Peter Dykstra: A League of their own

The League of Conservation Voters has managed to stay out of the mud for 52 years.

American environmental law came of age under the aegis of that unlikely ol’ treehugger, Richard Milhous Nixon.


The seminal laws on clean air, clean water, endangered species, and environmental impact statements were born. So were two vital environmental agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the Commerce Department.

Nonprofits matched the frantic pace with the 1970 debut of Earth Day. When the venerable Sierra Club fired its cantankerous boss, David Brower created Friends of the Earth. Some hotshot Ivy League lawyers founded the Natural Resources Defense Council, in friendly competition with some other hotshot Ivies at the Environmental Defense Fund (b.1967).

Also in 1970, a well-connected aide to a Long Island Congressman, fortified with David Brower’s advice and encouragement, founded the League of Conservation Voters.

Marion Edey was taking names — and a nonpartisan clearinghouse for environmental politics was born.

Foremost among the League of Conservation Voters' (LCV) products were its annual scorecard, which graded the voting performance of every member of Congress on key environmental legislation. And later, LCV’s Dirty Dozen, a scornful list of undeserving candidates for national office.

Political archaeology

For all its legitimate value as a political mainstay for environmentalists, LCV’s website offers geek-out opportunities for a half-century’s worth of American environmental history.

In the ancient 1971-72 edition of the LCV Scorecard, House and Senate members are graded on their votes on clean water, killing marine mammals, and regulating supersonic transport passenger aircraft. Two New York City Democrats drew perfect 100% scores from LCV: Future Mayor Ed Koch and Bella Abzug. The only Senator to score 100% was — surprise! — Earth Day co-founder Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisc.)

And a “zero” of note was the day’s conservative standard bearer, Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.).

In 1973, Congress pondered the Alaska pipeline and OPEC’s first oil embargo. House Minority Leader Gerald Ford rated 11% before resigning to replace Vice President Agnew, and then President Nixon.

In 1977-78, Congress considered several mine safety and nuke safety measures as well as major land conservation efforts in Alaska. There were few perfect scores or shutouts, but freshman Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.) scored a 92%.

In the 1980 scorecard, a young Georgia Republican named Newton LeRoy Gingrich scored 50% -- 15 points better than a young Democrat from neighboring Tennessee, Al Gore.

And as LCV matured, environmental party politics regressed into the tribal mess that dominates all national politics. In last year’s Scorecard, Pennsylvania’s Brian Kirkpatrick was the only Republican congressman who scored higher than 50%.

LCV’s revenues for the last full year available were $78 million in 2020. Not insignificant, but couch change compared to Soros or Steyer, or Donors Trust.

This year, Republicans have once again run the table on LCV’s Dirty Dozen. Bearing rap sheets featuring Big Oil funding and climate denial, LCV has targeted several Republicans in high-profile, pivotal Senate races: Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson; Georgia’s Herschel Walker; Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania; and Arizona’s Blake Masters. Through no fault of LCV’s, “nonpartisan” is now a punchline.

I’m writing this with the TV on in the background. Bleak scurrilous ads vie to persuade me that the Dems are soulless criminals, and that the Republicans are, too.

But groups like LCV can show how the game should be played: By realizing that it is not a game.

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.

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."

Dr. Robbie Parks joins the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast for a bonus episode to discuss how hurricanes have become deadlier in recent years and how we can better protect vulnerable communities.

Keep reading...Show less
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.

Mosquitoes are a growing public health threat, reversing years of progress

Don't miss this compelling global health series by The New York Times: The fight against mosquitos has never been more urgent as climate change and the rapid evolution of the insect have thwarted efforts to combat devastating diseases like malaria and dengue. Scientists are innovating, reports Stephanie Nolen, pursuing new strategies to protect public health.
Keep reading...Show less
person using phone and laptop
Photo by Maxim Ilyahov on Unsplash

Spanish-language misinformation on renewable energy spreads online, report shows

False narratives about renewable energy are malleable and adapted to different languages after extreme weather events in different countries, the researchers found.

Laila Benkrima: Ultra-processed foods are not only bad for our bodies, their production damages our environments

Ultra-processed foods are bad for our health and our planet and must be central to any efforts to reduce our carbon emissions, and waistlines.

A revelation about trees is messing with climate calculations

Trees make clouds by releasing small quantities of vapors called “sesquiterpenes.” Scientists are learning more—and it’s making climate models hazy.

For Sanibel, the recovery from Hurricane Ian will be years in the making

Thousands of residents of this barrier island remain displaced a year after the costliest hurricane in state history.

From our Newsroom
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.

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.

birds climate change

In the Gulf of Maine, scientists race to save seabirds threatened by climate change

“I could see that, if successful, the methods developed could likely help these species."

fracking economics

Appalachia’s fracking counties are shedding jobs and residents: Study

The 22 counties that produce 90% of Appalachian natural gas lost a combined 10,339 jobs between 2008 and 2021.

Marathon Petroleum y una ciudad de Texas muestran una  potencial crisis de comunicaciones sobre sustancias químicas

Marathon Petroleum y una ciudad de Texas muestran una potencial crisis de comunicaciones sobre sustancias químicas

En los últimos tres años, Marathon ha violado repetidamente la ley de Aire Limpio y tuvo tres emergencias en el semestre de febrero a julio de 2023.

WATCH: How Marathon Petroleum and one Texas city show the potential for a chemical communication crisis

WATCH: How Marathon Petroleum and one Texas city show the potential for a chemical communication crisis

Marathon in Texas City has repeatedly violated the Clean Air Act and had three emergencies in the span of a six month period.

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