Overview of the 2015 Scorecard

Without a doubt, 2015 was a historic year for the environment and public health. To start with the good news – and there is a lot of it – President Obama demonstrated incredible leadership on many fronts, especially when it came to confronting the climate crisis. In August, he finalized the Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants – the single largest step our nation has ever taken to address climate change.  In September, he welcomed Pope Francis to Washington to deliver powerful remarks on the moral imperative to act on climate change. In November, after Secretary of State John Kerry found that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline was not in our country’s national interest,  President Obama rejected this dirty and dangerous pipeline once and for all. In December, thanks in large part to the president’s commitment to addressing the climate crisis at home and abroad, nearly 200 countries came together in Paris to forge a truly game-changing international climate change agreement.  President Obama also finalized the Clean Water Rule to protect the drinking water that one in three Americans rely on, designated six national monuments including California’s Berryessa Snow Mountain and Nevada’s Basin and Range, finalized management plans that lay the groundwork for protecting sagebrush habitat in eleven western states, began to address methane pollution from the oil and gas sector and coal-mining on public lands, cancelled Arctic Ocean lease sales following Shell’s abandonment of its drilling efforts, and so much more.

What makes all of this administrative progress not just so impressive but also so necessary is that President Obama accomplished it while simultaneously battling the most anti-environmental Congress in our nation’s history.  While the extreme Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives has already been waging war on the environment and public health for years, the U.S. Senate, led by then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), had served as a backstop against the vast majority of these attacks and prevented them from ever reaching the president’s desk.  But as is often said, elections have consequences, and that was thrown into sharp relief when control of the Senate shifted to climate change denier Mitch McConnell (R-KY). 

Majority Leader McConnell wasted no time getting to work on behalf of his polluter allies, making the Senate’s very first order of business a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.  Choosing to start the new Congress with this harmful legislation was unfortunate; however, the debate and amendments offered on the bill provided an opportunity for senators to take a stand on climate change, clean energy, clean water, public lands, wildlife and other important environmental issues.  In fact, for only the second time in LCV history, we issued a Special Edition Scorecard for a single piece of legislation in February of 2015 as soon as the Senate completed debate on the bill. 

As it turned out, the Keystone debate was just the opening salvo in Leader McConnell’s war on the environment, and over the course of the year the Senate cast an astounding number of votes on the environment and public health.  Indeed, the 2015 National Environmental Scorecard includes 25 Senate votes, the second highest number of Senate votes ever included (the record was 26 votes in 1977) and significantly more Senate votes than are typically included in the Scorecard, reflecting the breadth and depth of attacks both on our cornerstone environmental protections and on the Obama administration’s significant progress.  

While the Senate portion of the 2015 Scorecard is night and day from the Senate Scorecards of the last several years, the House portion looked all too similar to the Scorecards of the last few years.  For the fourth time in five years, the House included an astounding 35 votes – once again earning the dubious distinction of a tie for the largest number of House votes ever included.  

Both chambers seemingly left no environmental issue untouched in 2015. Attacks on our cornerstone environmental laws included the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Antiquities Act. And despite the fact that 2014 and 2015 were the two hottest years on record and included a wave of climate-change-fueled extreme weather events—including devastating droughts in California, forest fires across the West, and toxic algae blooms—far too many members of Congress continue to deny the basic science of climate change and used every legislative trick in the book to try to block the Clean Power Plan and other climate progress.  There were also votes to dramatically increase fossil fuel production at a time when it is clearer than ever that we need to keep dirty fuels in the ground and under the ocean and accelerate our transition to clean energy. 

Fortunately, in virtually every instance, our allies in Congress were able to block these nefarious bills and amendments except for a couple of Congressional Review Act resolutions of disapproval—an extreme and rarely-utilized procedural maneuver—that only required a simple majority vote in the Senate and thus passed the Congress and were vetoed by President Obama.  Not only did environmental champions in Congress block an astonishing array of attacks, they also spoke out more forcefully than ever – whether on the House and Senate floor, in their districts and states, or in the press – about the urgent need to protect the environment and act on climate.

While there was very little actual legislating over the course of the year, one exception was the year-end budget and tax package, which was a real mixed bag for the environment. LCV strongly opposed lifting the crude oil export ban – a massive handout to Big Oil that incentivizes drilling – but the package also included badly-needed multi-year extensions of clean energy tax credits and a short-term reauthorization of America’s best parks program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund. As part of the deal, more than 100 extreme anti-environmental riders were also kept out of the bill.

As we begin 2016, the stakes have never been higher when it comes to protecting the environment and public health, but the opportunities have never been greater.  We commend the Obama administration and our allies in Congress and will double down on our work with them to ensure that the United States continues to lead the way when it comes to combating the climate crisis, transitioning to a clean energy economy, and protecting our air, water, lands, and wildlife.  Onward!