Overview of the 2017 Scorecard
There’s no getting around it: at the federal level, 2017 was an unmitigated disaster for the environment and public health with President Trump and his Cabinet quickly becoming the most anti-environmental administration in our nation’s history. LCV gave Trump an “F” for his first-year report card, which does not come close to capturing either the breadth or depth of his administration’s assault on environmental protections and the harm it is causing communities across the country – all to sell out our future to wealthy corporate polluters. This is shameful, especially in a year when the weather-related impacts of climate change have left painful scars on so many of our communities – hurricanes tore through Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, and wildfires raged throughout California and much of the West. Now is not a time to exacerbate the climate crisis.
But as the 2017 National Environmental Scorecard – which includes 19 Senate and 35 House votes – details, rather than serving as a check on the Trump administration’s relentless attacks on the environment and public health, the Republican-controlled Congress has instead followed the administration’s anti-environmental lead. Nowhere is this anti-environmental collaboration more apparent than in eight of the votes that the Senate took confirming Trump’s historically anti-environmental Cabinet and sub-Cabinet nominees – there is simply no overstating the catastrophic impact of these joint personnel decisions. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt has aggressively gutted the agency from the inside. Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke removed vital protections for national monuments, coastlines and other public lands. Director of the Office of Management & Budget Mick Mulvaney proposed budget cuts to environmental programs and agencies that were so draconian even Congress rejected them.
In addition to confirming these extreme individuals to crucial positions, the Republican-led Senate also approved judicial nominations at a rapid pace, confirming not just Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court but a slate of extreme district and circuit court judges whose lifetime appointments will impact the environment and public health for decades to come.
When it came to legislation, the Republican tax package proved the nadir of a long year of attacks by giving huge tax breaks to billionaires and corporations, exploding the deficit which will be used as a future justification for massive cuts to environmental and other critical programs, and opening the iconic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. Earlier in the long year of environmental attacks, the Senate made record-breaking use of the Congressional Review Act (CRA), an extreme tool that undermines regular Senate procedure and even obstructs the future work of agencies.
The good news is that Senate Democrats played a vital role in blocking many egregious attacks throughout 2017, with thanks in particular to Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and others on his leadership team, along with Environment & Public Works Committee Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) and Energy & Natural Resources Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA). All Senate Democrats, along with three Republicans, blocked a CRA that would have overturned the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane Rule. Democrats and a few Republicans also stopped chemical company shill Michael Dourson’s nomination to lead the EPA’s environmental health office. Additionally, Senate Democrats made it clear that attacks on bedrock environmental laws and House-passed bills to weaken our regulatory system were non-starters.
In the House, the 2017 Scorecard includes a laundry list of votes that reflect the Republican leadership’s radical disregard for the environment and our communities’ health. The House began the 115th Congress on a particularly egregious note by passing several bills to gut our regulatory system – these schemes would make it virtually impossible for future administrations to enact commonsense environmental safeguards for our public health, our safety in the workplace, and our food supply. Like the Senate, the House made record-breaking use of the CRA to permanently overturn many commonsense environmental rules and also passed an astounding number of stand-alone bills to weaken our cornerstone environmental laws, undermine basic science, and threaten our air, water, lands and wildlife.
Across both chambers, many scores clustered at the bottom and top of the scale, revealing consistent voting blocs of both anti-environmental and pro-environmental lawmakers. An astounding 46 Republican senators received a score of zero percent in 2017, meaning they voted against the environment and public health at every opportunity. In stark contrast, 27 Democratic senators earned a perfect score of 100 percent. In the Senate, Democrats averaged 93 percent, while Republicans averaged 1 percent. On the House side, 124 Republicans scored zero percent and 84 Democrats earned a perfect score of 100 percent. The House Democratic caucus averaged 94 percent, whereas the House Republican caucus averaged 5 percent. It is worth noting the impressive number of perfect scores in both chambers – a reflection of the many devoted environmental champions who not only earned a perfect voting record but also fought for the environment at every turn, whether in the halls of the Capitol, in their states, or over social media.
The story of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus is less reassuring. The caucus is currently comprised of 68 voting members of Congress, including 34 House Republicans – many of whom helped defeat an attempt to remove a provision directing the Department of Defense to prepare for climate change. But its Republican members’ scores averaged just 16 percent. Joining the caucus can be an important step, but it’s simply not enough; we need these Republican members to vote for climate action, to lead on real solutions, and to push their colleagues and party leadership to do better.
While 2017 was clearly full of bad news in our nation’s capital, we made progress as the clean energy revolution marched forward across the globe. To start, state and local leaders across the country have committed to meeting our obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement. In both the West and the Northeast, states have committed to impressive carbon-cutting goals, and, in contrast to the federal level, many Republican-led states – Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada and Ohio – continued to make progress on clean energy. As we fight the unprecedented anti-environmental attacks coming from both Congress and the Trump administration, there will be more and more opportunities to make progress in state capitols, in city halls, and in the marketplace. LCV and our state LCV partners are more determined than ever to build on that progress in the months and years to come.