Overview of the 2020 Scorecard
2020 was a year like no other as our nation struggled with four interwoven crises: the coronavirus pandemic, economic inequality, racial injustice, and climate change.
These consequential crises shaped Congress’ agenda and votes – relief and national leadership in a time of vast hardship became overwhelmingly urgent. Yet the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate approached their responses very differently; the House proposed and passed multiple comprehensive policy solutions while the Senate, in response to these crises, remained largely inert, with only a few exceptions.
The 21 House votes in LCV’s 2020 National Environmental Scorecard advanced pro-environmental and pro-democracy bills, provisions, and government funding thanks to strong leadership from Speaker Pelosi and others. In stark contrast, of the 13 Senate votes in the 2020 Scorecard, eight were extreme and partisan nominations both to the federal bench and the Trump administration, and Leader McConnell refused to bring to a vote much needed democracy reforms, climate, water infrastructure, and clean energy investments, and aid to people that the House passed. Across 2020, Leader McConnell jammed through 44 lifetime judicial appointments for President Trump, while only holding votes on 25 bills or resolutions.
The climate crisis continued unabated, harming people’s health, homes, farms, and other property, particularly in communities of color. We experienced the hottest year on record, the worst Atlantic hurricane season on record, the worst West Coast fire season on record, a record 22 climate-fueled disasters that each caused over $1 billion in damage, and total U.S. losses of $95 billion from climate disasters.
Fortunately, Chair Kathy Castor (D-FL) and Democratic members of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis consulted experts and communities all across the nation to devise a roadmap for climate action: “Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America.” The House acted on some of the Select Committee’s recommendations, passing Supplemental Emergency Appropriations (H.R. 5687) for Puerto Rico, which, after three years of insufficient support, is still rebuilding from Hurricane Maria and other devastating hurricanes, and a climate-ambitious infrastructure package, the Moving Forward Act, H.R. 2, to help clean up our electricity and transportation sectors, deliver clean drinking water to communities like Flint, MI, and make our country more resilient to the impacts of climate change. Though the Senate Democrat’s Special Committee on the Climate Crisis also released their blueprint for climate action, the Republican-controlled Senate did not take up either bill, leaving communities with damaged and failing infrastructure that continues to harm their health and wellbeing.
The House's multifaceted response to the climate crisis also included important clean energy legislation. The House passed an energy innovation package, H.R. 4447, that, as amended (vote #203), would greatly increase available funding levels for clean energy programs to advance the transition to 100% clean electricity and decarbonize the transportation and industrial sectors. The 116th Congress concluded on a high note with a year-end omnibus package (H.R. 133) signed into law that included a phase down of climate super pollutants, HFCs; extensions of tax credits for energy efficiency and wind and solar power; and increased clean energy research and innovation funding. Though many more ambitious climate actions are needed to stave off the worst of the climate crisis, these year-end actions provide momentum for a more comprehensive suite of actions in 2021 and beyond.
An extremely positive, and bipartisan, conservation development in 2020 was the enactment of the Great American Outdoors Act (H.R. 1957), which would provide full and permanent funding of $900 million annually for the Land and Water Conservation Fund as well as funding to address the deferred maintenance backlog in our national parks and other public lands. The pandemic has underscored the health benefits of local parks and other public lands and the need to make them more plentiful and accessible for low wealth communities and communities of color. Investments in our public lands will also pay dividends in the fight against climate change, as more lands are protected and restored to allow natural systems to absorb more climate pollution and improve resilience.
2020 was incalculably hard for so many people, and that hardship and loss from COVID-19 continues, especially in communities of color, where longstanding structural and environmental racism have made the health and economic impacts of the pandemic worse. Soot from diesel trucks and polluting industries located disproportionately in communities of color heightens the risk of catching and dying from the virus, and homes in these same communities are more likely to lack or be disconnected for lack of payment from essential utilities like water and electric. These cumulative, compounding impacts motivated our urgent calls to block Trump administration rollbacks of environmental health protections and enforcement, fund environmental justice programs to reduce pollution, and issue moratoria on utility shutoffs. In May, the House passed the Heroes Act, H.R. 6800, to provide these and other necessary relief provisions, respond to the pandemic, and start to deliver more racial and environmental justice. After months of inaction and refusing to negotiate, Senate Republicans put forward an inadequate and dangerous relief package (inserted in S. 178) that failed on the floor for lack of support.
The House majority’s leadership, with an average score of 100 percent, stands in stark contrast to the failure of the Senate majority’s leadership, with an average score of 8 percent, to respond to the pandemic and help families reeling from its economic devastation with the urgency and scale needed. And the breakneck speed with which Leader McConnell rushed to confirm President Trump’s biased Supreme Court pick, Amy Coney Barrett, just days before the 2020 election underscores his hypocritical power grab and misguided focus on nominations to the detriment of tens of millions of peoples’ health and livelihoods. One of the most damaging legacies of Trump’s presidency will be reshaping the federal judiciary with his nomination, and the Senate’s confirmation, of more than 218 extreme and partisan candidates for lifetime appointments. In particular, the Supreme Court wields immense power over the interpretation of our bedrock environmental protections.
As the pandemic laid bare the longstanding racial inequities in our country, our nation witnessed the police killing of George Floyd, and protesters from across the nation demanded systemic policing and criminal justice reforms. The same damaging system -- racism -- is at the root of climate injustice, environmental injustice, and police brutality; these struggles are intertwined and must be addressed together. For the first time, LCV is scoring votes on removing public monuments to racism and policing and criminal justice reform. There is a dire need for changes in policing and criminal justice for so many reasons, including so that Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) can breathe freely and participate equitably in our democracy, including safely protesting, and we must look to 2021 for these necessary changes.
In 2020, we not only faced crises, but amid these crises, more people participated in our democracy – casting their ballot in the 2020 elections -- than ever before. The House passed legislation to help BIPOC participate more equitably in our democracy – for the first time advancing statehood for Washington, D.C. (H.R. 51) and supporting the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) (H.R. 8015), which played an outsized role in the smooth operation of the 2020 elections with more than 65 million people voting by mail, or 40 percent of ballots cast, amidst the pandemic and record turnout. Leader McConnell obstructed and delayed here as well, ignoring the lack of voting representation for the more than 700,000 people living in the District of Columbia, primarily BIPOC, and delaying support for the USPS until after November’s election. There is great anticipation and potential during the 117th Congress to build upon 2020’s high water mark in the fight for equal representation for a majority BIPOC city of more than 700,000 residents.
While 2020 was dominated by a global pandemic, the worst hurricane and wildfire seasons on record, racially-targeted violence and police brutality, and both domestic and foreign government-sponsored voter suppression, it also included the defeat of the most anti-environmental president ever. The dichotomy of Speaker Pelosi’s leadership and action to tackle crises facing our country and Leader McConnell’s complete disregard for the suffering of people left much unfinished business to address the pandemic, environmental injustice, climate change, and racial injustice. With the added momentum of policies that have already passed the House, we have high hopes for enacting transformative change in 2021 as we begin a new year, and new Congress, and a new administration with a pro-environment, pro-climate action trifecta in the White House, the House, and the Senate.