WASHINGTON — When former Vice President Al Gore testified before Congress last week, his appearance was viewed as the triumph of environmentalists over doubters in the debate over global warming.
Fresh from Hollywood, where his documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" won an Oscar, Gore imbued Democrats now in power on Capitol Hill with a sense of mission, urging them to "rise to the occasion and present meaningful solutions to this crisis."
Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), former chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, seemed a lonely dissenter. Forced by November's election results to surrender the gavel to enviro-friendly Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Inhofe -- who has called the alarms about man-made global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" -- challenged what he called the inaccuracies in Gore's assertions and spent most of his time making speeches to the former vice president.
Now, it seems, Inhofe is winning the next round.
Promoters of "Live Earth" -- which they describe as "a 24-hour concert on 7/7/07 across all 7 continents" -- wanted to use Washington's National Mall as the North American venue. When the Interior Department rejected the proposal, questioning whether planners could get enough portable toilets for the expected crowd, the promoters turned to Congress.
In partnership with Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection, "Live Earth" organizers sought a congressional resolution allowing them to hold the concert -- featuring such performers as Snoop Dogg, Bon Jovi, Lenny Kravitz, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, and the Black Eyed Peas -- on the steps of the Capitol.
They lined up bipartisan support: Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) cosponsored the resolution. After Republicans raised concerns about security costs, the promoters offered to reimburse the government for the estimated $1.5 million in police expenses. They started making plans.
But Inhofe objected "to having any events on the Capitol grounds that are either highly partisan or politically controversial -- and the proposed Gore concert is both," said Marc Morano, the GOP communications director for the Environment and Public Works Committee. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) questioned the issue on the Senate floor last Friday, holding up its passage.
As a result, concert planners are checking the availability of other locations on the East Coast, including Shea Stadium and other venues in the New York area.
"While it's unfortunate for the American people that we are being blocked from staging the U.S. concert in our nation's capital, the show must go on," Chad Griffin, a "Live Earth" advisor, wrote in an e-mail to supporters on Capitol Hill.
The cancellation of the Capitol venue disappointed many in Congress. "It's unfortunate that Sen. Inhofe has decided to make something like the environment a partisan issue," said Reid's spokesman, James Manley.
Noting that many political events -- including the 1990 Earth Day celebration -- have been held on the Capitol steps, Snowe was, her spokesman said, "genuinely disappointed" by objections from her fellow Republicans. "She thinks it's a very unfortunate message to send that somehow this country is languishing behind in the desire to combat carbon emissions," said communications director David Snepp.
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) was aghast.
"Not since former Interior Secretary James Watt tried to ban the Beach Boys from appearing on the National Mall has such a misguided effort at political censorship been undertaken by a Republican official," Markey said. "It's dangerous enough to deny science; it's sheer lunacy to deny song."