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Senator Boycotts Backstreet Boy

June 6, 2002

WASHINGTON (AP) _ C-Span is looking more like ``Entertainment Tonight″ these days.

Check out the glitterati who have shown up at congressional hearings recently: Julia Roberts. Christie Brinkley. Michael J. Fox. And now Kevin Richardson of the pop group Backstreet Boys.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, says enough is enough. He boycotted Thursday’s hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works clean air subcommittee to protest Richardson’s appearance.

The singer testified about mountaintop mining, a practice in which the top of a ridge or mountain is sheared off to expose a coal seam. Dirt and rock waste then is pushed into nearby valleys and waterways.

``It’s just a joke to think that this witness can provide members of the United States Senate with information on important geological and water quality issues,″ Voinovich said Wednesday. ``We’re either serious about the issues or we’re running a sideshow.″

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., opened Thursday’s hearing by defending his invitation to Richardson.

``Mr. Richardson is here as more than a well-known celebrity,″ Lieberman said. ``He is knowledgeable on this issue and has in fact worked to protect the environment in his home state. I believe his voice will add to our understanding of the issue.″

Richardson has an environmental group called Just Within Reach. It has been active on mountaintop mining, which is used in Richardson’s home state of Kentucky.

Richardson sat in the back of the hearing room while waiting to testify. His prepared remarks did not include any reference to Voinovich.

`I am not a scientist but I do know what I’ve seen in flights over the coal fields,″ Richardson said in the remarks, which included an invitation to senators to join him on such a flight so they could see the areas themselves.

Political analysts agree there’s a fine line between celebrities with legitimate expertise and those who have been invited to appear before Congress just to draw media attention.

Fox and former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali told members of Congress last month that more money is needed to turn scientific findings into a cure for Parkinson’s disease, which they both have.

Last year, pop singers Alanis Morissette and Don Henley told a congressional panel that artists’ concerns have been ignored during legal battles between recording labels and Internet companies like Napster.

Earlier this year, the Senate Environment committee heard from Brinkley on nuclear energy. Roberts spoke about Rett Syndrome during tearful testimony last month before the House Appropriations Committee.

Ross K. Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, said celebrities bring notoriety to issues that might not otherwise draw much attention.

``If they get a celebrity in there, the cameras will follow and what might have been a hidden or invisible issue will suddenly become a matter of public discussion,″ he said.


On the Net:

Senate committee: http://epw.senate.gov/

Just Within Reach: http://www.justwithinreach.org

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