Background on the National Environmental Scorecard
The nonprofit League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has published a National Environmental Scorecard every Congress since 1970, the year it was founded by leaders of the environmental movement following the first Earth Day. LCV believes our earth is worth fighting for because everyone has a right to clean air, water, lands, and a safe, healthy community.
This edition of the National Environmental Scorecard provides objective, factual information about the most important environmental legislation considered and the corresponding voting records of all members of the first session of the 117th Congress. This Scorecard represents the consensus of experts from more than 20 respected environmental, environmental justice, and conservation organizations who selected the key votes on which members of Congress should be scored. LCV scores votes on the most important issues of the year, including energy, climate change, public health, environmental and racial justice, worker protection, democracy, public lands and wildlife conservation, and spending for environmental programs. The votes included in this Scorecard presented members of Congress with a real choice and help distinguish which legislators are working for environmental protection. Except in rare circumstances, the Scorecard excludes consensus action on the environment and issues on which no recorded votes occurred.
Dedicated environmentalists and national leaders volunteered their time to identify and research crucial votes. We extend special thanks to our Board of Directors, Issues & Accountability Committee, and Scorecard Advisory Committee for their valuable input. We also thank Sam Bleicher, whose generous support is making possible the widespread distribution of the Scorecard.
Overview of the 2021 National Environmental Scorecard
This year’s National Environmental Scorecard reflects a year that was truly like no other. In 2021, communities across the country were harmed by the undeniable, negative impacts of climate change—nearly 40% of our country’s population was affected by a climate changefueled disaster in 2021. Costs are also piling up, with over $145 billion in damages accumulating for just the top 20 worst extreme weather disasters in 2021. And these economic costs do not account for all of the other harms the climate crisis has caused, including approximately 700 lives lost last year, the livelihoods destroyed by disasters, or cumulative health effects fueled by climate change.
The year started with horrifying, violent attacks on our democracy at the U.S. Capitol, elevating an unsettling ideology that some radical state and local officials across the country perpetuated with policies meant to block or discourage voters of color, students, and other targeted groups from exercising their fundamental democratic right. In the past 50 years, we have never felt it necessary to score the basic votes that uphold our country’s peaceful transfer of power and electoral outcomes. This year was different. With the unprecedented January 6th insurrection and so many Republican members of Congress’ attacks on the fundamental tenets of our country’s governance, we scored these votes in both chambers. These times demand action to protect our democracy and voting rights. As a result, this Scorecard includes a particularly high percentage of scored votes related to democracy in both chambers.
The year was challenging for other reasons as well—February marked the first full year of the COVID-19 pandemic in this country, and the entire calendar year was shrouded by the pandemic and its fallout. Congressional leaders and the White House responded with the American Rescue Plan, which helped address the public health crisis by launching mass vaccination centers and targeted vaccination drives and prepared our medical system for future waves of infection.
Over the course of 2021, our country became better able to handle and did more to address the challenges of the pandemic and climate change, in no small part because of the pro-environment, pro-democracy leaders that voters elected to the White House and Congress. After voters spoke in 2020, climate and justice activists pushed, with the utmost urgency, for these leaders to tackle the interwoven climate and racial justice crises. President Biden, Senate Leader Schumer, and Speaker Pelosi put together a historic package of investments to deploy climate solutions, support high-quality clean energy jobs, and advance environmental justice—the Build Back Better package our communities and the planet so urgently need. This transformational legislation passed the House and garnered overwhelming support in the evenly split Senate before the end of the year, despite Republican opposition to these forward-looking steps towards a livable planet for our children. LCV and so many others continue to urge the Senate to pass these necessary and overdue climate, jobs, and justice investments.
