Environmental Zeroes and Heroes of the 104th Congress
All eyes are on the presidential contenders in the coming election, which is too bad, because (Bill Clinton being a jellyfish) it makes less difference who sits in the White House than which party dominates Congress. One of the vital matters hanging on that difference is the environment.
The starkness of the contrast between the two parties is revealed by a report on last year's Congress just put out by the League of Conservation Voters. The first Congress in decades with Republican majorities in both houses could not be assessed by its pro-environment votes, because it created NO pro-environment measures to vote on. Rather, there was a steady stream of attempts to tear down environmental laws. The LCV could rate members only by the extent to which they refused to go along with the pillaging and sacking.
By this standard, about one-fourth of the members -- 111 in the House and 24 in the Senate -- achieved an LCV rating of zero -- a perfect anti-environmental record. Earning a zero, meant, for example, voting to roll back safeguards on drinking water; to take away peoples' right to know what toxics are emitted by factories in their neighborhoods; to stop listing endangered species; to sell off public lands; to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; to subsidize the next generation of nuclear reactors; to give away rights to minerals on public lands; to stop funding international family planning programs; and to slash the budget of the EPA, so it can't enforce whatever environmental laws do remain on the books.
Every one of the environmental zeroes was a Republican. Here are the 24 Senators who earned that rating: Ashcroft (MO), Bennett (UT), Bond (MO), Burns (MT), Cochran (MS), Craig (ID), Dole (KS), Faircloth (NC), Frist (TN), Gorton (WA), Grams (MN), Hatch (UT), Helms (NC), Hutchison (TX), Kempthorne (ID), Kyl (AZ), Lott (MS), McConnell (KY), Murkowski (AK), Packwood (OR), Pressler (SD), Santorum (PA), Shelby (AL), Thurmond (SC).
I hope you spotted the name Dole there in the middle. It does make SOME difference who's president!
There are also heroes on the LCV list, almost as many as zeroes. Twenty three Senators voted against every environmental attack and earned ratings of 100. They are all Democrats: Biden (DE), Boxer (CA), Bumpers (AR), Daschle (SD), Dodd (CT), Feingold (WI), Glenn (OH), Graham (FL), Kennedy (MA), Kerry (MA), Kohl (WI), Lautenberg (NJ), Leahy (VT), Levin (MI), Liebermann (CT), Moynihan (NY), Murray (WA), Pryor (AR), Robb (VA), Rockefeller (WV), Sarbanes (MD), Simon (IL), Wellstone (MN).
That was the Senate. There isn't enough space here to list the 111 zeroes and XX? heroes in the House, but if you'd like the list, call the League of Conservation Voters (NUMBER) or zoom on the Web to http://www.lcv.org.
Senate Democrats averaged 89 on the LCV list, while Republicans scored 11. In the House the Democrats averaged 76, Republicans 15. The infamous 73 freshman House Republicans started out voting as a block for every environmental desecration, but some couldn't stomach it for long. Eight of them declined to weaken the Clean Water Act, and by last fall, when the nastiest anti-environmental riders were going through, 13 of the freshmen voted for the environment every time. (36 voted against every time.)
Partial heroes were Republicans who defied their party often enough to accumulate fair pro-environment records. In the Senate they included Chafee (RI) with a rating of 57, Cohen (ME) 71, Jeffords (VT) 64, Snowe (ME) 64. In the House Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (NY) managed to organize as many as 60 Republican votes for the environment.
So voting Republican isn't necessarily a vote for dirty air and dirty water; it depends on whether you have a "conservation conservative" to vote for. But insofar as you help either house retain its Republican majority, you are handing power to a party whose hostility to the environment and contempt for the intelligence of the voters is deeply disturbing. The best way I know to demonstrate that claim is to quote from the "Pro-Active, Pro-Environment Agenda" circulated by the House Republican leadership last October.
"As we all know, the environmentalist lobby and their extremist friends in the eco-terrorist underworld have been working overtime to define Republicans ... as anti-environment, pro-polluter, and hostile to the survival of every cuddly critter roaming God's green earth.... There are very real and very effective steps you can take in your districts to .. insulate yourself from the attacks of the green extremists."
The recommended steps include tree planting ("consider contacting local nurseries who may donate trees for the cause"), speaking at Earth Day activities, recycling in the office, cleaning up a piece of highway ("have plenty of supporters on cite [sic] at the press conference"), and visiting a local zoo.
"The next time Bruce Babbit [sic] comes to your district and canoes down a river ... to tell the press how anti-environment their congressman is, if reporters have been to your boss' adopt-a-highway clean-up, two of his tree plantings, and his Congressional Task Force on Conservation hearings, they'll just laugh Babbit back to Washington." Then you can go ahead and trash the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the EPA -- until your constituents decide that the air and the water matter to them and that you shouldn't be returned to office.
(Donella H. Meadows is an adjunct professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College.)