Exploring the nuances of the LCV scorecard and the Climate Solutions Caucus
By Flannery Winchester
Many climate advocates keep an eye on Congress with the help of the League of Conservation Voters’ National Environmental Scorecard. According to the LCV, this annual document “represents the consensus of experts from about 20 respected environmental and conservation organizations,” and takes into account how members of Congress vote on a range of topics, “including energy, climate change, public health, public lands and wildlife conservation, and spending for environmental programs.”
This year, the scorecard’s overview specifically drew attention to the votes of the Climate Solutions Caucus (CSC). LCV stated, “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.”
And indeed, there’s room for improvement. Natasha Geiling at ThinkProgress pointed out that it appears to be a low-scoring year for both chambers of Congress, writing, “The overall average for both the House and the Senate in 2017 was 45 percent — a marked decline from 2009, when the scorecard tallied a record-high 60 percent for the House and 63 percent for the Senate.”
From CCL’s perspective, we feel the scorecard plays the essential role of putting pressure on members of Congress to do better on environmental issues, especially climate change. CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds said, “However, we don’t think the scorecard accurately captures the emerging work being done by the caucus to develop bipartisan solutions to climate change. Much is happening behind the scenes, thanks to the caucus, and we think patience will eventually be rewarded with major legislation to address climate change.”
We took a deeper look into the scorecard’s numbers to see if that “behind the scenes” work may be peeking through, and we found some encouraging signs.
A plurality of caucus Republicans’ scores improved
Republicans’ environmental voting records are generally low—that’s not news. To really understand the impact of the Climate Solutions Caucus, we need to look at these voting scores in context. Have they gotten better since members have spent time on the caucus? For a plurality of the caucus, the answer is yes.
From 2016 to 2017, 15 of the 34 Republican caucus members’ environmental voting scores improved. (An additional 9 were freshmen elected in 2016, with no past score to compare, and the Republican delegate from American Samoa can only vote in committee.)
Indeed, some of those scores showed dramatic improvements. New Jersey Rep. Leonard Lance’s score rose from 13 percent in 2016 to 34 percent in 2017. South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford—a Freedom Caucus member and Climate Solutions Caucus newcomer as of January 2018—jumped from 21 percent in 2016 to 34 percent in 2017. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who has been speaking out on the need for climate action for years, boosted her score to 43 percent.
To be fair, not every Republican caucus member’s voting record improved—some fluctuated down a few points. Even co-chair Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s score was lower this year than his 53 percent in 2016, which could be attributed to the fact that different bills come up year to year, not all of which are focused specifically on climate change.
CCL Senior Congressional Liaison Jay Butera pointed out, “Just 5 of the 35 votes tracked, or 14 percent, were ones I consider climate-relevant: 2 on methane, 1 on renewable energy, 1 on the NDAA climate study, 1 on the social cost of carbon. Since only 14 percent of the tracked bills are related to the mission of the Climate Solutions Caucus, it seems like a poor metric to use in gauging the Members’ intentions on climate.”
This piece from Mother Jones added another consideration: “One caveat is that many representatives from Florida missed a number of votes, due to the time they spent in their districts after Hurricane Irma—those missed votes may have affected their scores.”
But when a plurality of the caucus is moving in the right direction, that’s an encouraging sign that the caucus is achieving one of its goals: building common ground for Republicans and Democrats to come closer together on these issues.
Not to be overlooked are the freshman members of the Climate Solutions Caucus. Some of these members elected in 2016 had voting scores similar to the rest of the Republican caucus, but others definitely stood out.
Caucus members Brian Mast (R-FL) and John Faso (R-NY) have noteworthy records compared to the rest of their Republican colleagues: 23 percent and 34 percent, respectively. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) leads the Republican pack with an impressive 71 percent of pro-environment votes, according to the scorecard. CCL awarded Rep. Fitzpatrick our Climate Leadership Award in June 2017, and his votes show that he is truly taking up that mantle in the Republican Party.
Bridging the gap
The final piece of context that’s worth highlighting is one the League of Conservation Voters themselves pointed out in the overview of their 2017 scorecard: “The House Democratic caucus averaged 94 percent, whereas the House Republican caucus averaged 5 percent.” Those numbers show the huge gulf between the parties on environmental issues.
By contrast, the Republicans on the Climate Solutions Caucus average 16 percent. That 16 percent shows that the Climate Solutions Caucus is chipping away at the toxic partisanship around climate change, making it possible for its members to vote the right way more and more. As these graphs show, we have every reason to expect the Climate Solutions Caucus Republicans’ scores to keep trending upward.
As Rep. Curbelo told InsideClimate News, “We need to celebrate our successes and victories, and I can assure you that while they are not public yet with their positions, there are many more members from deep red districts that understand the reality of climate change and are getting closer and closer to making their positions public.”