BY ABDON M. PALLASCH
Chicago Sun-Times Political Reporter
CHICAGO--The Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters -- both of which have endorsed Republican Rep. Mark Kirk in the past -- will announce today they are endorsing his rival for Barack Obama's old Senate seat, Democrat Alexi Giannoulias.
"Mark Kirk stood up to Big Oil when he stopped BP from polluting Lake Michigan," Kirk boasts on his website. But the environmentalists say Kirk may be exaggerating a bit when he says "he stopped" BP.
"Virtually every politician in the state said they were spear-heading the effort to keep BP from dumping in Lake Michigan," said Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club of Illinois. In contrast to Sen. Dick Durbin, Mayor Daley and former Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who kept up sustained pressure against BP, "Kirk held a press conference and took a boat trip, but since that issue has faded from the headlines, we have not seen Kirk speaking out about BP's choice to move to dirtier gas at the Indiana refinery or for Illinois cars" Darin said.
Both environmental groups endorsed Kirk over Democrat Dan Seals in the last few election cycles. Each has endorsed him over a Democratic rival three times.
"Mark Kirk cast a vote we were quite pleased with last June [for the 'Cap and Trade' bill to limit greenhouse gases] and said he did it because of national security -- moving America off its dependence on oil," said Tony Massaro of the League of Conservation Voters. Kirk was one of only eight Republicans who voted for the bill. But he changed his mind when he entered the primary for U.S. Senate, assuring conservatives that he would now oppose the bill. "We can no longer depend on how he is going to vote," Massaro said.
Kirk and the state's other elected officials all opposed BP's request to dump more from its Indiana refinery into Lake Michigan. Kirk took reporters on a four-hour boat-ride to show them where BP discharged into Lake Michigan. But in contrast to his Cap and Trade vote, that was not "a courageous stand," Massaro said.
"One thing that has long troubled us about Mark Kirk is his long support for big oil companies," Darin said. "He sided with Dick Cheney and President Bush in renewing tax subsidies for big oil."
"He was one of the people down on the floor of the House chanting 'Drill, Baby, Drill!' in August, 2008," Massaro said.
In contrast, Giannoulias was a rare state treasurer who went out of his way to find ways to help the environment, such as creating "a thousand-dollar incentive for Illinois drivers to purchase a hybrid, which helped make sure that the movement toward cleaner cars didn't lose steam during the recession," Darin said.
Asked Thursday night why environmental voters should vote for Kirk, Kirk spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said, "Rated one of the 'greenest' Republicans in Congress, Mark Kirk is an established leader on environmental issues. Congressman Kirk fought BP's plan to pollute Lake Michigan, worked to restore the Great Lakes and backed alternative energies to end America's dependence on foreign oil. For Mark Kirk, environmental protection is more than just buying hybrid SUVs with taxpayer college savings money."
Giannoulias was accused of using his office's troubled college savings fund to finance an SUV for the office.