Congress’ annual environmental scorecard is out, and it doesn’t look good for Republican lawmakers and some presidential candidates.
The League of Conservation Voters’ National Environmental Scorecard gave House Republicans an average score of 3 percent, while Senate Republicans got just 5 percent. Republican Presidential hopefuls Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) both got scores of zero, as they issued what the report calls the “anti-environment vote” every time throughout 2015.
These figures represent the consensus of experts from about 20 environmental and conservation organizations who choose key votes on which members of Congress should be scored. These votes include favoring the now-rejected Keystone XL Pipeline, supporting a law that would expedite applications to drill on public lands, and voting for a resolution blocking the Clean Power Plan, among dozens of others.
Rubio and Cruz are well-known climate-deniers. Cruz, chairman of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, held a hearing to discuss the reality of human-caused climate change in December. “There has been no significant global warming in the past 18 years,” Cruz said then, just a month before the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA announced that 2015 was the hottest year on record globally. Rubio, for his part, said in 2014 that he did not “believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.”
The 2015 scorecard describes a Republican-led Congress that the report calls “the most anti-environmental Congress in our nation’s history.”
“Some interpretations of this report are showing this is the lowest scoring Congress overall on the environment … and I think [it] largely reflects the composition of Congress as it is,” said David Konisky, associate professor at the school of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University. “You have many more Republicans who are more conservative in Congress.”
Still, based on 35 House votes and 25 Senate votes, the report — which has been published for nearly 50 years — finds that 32 senators and more than 100 House members got scores of zero. Democrats did better than Republicans, as House members scored on average 91 percent while senators reached 92 percent. Many senators, like presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, scored 100 percent.
“Party polarization has eroded the bipartisanship that characterized environmental policy making in the 1970s when Richard Nixon created the [Environmental Protection Agency] and Congress passed about a dozen environmental laws,” said Robert Durant, emeritus professor in the school of public affairs at American University, in an email to ThinkProgress.
Since the 1980s, the parties have been distancing themselves ideologically, Durant added, and now Republicans in Congress challenge environmental policy as costly and premised on uncertain science, while Democrats counter with the health and safety benefits of regulations, as well as the costs of inaction.
“Ironically, surveys of Republicans in the general population indicate that majorities actually support environmental protection, even when presented with costs,” Durant said. “It is also ironic that environmental protection initiatives are increasingly stressing flexibility and using market-bases regulatory tools like cap and trade systems, and that many industries, trade associations, and financial industry leaders are now embracing these tools.”
Indeed, 59 percent of adults say stricter environmental regulations are worth the cost, the Pew Research Center reported this month, while 36 percent of Americans said stricter environmental laws hurt the economy. However, Democrats and liberals are more likely to support stricter environmental regulations, while Republicans and conservatives are much more likely to oppose them.
“It’s hard to say necessarily that members of Congress are … just reflecting those views or if they are leading those views,” said Konisky. Yet he added that lawmakers “are very much in concert with where their constituents are on many of these issues, particularly regarding climate change, where we’ve seen polarization among self-identifying Democrats and Republics in the general citizenry, and that is certainly reflective on the votes being taken in Congress.”
This article has been updated as an earlier version listed an erroneous figure representing the percentage of adults that say stricter environmental regulations are worth the cost.