Overview of the 2016 Scorecard
There is no doubt that 2016 will be remembered as a defining year in the fight to address climate change. Even as we experienced the hottest year on record—for the third year in a row—and world leaders came together on Earth Day to sign the historic climate agreement reached in Paris in December 2015, the extreme anti-environmental leadership in the U.S. House and Senate once again unleashed a breathtaking array of assaults on the environment and public health.
The 2016 Scorecard includes a record-breaking 38 votes in the U.S. House of Representatives, topping the previous high of 35 votes in the 2014 and 2015 National Environmental Scorecards, and reflecting that it remains the most anti-environmental U.S. House in history. As in recent years, these votes and those taken in the Senate left virtually no issue unscathed and included attacks on many of our cornerstone environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act, and the Antiquities Act. From working to block access to the courts to attacking individual species to trying to undermine clean energy advancements, the Republicanled Congress pulled out all the stops to push a polluterfriendly agenda.
While not included in the Scorecard, a couple of major bills relating to public health and environmental protections were signed into law in 2016. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act reformed the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and is the first major update to an environmental statute in 20 years. It provides the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) more authority to regulate toxic chemicals, but it also rolled back state authority to go above and beyond the federal government’s efforts to restrict the uses of chemicals. The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act provided long-overdue funding to address the water and public health crisis for the families of Flint, Michigan, but it also undermined endangered species protections in California. Finally, it’s also worth noting that while much time was spent in both the Senate and the House on comprehensive energy legislation, efforts to conference the Senate Energy Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell’s (D-WA) compromise bill with the House’s extreme pro-fossil fuel energy version, fell apart.
In a bit of positive news, 22 Republicans (14 in the House and eight in the Senate) scored over 25 percent this year, including three who scored 50 percent or higher, a significant increase from the past few Scorecards. By comparison, only six scored over 25 percent in 2015 and only four in 2014. Of course, we very much hope to see more Republicans continue to step up to protect our environmental safeguards in 2017. In additional good news, the number of true environmental champions in Congress continues to grow and become more vocal and effective than ever before. In April, over 200 current and former members of Congress, spanning 38 states, filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the EPA’s landmark Clean Power Plan. In July, 20 U.S. Senators led by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and more than 15 U.S. Representatives led by Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA-33) expressed their disapproval of industrial climate denial activities and exposed the polluter-funded “Web of Denial” in floor speeches and resolutions. In August, dozens of members of Congress marked the centennial of the National Park Service and joined LCV and the public to call for the protection of more special places.
The best news of all from 2016 was that President Obama made an incredible amount of progress in his final year, firmly cementing his legacy as the greenest president in our history. From the moratorium on new coal leasing on public lands to the first-ever limits on methane pollution from the oil and gas industry to guidance for NEPA to incorporate climate change to the final heavy-duty truck fuel efficiency standards to the agreement with nearly 200 countries to reduce super pollutant hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol, it was a banner year in the fight against climate change.
President Obama also protected additional important public lands and waters in 2016, including designating three national monuments in the California desert, and the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine, as well as expanding the Papah¯anauamoku¯akea Marine National Monument, now among the largest marine protected areas in the entire world. He also created the first-ever marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean—the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument—and designated the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada. In what should be the norm going forward, the president continued to protect places that are culturally and historically significant and that reflect the story of all Americans, such as the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument honoring the struggle for women’s suffrage, and the Stonewall National Monument honoring the start of the LGBT rights movement. Following sustained protests by the Standing Rock Sioux, the Army Corps of Engineers denied the permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would have threatened the tribe’s water supply and sacred lands. Finally, President Obama removed both the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans from the five-year offshore drilling plan and enacted an indefinite ban on drilling in virtually the entire Arctic Ocean and important parts of the Atlantic Ocean, preserving these precious and fragile ecosystems for generations to come.
As we begin 2017, the stakes for protecting the environment and public health have never been higher and the threats have never been greater. We must do more than ever to work with our allies in Congress—and mobilize the public—to fight the Trump administration and the extreme Congressional leadership who want to roll back our bedrock environmental laws and President Obama’s incredible progress. LCV pledges to be there every step of the way, working to combat the climate crisis and fighting to protect our air, water, lands, and wildlife.