senate floor

Peter Dykstra: Keeping score on the environment

For decades the League of Conservation Voters has published its National Environmental Scorecard for Congress, and recent years show the partisan divide on the environment is deeper than ever.

This has been a banner year for made-up science: from horse-medicine COVID cure-alls to the reliable potions and hexes of climate change contempt, 2021 has it all.


And with habitat loss and extinction, the appalling rise of plastic pollution, and the elapsing clock for climate action, it's a particularly bad time for ignorance to stage a comeback.

In 1980, the League of Conservation Voters' National Environment Scorecard—an annual report ranking members of Congress on their environmental votes—showed a clear, but not overwhelming, gap between Democrats and Republicans. Fifty-four percent of Democratic House members voted for LCV's preferred agenda of environmental bills; Republican members weren't that far behind at 37%. I like to point out that a young Georgia Representative named Newt Gingrich scored 50% on the LCV ballot that year, easily outpointing a young Tennessee Democrat named Al Gore at 35%.

Fast-forward to the 2000 session, where the partisan divide deepened to 77% (Democrats) to 17% (Republicans). By 2019, it had worsened even more to 95% to 13%. Measured by Congressional votes, the environment was no longer a bipartisan issue.

Or look at it this way: When George W. Bush appointed former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman to serve as his Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, it was further evidence of a faint environmental pulse within the GOP.

But it may have been one of the final bits of evidence. Whitman had earned some grudging respect as a New Jersey governor. But all such respect ended, she said, in Cabinet meetings, where she was "flipped the bird" by Vice President Dick Cheney over climate change concerns.

Other early EPA picks by the GOP included Bill Ruckelshaus, who served as the first EPA boss under Nixon, and who was brought back after Ann Gorsuch drove the Reagan-era EPA into scandal. William K. Reilly led the EPA under George H.W. Bush after running the U.S. branch of the World Wildlife Fund.

With oil man Dick Cheney having effectively run off the last Republican environmentalist in power and the Tea Party on the rise, a decade of wheels-off stuff ensued. In 2014, Tennessee Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, a hardcore climate denier, went on a rampage on the House floor decrying energy-efficient compact fluorescent lightbulbs.

Now, she's U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.

Wait, isn't that what Al Gore used to be? And with coal state Senator Joe Manchin calling the shots on this week's budget churner, can we say we've made much progress at all?

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist and can be reached at pdykstra@ehn.org or @pdykstra.

His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate, or publisher, Environmental Health Sciences.

Banner photo: Senate.gov

What Lego—yes, Lego—can teach us about avoiding energy project boondoggles

A new book looks at why big projects fail and finds that solar, wind and transmission lines are some of the best kinds of big projects, while nuclear power is among the worst.

Sunrise in the woods

Get our Good News newsletter

Get the best positive, solutions-oriented stories we've seen on the intersection of our health and environment, FREE every Tuesday in your inbox. Subscribe here today. Keep the change tomorrow.

Minnesota's carbon-free electricity bill: 8 questions, answered

A bill speeding through the Legislature would require utilities to quicken their transition to cleaner energy. But it includes exemptions and ways they could meet the standard without ditching fossil fuels altogether.

Auckland: New Zealand’s largest city sees wettest month in its history after ‘unparalleled deluge’

Auckland has recorded the wettest month in its history, New Zealand’s climate science body said after the city was pounded by record-breaking rainfall.

Wet winter won’t fix Colorado River woes

Although the moisture is welcome, some experts worry it could further delay the hard work that managers of the watershed must do to keep it healthy and make its service more inclusive as the climate grows hotter and more parched.

The threat of ocean acidification

This film explores the alarming effects of ocean acidification, drawing on the expertise of scientists and the first-hand experiences of a Native Alaskan community. The film also looks at what can be done to lessen the problem.

From our Newsroom
oil and gas wells pollution

What happens if the largest owner of oil and gas wells in the US goes bankrupt?

Diversified Energy’s liabilities exceed its assets, according to a new report, sparking concerns about whether taxpayers will wind up paying to plug its 70,000 wells.

Paul Ehrlich

Paul Ehrlich: A journey through science and politics

In his new book, the famous scientist reflects on an unparalleled career on our fascinating, ever-changing planet.

oil and gas california environmental justice

Will California’s new oil and gas laws protect people from toxic pollution?

California will soon have the largest oil drilling setbacks in the U.S. Experts say other states can learn from this move.

popular stories 2022

Our 5 most popular reads from 2022

A corpse, woodworking dangers, plastic titans ... revisit the stories that stuck with our readers this past year.

Pittsburgh environmental

What I learned reporting on environmental health in Pittsburgh in 2022

For a lot of people, 2022 felt like the first “normal” year since 2020. It didn’t for me.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.