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To accurately gauge the level of desperation in the environmental community at any given moment, simply murmur the words “Richard Pombo.” Then step back and watch the slurs roll.

Ground zero in the nation’s environmental fight has already been established in California’s 19th district, where Mr. Pombo—a Republican who narrowly lost his House seat in 2006—is again running in the Central Valley. It’s only April, but the green shock troops are again waging an all-out smear campaign to defeat him, this time with an assist from one of his Republican primary competitors. It’s a vivid example of the stakes for the green agenda in this year’s midterm elections.

Regulatory wins aside, it’s been a bleak 15 months for the environmental left. President Obama’s election was supposed to bring a climate-control regime that would finally give greens the tools to dismantle our industrial society. Instead, scandal has left climate science in tatters. The recession has sent the majority scurrying away from a comprehensive cap-and-tax bill. Some Democrats are embracing legislation to curtail the EPA’s planned carbon regulations.

Their campaign in the balance, enviros shudder at Mr. Pombo back in Washington. For 14 years—four heading the House Resources committee—the rancher was the GOP’s sturdiest voice on private property rights, energy exploration and environmental reform. Even as the Bush administration ducked the fight, Mr. Pombo pushed for drilling and for the modernization of failed laws like the Endangered Species Act. Greens decreed him Public Enemy No. 1.

In 2006 they launched the most coordinated, expensive attack in their political history. The Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, the Sierra Club, the League for Conservation Voters, and CREW (a George-Soros-funded front that masquerades as a public “watchdog”) spent $2 million-plus on vicious ads, mailers and door-to-door campaigning. Helped by a Democratic gerrymander that pushed Mr. Pombo’s 11th district into liberal San Francisco suburbs, Democrat Jerry McNerney won. The effort was a warning to other Republicans—and it worked. Aside from oil drilling, the GOP has largely skirted green issues, for fear—as members put it—of being “Pombo-ed.”

Now Mr. Pombo is back, running in retiring Rep. George Radanovich’s neighboring 19th district, nearly overlapping his original seat. Should Republicans regain the majority, Mr. Pombo could be right back at Resources, the fate of greens’ climate agenda in his hands.

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