she'll work with Republicans to pass a bill to tackle climate change.

Senator BOXER: People want action, they want solutions. They don't want gridlock. So we're going to have a process whereby we're going to be wide open to everybody's ideas, all the ideas, every idea.

SHOGREN: Senator Jeff Bingaman says he'll also work with Republicans to pass a new climate change law. He's a Democrat from New Mexico who is expected to chair the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Senator JEFF BINGAMAN (Democrat, New Mexico): I think we have an opportunity here to do something significant, and the American people are expecting a lot, and we need to rise to the occasion.

SHOGREN: It won't be easy. In the House, the two Democrats slated to take over key environmental committees have strong ties to industries opposed to climate legislation. One is John Dingell of Michigan, a longtime ally of the auto industry. The other is West Virginia's Nick Rahall, a supporter of the coal industry. Bill Kovacs from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce predicts climate change legislation won't pass.

Mr. BILL KOVACS (U.S. Chamber of Commerce): It's not possible because large segments of industry would be very opposed to it. It will take everyone's electric bill and make it higher. It will take everyone's price at the pump and make it higher. That is not the way to go.

SHOGREN: Besides, Kovacs says, President Bush still has veto power over Congress can block any environmental legislation that he doesn't like.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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