With the upcoming midterm elections expected to be competitive across more districts than usual, congressional Republicans who represent swing districts have used membership in the House Climate Solutions Caucus to burnish their environmental credentials — without having to vote for bills that would help the environment or climate.
The latest example is a Republican incumbent in Colorado’s most competitive congressional district who wants his constituents to believe he’s pro-environment and that he cares about the impacts of pollution on their health. But his voting record tells a different story.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) joined the Climate Solutions Caucus in April 2017. Upon joining the group, Coffman said he looked forward to advancing policies that “keep our environment clean while keeping our economy and the American innovative spirit strong.”
In his five terms in Congress, though, Coffman’s votes on energy and environmental measures reflect little concern for reversing climate change. In fact, his legislative record reveals a pattern of siding with polluting industries and actions that would make climate change even worse.
Coffman, who has represented Colorado’s 6th congressional district since 2009, has a lifetime environmental voting record of 5 percent, according to the League of Conservation Voters’ (LCV) environmental scorecard.
Coffman, a former Secretary of State of Colorado, has received $829,944 from the fossil fuel industry and has repeatedly voted to dismantle protections for clean air and water.
“Congress’s countless environmental attacks haven’t played well with voters back home, so we’re seeing vulnerable Republicans like Mike Coffman pointing to their membership in the Climate Solutions Caucus to distract from their abysmal records of dismantling protections for our clean air, water and public lands,” LCV spokesperson Alyssa Roberts told ThinkProgress.
“Not only have representatives like Coffman refused to act on climate, they’re actually taking us backwards and undoing important progress to appease their polluter backers,” Roberts said.
A new advertisement was recently put out by the LCV political action committee, the Victory Fund, highlighting Coffman’s poor environmental record. In response to the ad, Coffman’s campaign manager touted the fact that the congressman is a member of the House Climate Solutions Caucus.
The campaign manager, Tyler Sandberg, also noted that the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group for the nation’s wind energy industry, recently presented Coffman with the “U.S. Wind Champion Award” for supporting the wind energy industry.
“Mike Coffman is for an all-of-the-above energy strategy — more solar, more wind, more oil and natural gas produced right here in America,” Sandberg told Colorado Politics. “If the hippies at LCV had to send their sons and daughters to the Middle East, they’d be less eager to shut down American energy production. This ‘Trump equals Coffman’ fiction is as outlandish and totally not believable, as is the claim that Mike Coffman causes cancer.”
Coffman’s congressional votes, however, have demonstrated a similarity with President Donald Trump when it comes to policy. According to FiveThirtyEight, Coffman has voted in line with Trump’s policy positions 95.6 percent of the time, making him Trump’s biggest congressional supporter in the Colorado delegation.
In comparison, Jason Crow, who won the Democratic nomination to challenge Coffman in November’s general election, has received the endorsement of the LCV Action Fund, which works to elect pro-environment candidates. In March, before the Democratic primary in Colorado, Crow received the endorsement of the Sierra Club Colorado.
In 2016, the LCV named Coffman to its “Dirty Dozen” list of the most anti-environment candidates in the country.
Most recently, Coffman voted with fellow Republicans to pass a resolution denouncing a carbon tax. The resolution, sponsored by House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), stated that a tax on emissions of carbon dioxide — the most prevalent greenhouse gas that causes climate change — “would be detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States.”
Earlier this year, Coffman also voted for an amendment to an appropriations bill that would prevent the federal government from considering the economic costs of climate change.
In 2015, Coffman voted for a resolution that would permanently block the Clean Power Plan, a rule crafted by Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants.
“Five-term congressman Mike Coffman has been in Congress so long that voters probably think they know him — but corporate polluters know him a lot better. Coffman has continually voted for more pollution, risking kids and seniors’ health as polluters profit,” Pete Maysmith, senior vice president of for campaigns at the LCV Victory Fund, said in a statement last week announcing the group’s plans to spend $663,000 on the 30-second television ad highlighting Coffman’s anti-environment voting record.
In response to the television ad, Sandberg tweeted that “take the ‘cough’ out of Congress” — the ad’s closing phrase — could go down as the “single dumbest line” of any Colorado political ad in 2018.
"Take the 'cough' out of Congress" may go down as the single dumbest line of any #COpolitics ad in 2018.
There's going to be a real race to the bottom in this election season, no doubt.
But I predict that line will be a contender.
Congrats, or something, @pmaysmith.
— Tyler Sandberg (@wtylersandberg) September 5, 2018
But Coffman isn’t alone. Republicans in other states are also trying to convince voters of their environmental credentials. In Minnesota, Rep. Erik Paulsen (R) has run a TV advertisement trying to convince voters in the state’s 3rd congressional district that he cares about clean water and the outdoors.
“I camp and canoe with my family in Minnesota’s Yellowstone, the Boundary Waters,” Paulsen says in the TV ad. “So when President Trump tried to take away important environmental protections for the Boundary Waters, I said, ‘No way.’”
The Trump administration has tried to get two mining projects authorized near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. The wilderness area recently received $4 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to protect an additional 50,000 acres, expanding access to hiking, fishing, and other outdoor recreation. Yet in June, Paulsen, who joined the House Climate Solutions Caucus in May, voted for Trump’s package that would cut $16 million from the LWCF.
On Friday, though, Paulsen distanced himself from fellow Minnesota Republicans over minerals exploration near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. He called on federal officials to reverse a decision to reopen up 234,000 acres of federal forest in northern Minnesota to mining companies. The Trump administration on Thursday lifted a stay on minerals exploration in national forests just outside the Boundary Waters.
Since getting elected to Congress in 2008, Paulsen has earned a 16 percent on the LCV’s 2017 national environmental scorecard, including votes in favor of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and to block the Clean Water Rule.
The Climate Solutions Caucus has attracted a significant amount of criticism for its use by anti-environment Republicans for political cover.
Earlier this year, for instance, Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), a member of the caucus, introduced a cap-and-dividend bill known as the “Healthy Climate and Family Security Act.” The bill caps carbon emissions and auctions carbon pollution permits to polluters. It then returns 100 percent of the auction proceeds each quarter to every American in the form of a dividend.
Beyer, in an interview with E&E News published Monday, said he asked every Republican member of the caucus — 43 Republican House members — to sign onto the proposal. But none of the caucus’ Republican members, including caucus co-founder Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), agreed to join Beyer in sponsoring the legislation.
Some Republican caucus members told Beyer they don’t support the proposal, while others said, “I would like to, but I’m afraid of the Koch brothers,” Beyer told E&E News.
According to R.L. Miller, co-founder of Climate Hawks Vote, Curbelo “created a meaningless caucus being used as political cover by vulnerable Republicans.” Climate Hawks Vote is a grassroots-funded group that supports candidates and elected officials it identifies as making climate change a top priority.