The costliest House race in the nation — so far — will end with the election of either a Republican who welcomes President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement or a Democrat who believes the United States has a responsibility to the world to reduce its carbon emissions.
It’s not unusual for a Republican running for Congress to back Trump’s position on the Paris agreement. But the Republican in this expensive election is atypical because, along with expressing his climate denial views, he also is touting an award that he received from an environmental group that strongly opposes Trump’s environmental record.
At an October 17 debate between the contenders for Washington state’s 8th congressional district, Republican candidate Dino Rossi embraced Trump’s rhetoric about the Paris climate agreement, claiming that global efforts to fight climate change let China and India “off the hook” and “handcuffed America.” Under the agreement, though, China and India are obligated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
Kim Schrier, Rossi’s Democratic opponent, said she strongly opposed Trump’s decision to pull the United States from the Paris agreement, emphasizing that she has grown frustrated with policymakers who have turned reducing greenhouse gas emission into a political issue. “I look at this as a pediatrician and a mom and what our actions today really mean for the next generation and generations beyond,” she said.
Environmental groups have accused Rossi, who has served in the Washington state Senate, of “greenwashing” his record. At the debate, Rossi pointed out that the Washington Conservation Voters, a state group affiliated with the League of Conservation Voters, gave him a “Distinguished Deeds” recognition. However, that recognition came in 2002.
“That award from the Washington Conservation Voters is so old it could have its own driver’s license,” Schrier said at the October 17 debate in response to Rossi citing the award to boost his environmental record. Meanwhile, for this year’s midterm election, the Washington Conservation Voters’ national affiliate has endorsed Schrier.
“They have endorsed me in this race,” she said, “because they know I take this issue seriously and I will absolutely be a champion for climate action.”
Rossi’s environmental record has declined since he received the award in 2002; his scorecard in the Washington state legislature in 2017 was 0 percent. For his entire career in the state Senate, Rossi has a 31 percent lifetime score from the state environmental group.
“Why is Dino Rossi repeatedly boasting about a 16-year-old acknowledgement from a group whose national affiliate has endorsed against him?” Pete Maysmith, LCV Victory Fund senior vice president for campaigns, said in a statement. “Rossi’s misleading rhetoric shows he now knows that the voters of the 8th district want a pro-environment leader in Congress — but Rossi also clearly doesn’t want those same voters to know about his failing record on environmental issues.”
In his unsuccessful 2010 Senate campaign to unseat Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Rossi’s talking points on climate change were similar to the statements made today by climate deniers. His Senate campaign said Rossi believes the Earth is warming but isn’t sure how much humans are to blame.
Rossi also unsuccessfully ran for governor of Washington in 2008. During that campaign, Rossi emphasized “there’s still a lot of debate going on” about climate change. “We’ll see how this debate goes, but I don’t think anyone should panic at this point,” he added.
In May 2010, however, the National Academies of Science (NAS) reported to Congress that “the U.S. should act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and develop a national strategy to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change” because global warming is “caused largely by human activities.”
And earlier this month, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change followed up on the 2010 NAS report, concluding in a new study that the world has about a dozen years to take action or else it will cross a key threshold of dangerous climate change by 2040.
In Washington’s 8th district, access to clean air and water, protecting public lands, and addressing the effects of climate change are important issues to residents, according to Shannon Murphy, president of Washington Conservation Voters.
Farming is a major part of the congressional district’s economy. “This agricultural district depends on natural resources for its economy and livelihood,” Murphy said Monday in an email to ThinkProgress.
The retirement of Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA), announced in September 2017, set up the open-seat race between Rossi and Schrier. Reichert is a member of the House Climate Solutions Caucus. The 8th district includes the eastern portions of King and Pierce counties, Washington, and crosses the Cascade mountains to include Chelan and Kittitas counties.
The focus on climate and the environment in the 8th congressional district is occurring in the same year that Washington residents will vote on whether to adopt a carbon fee, a policy to combat climate change that charges polluters for the right to emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Washington will make history if the measure passes, becoming the first state to adopt a carbon fee or tax and the first government anywhere to do so by ballot referendum.
Democrats have outspent Republicans nearly 2-to-1 in the race, with Schrier and Democratic groups spending more than $16 million, compared to about $9.5 million for Rossi and Republican groups, the Seattle Times reported Sunday. Among his benefactors, Trump’s presidential reelection effort has contributed $2,000 to Rossi’s campaign.
Earlier this year LCV Victory Fund named Washington’s 8th congressional district as a priority race for an investment of at least $15 million in retaking a green House majority, with more specific announcements expected in the coming days.
UPDATE: Article updated to include the comments of Washington Conservation Voters President Shannon Murphy.