A new scorecard that rates members of Congress on how they voted on environmental issues found that 46 Republican senators scored a 0% in 2017. The average score for all Republican senators was 1%, according to the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), a nonprofit environmental group based in Washington, D. C., that released the scorecard on Monday. This is the lowest average score for Republican senators since LCV began tracking this issue in 1970, according to the group. In contrast, 27 Democratic senators earned a 100% on the scorecard, with Democrats averaging 93%.
The low Republican average score means that those senators “voted against the environment and public health at every opportunity,” the LCV report states.
On the House side, 124 Republicans received a zero, with House GOP members overall receiving an average score of 5%. Among House Democrats, 84 earned a 100% score, and House Democrats overall earned a 94% average score.
“At the federal level, 2017 was an unmitigated disaster for the environment and public health, with President Trump and his cabinet quickly becoming the most antienvironmental administration in our nation’s history,” Tiernan Sittenfeld, LCV’s senior vice president for government affairs, said at a briefing on Monday to release the report. “The Republican-led Congress repeatedly refused to stand up to President Trump’s extreme antienvironmental agenda and his attacks on our air, water, land, wildlife. This is particularly shameful in a year when climate change–fueled hurricanes and wildfires caused so much devastation. Fortunately, Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Schumer”—the Senate minority leader from New York—“maintained a green firewall of defense to block any egregious events throughout 2017.”
Votes That Were Counted
The report graded members of Congress on the basis of specific votes that LCV and other environmental and conservation organizations determined were key indicators. On the Senate side, members were scored on how they voted in 19 instances. These included eight votes to confirm the administration’s cabinet or subcabinet nominees, whom the report labeled as “historically anti-environmental.” Among them was Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt. The report said that Pruitt “has aggressively gutted the agency from the inside.” Other votes counted in the scorecard were the recent tax bill that opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to fossil fuel development and legislation that would threaten drinking water and public lands.
In the Senate, “what this year’s results show is a dramatic crash on the Republican side of the aisle, which is in many respects a very sad testament to what has become of the GOP,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said at the briefing. Only 14 Senate Republicans scored zero in 2016 compared with the 46 who did in 2017. House numbers were fairly stable, with 122 House members receiving a zero in 2016 compared with 124 with that score in 2017. Whitehouse said that the low scores for Republicans in both houses “very clearly show a party that has been completely captured by the polluting industries.”
At least one Republican senator, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, paid little regard to his LCV grade of zero. “As a lifelong Republican, Sen. Cochran tends not to score highly with liberal activist groups,” a spokesperson for the senator told Eos. “Senator Cochran’s career reflects a careful understanding of the importance of protecting and preserving our nation’s natural resources. He has a strong record of making decisions on environmental issues that are in the best interests of Mississippi and our nation, and supporting legislation and policies that promote cooperative conservation programs.”
Looking at Votes by Climate Caucus Members
For House members, LCV graded 35 votes on issues related to public lands, climate change, water resources, clean air, deregulation of environmental rules, and other environment-relevant topics.
Republican House members who belong to the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus averaged a 16% score, which is more than 3 times higher than the overall Republican average, according to the report. However, the report concluded that members of the caucus, which was founded in 2016 to explore policy options on climate change, need to do more. “Joining the caucus can be an important step, but it’s simply not enough,” the report states. “We need these Republican members to vote for climate action, to lead on real solutions, and to push their colleagues and party leadership to do better.”
The head of a group that has worked closely with the caucus said the scorecard is valuable but that it does not provide the whole picture about the importance of the caucus.
“We think the scorecard plays the essential role of providing pressure on members of Congress to do better on environmental issues, especially climate change. However, we don’t think the scorecard accurately captures the emerging work being done by the caucus to develop bipartisan solutions to climate change,” Mark Reynolds, executive director of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), said in a statement provided to Eos. The lobby is a grassroots advocacy organization based in Coronado, Calif., that focuses on national policies to address climate change. A CCL analysis published on Wednesday found that 15 of the 34 caucus members who are Republicans improved their environmental voting scores since joining the caucus, despite the fact that only 5 of the 35 tracked votes are “climate-relevant.”
“Much is happening behind the scenes, thanks to the caucus, and we think patience will eventually be rewarded with major legislation to address climate change,” Reynolds added.
—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer