In its first 100 days, the 114th Congress has cast more roll call votes on energy and environmental issues than on any other issue, according to a new report. Many of these votes sought to undermine environmental protections or fast track projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, but none of them have become law.
The report, published Wednesday by the Center for American Progress (CAP), cataloged the votes Congress has cast in the first 100 days of 2015, and found that 59 of the Senate’s 135 roll call votes — or 44 percent — were cast on energy or environment-related legislation or amendments, while 25 of the House’s 144 votes were cast on environmental and energy issues.
The report states that, despite these votes, “the energy and anti-environmental agenda of the 114th Congress has come off the rails before leaving the station,” noting that debates at the beginning of the year over bills that sought to approve the Keystone XL pipeline took weeks of lawmakers’ time. Legislation to approve the pipeline, rather than wait for the State Department to issue its final national interest report on the project, was passed by Congress in February but ultimately vetoed by the president.
Matt Lee-Ashley, director of public lands at CAP and co-author of the report, told ThinkProgress that though it’s usual for party leadership to focus in on one or two issues when they take control of Congress, it’s not usual for the focus to fair as poorly as the Republican-controlled Congress’ “fossil fuel-focused agenda.”
“The energy and environmental votes thus far have been on overwhelmingly divisive questions like whether to lift protections on wilderness lands and to deny that human activity is contributing to climate change,” he said in an email. “The highest priorities of oil and gas companies, like facilitating the export of U.S. energy supplies, haven’t fared well so far on the floor of the Senate, and congressional leaders seem to have gotten sidetracked by ideological anti-environment proposals.”
The CAP report focused particularly on the Senate, whose new majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made Keystone XL his first order of business in the new year and pledged in late 2014 that he would do everything he could to stop the Obama administration’s proposed rule on power plant emissions.
The Senate seemed poised this year to tackle “a wishlist of fossil-fuel industry priorities:” in 2013 and 2014, according to a 2014 CAP report, oil, gas, and coal companies spent more than $720 million to help elect members of congress that were friendly to its agenda. But as Lee-Ashley noted, that agenda, which includes priorities like speeding up approval for oil and gas exports and opening up new regions for offshore drilling, hasn’t yet gotten off the ground, mostly because Senate leaders like Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have gotten sidetracked by other environmental issues, including President Obama’s proposal to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and attempts to make it easier to sell off America’s public lands for oil and gas development. The Senate also voted in January to approve a measure introduced by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) that said that climate change is real, but then, a few minutes later, rejected a measure stating that it is caused by humans.
Lee-Ashley said this failure of Congress to enact its environmental goals in its first 100 days will have implications for the upcoming presidential election, and for the rest of the 114th Congress’ tenure.
“I think leaders in the new Congress and presidential hopefuls are going to have to look at the strategy the new Congress has pursued and ask: what went wrong?” he said. “There is plenty of room for thoughtful energy policy and bipartisanship on land conservation, but trying to sell national forests and weakening protections for clean air and clean water are nonstarters with most Americans.”
CAP isn’t the only group to criticize Congress’ focus on anti-environmental efforts in its first 100 days — environmental groups, too, have called out Senate Republicans in particular for driving the agenda.
“This Congress is rewarding big oil, coal, gas, with votes, amendments, bills that attempt to undermine the fundamental bedrock laws that the environmental community has been fighting for the last 45 years,” Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, said.
Some Democrats in Congress are pushing back against Republicans’ energy and environmental agenda: Democratic lawmakers from New England and the West sent a letter to governors across the U.S. this week asking them not to heed Sen. McConnell’s call to opt out of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed climate rule.
And environmental groups are hoping to get ahead of the issue in the upcoming presidential election: a coalition of groups is expected to announce this weekend an initiative to register 1 million climate voters by Election Day.