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.

'Buy America' timeline threatens to delay EV charger network

Construction of a national web of electric vehicle charging stations could be delayed if the Biden administration enforces a January deadline to manufacture the chargers domestically, according to industry officials who are racing to build the network.

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.

How Greenland’s ice streams could have major impact on sea level rise

New radar technology allowing scientists to examine the Greenland ice sheet has revealed that major flows of ice across the continent can change much more rapidly than was previously thought.

Climate change is pushing Pacific Northwest farmers to protect crops from extreme heat

Farmers who grow apples, berries, cherries, potatoes and more in the Pacific Northwest are facing more intense and frequent heat, and struggling to adapt their practices to protect their crops.

Lynda Lukasik to lead Hamilton’s climate change office

Longtime head of Environment Hamilton — who once successfully took the city to court over landfill pollution — will now push for change from inside the corporation.

Sustainability emerges as a prevalent theme at RSNA 2022

Sustainability might not have been the official theme of the Radiological Society of North America 2022 annual meeting, but it was a prevalent topic among vendors, attendees and presenters.

“Earth’s beating heart”: 12 coastal-themed books to help kids grow in their understanding and empathy
Photo by dom on Unsplash

“Earth’s beating heart”: 12 coastal-themed books to help kids grow in their understanding and empathy

From the Arctic to the Antarctic and from the smallest bioluminescent organism to the biggest whales, this season’s selections take readers through the world’s oceans and introduce them to a range of incredible species.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation’s national crusade against climate action

The Texas Public Policy Foundation is shaping laws, running influence campaigns and taking legal action in a bid to promote fossil fuels.
From our Newsroom
Europe forest

EU’s new climate change plan will cause biodiversity loss and deforestation: Analysis

In a plan full of sustainable efforts, the incentivizing of biomass burning has climate experts concerned.

United Nations climate change

Op-ed: It’s time to re-think the United Nations’ COP climate negotiations

Instead of focusing on negotiations, let the main event be information sharing, financing and partnerships that produce faster technological change.

population environmental

Op-ed: What the media gets wrong about the new world population numbers

The last time that we lived within the productivity limits of our planet was about 50 years ago — that is a problem.

katharine hayhoe

Peter Dykstra: Journalists I’m thankful for

My third annual list of the over-achieving and under-thanked.

sperm count decline shanna swan

A new analysis shows a “crisis” of male reproductive health

Global average sperm count is declining at a quicker pace than previously known, chemical exposure is a suspected culprit.

WATCH: The latest evidence of widespread sperm count decline

WATCH: The latest evidence of widespread sperm count decline

"Pregnant women, and men planning to conceive a pregnancy, have a responsibility to protect the reproductive health of the offspring they are creating."

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