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

Climate change and an aging population

New book explores how climate change impacts the elderly in unique ways — and how we can preserve their well-being and include them in solutions.

Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.

Environmental, immigrant groups say state needs to prepare for likely climate migration

In Maine, as in other places, the impacts of climate change are already being felt, with ocean temperatures warming quickly and the state experiencing higher than average levels of precipitation.

airborne power generator
European Space Agency/FlickrCredits: Ampyx Power

Navy lab funds Durham firm's airborne power generator

Windlift has a five-year, $30 million, research contract with the Naval Research Laboratory to develop its autonomous tethered Navy and Marine Corps operations. A little more than $11 million of that grant is footing the bill for the company to refine its prototype and showcase its technology to the Department of Defense.

Plugging West Virginia’s abandoned and orphaned wells

Tens of thousands of orphaned oil and gas wells dot West Virginia. Even with a potential boost of millions of federal dollars, the state doesn’t have the resources to clean them up.

Pace of cyclone strengthening has doubled since 1971

A study from Rowan University in New Jersey has drawn a connection between the number of rapidly strengthening tropical Atlantic hurricanes in recent years and documented increases in ocean temperatures.

Corn harvests in the Yukon? Study finds that climate change will boost likelihood that wilderness gives way to agriculture

As new areas become suitable for planting, researchers predict that vast swaths of biodiversity will be at risk, particularly in northern regions and the tropics.

Lawmakers want answers on damage and costs linked to idled ‘zombie’ coal mines

Sen. John Fetterman, the Pennsylvania Democrat, joins a call for a national GAO investigation into a problem that could fall to taxpayers to solve.

From our Newsroom
800,000 tons of radioactive waste from Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry has gone “missing”

800,000 tons of radioactive waste from Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry has gone “missing”

Poor recordkeeping on hazardous waste disposal points to potential for bigger problems, according to a new study.

drought climate farming

Opinion: Climate change and soil loss — the new Dust Bowl?

How we can save our soil, stabilize the climate, and prevent a new Dust Bowl.

climate change health care

Severe flooding increasingly cutting people off from health care

Many more Americans will find themselves regularly cut off from essential services, rescue workers and health care long before water actually reaches their homes, a recent study predicts.

Heat, air pollution and climate change … oh my! Was summer 2023 the new normal?

Heat, air pollution and climate change … oh my! Was summer 2023 the new normal?

Intense heat waves induced by climate change create favorable conditions for air pollution to worsen. Scientists say this isn’t likely to change unless action is taken.

environmental justice

LISTEN: Robbie Parks on why hurricanes are getting deadlier

"In places where there are high minority populations they bear, by far, the most burden of deaths from tropical cyclones."

children nature

Opinion: When kids feel the magic of nature, they will want to protect it

Improving our quality of life starts with the simple of act of getting kids outdoors.

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