We scored a record 34 Senate votes in 2021. This high volume of votes reflects the many essential, well-qualified, and diverse executive branch nominees approved (14 scored), the six justice and democracy votes we felt were critical to include, and the eight anti-environmental amendments as part of three budget process-related ‘vote-aramas.’ Also, we scored passage of the successful resolution that nullified the Trump administration’s elimination of methane pollution standards for oil and gas operations. And although we did not score its passage vote, the White House-negotiated bipartisan infrastructure law will deliver funding for some environmental justice and water infrastructure priorities. Overall, the legislative productiveness of the chamber stands in stark contrast to the large legislative graveyard of Senator Mitch McConnell’s rule.
Given the interwoven national crises we face and coming off the environmentally disastrous Trump presidency, it was critical for the Biden-Harris administration to have competent, diverse, proenvironmental leaders confirmed to positions across the government. After all, “personnel is policy” and this cadre of federal officials are instrumental in mounting the necessary all-of-government approach to tackling climate change, COVID-19, and systemic racism. Three of 14 personnel votes were for nominees to the circuit courts—essential presidential appointments that were a part of a near record-number of judicial nominees approved by the Senate. These circuit court judges will safeguard the judiciary branch from Trump-appointed conservative idealogues who have expressed interest, even before being appointed, of dismantling environmental and public health protections our communities rely upon.
In the House, the 22 scored votes included proenvironment infrastructure and government funding packages, and protections against toxic PFAS, but the crowning achievement was passage of the transformational Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376). The bill would put our nation on track to meet the test of cutting climate pollution in half by 2030 while centering environmental justice and creating and sustaining millions of good-paying union jobs. LCV has made the decision to double-score the House vote on the Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376), a rarely-used practice employed only for landmark bills. The other key votes tell a similar story of a nation dealing with heightened threats to our democracy, persistent systemic racism, and the ever-worsening injustices of the climate crisis. Half of the House’s scored votes—also a proportionately large number—were justice and democracy-related votes, including the much-needed voting rights bills that would ensure everyone has access to the ballot box and votes would not be silenced by partisan gerrymandering and polluter money in elections.
2021 was a year of historic opportunities and consequential challenges—and having proenvironment leaders across both chambers and the White House made all the difference for what Congress and the administration could accomplish for families and communities everywhere. But the size and scope of the unfinished business is considerable. We see 2021 as the foundation for accomplishing transformational change in 2022 through the climate, environmental justice, and clean energy jobs investments of the Build Back Better agenda. Time is running out to act on climate, and failure is not an option.
Highlight on Democracy
2021 was an unprecedented year for our democracy. In good news, voters elected federal leaders who better reflect the diversity of our country—notably, former Senator Kamala Harris became the first African American, Asian-American, and Woman vice president, and Reverend Raphael Warnock became the first AfricanAmerican senator from Georgia, the home of so many civil rights leaders and battles. In the same year, we experienced unprecedented attempts to subvert our democracy. A president openly attempted to overturn the election results by inciting an insurrection on the Capitol, encouraged members of his party to vote against the certification of the election, and supported efforts to restrict access to the ballot box.
The health of our democracy and our environment are deeply intertwined. Far too often, people of color and frontline communities are forced to bear disproportionately high burdens of pollution, and years of restrictive voting laws and partisan gerrymandering that limit their voice and political power have been a core part of perpetuating these environmental injustices. Restricting the right to vote, as some anti-democracy-controlled state and local governments are doing, when our democracy is being attacked and our climate is at a tipping point, is the opposite of what our country needs.
This unprecedented year resulted in scoring a record number of democracy-related votes in both chambers, as voters continued to press for action to protect voting rights and our democratic fundamentals. We are scoring multiple votes concerning the certification of the 2020 election—normally unchallenged, procedural votes—to highlight their fundamental importance to our democracy and in turn, to protecting our communities and the environment. Near-unanimous Republican opposition stood in the way of House-passed democracy and voting rights bills from advancing to President Biden’s desk. Now is a defining moment in our democracy’s history and the imperative for elected officials is clear—do what it takes to safeguard our democratic institutions and voting rights.