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Iowa Congressional voting on the environment: Not a pretty picture

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 10:55:00 AM CST


The future of Iowa's Congressional representation is not encouraging, judging from the latest League of Conservation Voters' scorecard.
desmoinesdem :: Iowa Congressional voting on the environment: Not a pretty picture
The League of Conservation Voters recently published its 2012 National Environmental Scorecard (pdf). For every member of Congress, you can find the score for votes taken only in 2012, the score for votes taken during the 112th Congress (2011 and 2012), and the lifetime score for all the years that person has served in Congress.

The League of Conservation Voters scored 14 U.S. Senate votes during 2012. You can find a description of each vote on pages 7 through 11 of the report. Tables showing each senator's total score and action on every significant environmental vote are on pages 12 through 17.

Iowa's Republican Senator Chuck Grassley scored a 14 out of a possible 100 for his votes in 2012. He cast the anti-environment vote on 12 of the scored legislative items. Twice he cast pro-environment votes: once relating to the military's investment in alternative fuels, and another time related to conservation programs on private farmland. Grassley's score for the 112th Congress (that is, the last two years combined) was only 8 out of a possible 100. That's down significantly from his lifetime League of Conservation Voters score of 21. Some Senate Republicans scored even worse than Grassley; a few scored significantly better.

Democratic Senator Tom Harkin's voting on environmental issues has improved lately. He scored 93 percent for 2012, voting the "wrong" way only once, relating to an amendment on genetically-modified farm-raised salmon. Harkin's score was 92 for the 112th Congress, an improvement on his lifetime League of Conservation Voters score of 83.

Harkin's voting record is about average for a Senate Democrat. Quite a few members of the Senate Democratic caucus tied his score of 93 for 2012. Sixteen Senate Democrats voted the anti-environmental position more often than Harkin did in 2012.

Turning to the House of Representatives scores, things start to look really ugly. The report notes that during 2012, the Republican-controlled House "continued its war on the environment, public health, and clean energy throughout 2012, cementing its record as the most anti-environmental House in our nation's history."

The 2012 National Environmental Scorecard includes 35 House votes, which is the same number as in the 2011 Scorecard, but far more than were ever included in any Scorecard before that. These 35 votes are what we consider the most significant House votes on the environment from throughout the year. Many others warranted inclusion and would have been included in a typical year. In fact, all told there were more than a hundred House votes on the environment and public health in 2012. In many cases, only final passage votes are included here, even though lawmakers voted on countless amendments with enormous environmental implications. With rare exception, amendments to improve anti-environmental bills failed, while amendments to make them even worse passed.

Over the course of the year, the U.S. House left virtually no environmental issue untouched. They forced votes on sweeping bills attacking cornerstone environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. One bill to gut the Clean Air Act was so breathtaking it was dubbed "The War on Lungs." There were also countless attempts to promote drilling at all costs, including a bill so brazen it was dubbed "Oil Above All." There was also a ruse of a transportation bill that would have increased our dependence on oil, threatened our coasts and other special places, and legislatively approved the harmful Keystone XL tar sands pipeline while doing nothing to advance a forward-looking transportation policy. There were massive assaults on our natural heritage, including national monuments, national parks, national forests, coastlines, and wildlife such as salmon, sea turtles, and migratory birds. And even as evidence of the growing climate crisis became painfully obvious, a majority in the U.S. House repeatedly voted against efforts to confront it.

Bleeding Heartland covered some of these votes, such as the "Stop the War on Coal Act," backed by four of Iowa's five House members. But even though I try to follow Congressional voting closely, I was shocked by the number of terrible House votes on the environment during 2012.

You can find descriptions of the 35 scored votes on pages 18 through 29 of this pdf file. Charts showing all of the House members' votes on each issue follow; the Iowans' votes are on pages 40 and 41.

I have criticized some environmental scorecards before, because they may count missed votes as anti-environmental votes. This year that didn't affect any Iowan significantly, although it did unjustly lower the score of at least one House Democrat, Louise Slaughter of New York.

As one would expect based on their past voting records, Steve King and Tom Latham back the anti-environmental position almost all of the time. Latham received a score of 6 percent for 2012 and 9 percent for the 112th Congress as a whole. His lifetime League of Conservation Voters score is just 8 percent.

King received a score of 9 for 2012 and for the 112th Congress, but his lifetime score is even lower at 5 percent. The League of Conservation Voters gave both King and Latham credit for supporting the National Flood Insurance program and clean energy funding in 2012, but they voted the "wrong" way on just about everything else.

Leonard Boswell, who lost his re-election bid against Latham in November, has long had the worst environmental voting record among Iowa Democrats in Congress. In 2012, Boswell scored even lower than usual for him, 46 percent. His score for the 112th Congress was 56 out of a possible 100, below his already-poor (for a Democrat) lifetime score of 61. Going through the whole report, I found that only 18 House Democrats had a worse voting record on the environment than Boswell did during 2012.

Once upon a time, Dave Loebsack (IA-02) was a reliable pro-environment vote. Not any longer. In 2012 he had a League of Conservation Voters score of 69; only 27 House Democrats scored worse last year. Loebsack's score for the 112th Congress was 81, causing his lifetime environmental voting record to slide to 87 percent. When Democrats controlled the House, Loebsack wasn't faced with a lot of tough choices on environmental votes. With Republicans in control, he often appears not to want to stick his neck out.

Bruce Braley (IA-01) chalked up the best score in the Iowa delegation with 83 for his environmental votes during 2012. His score for the 112th Congress was 84, not far below his lifetime score of 88. A lot of House Democrats tied Braley's score for 2012, but he's still below average in his caucus. Only 52 House Democrats voted against the environment more often during 2012 than Braley did.

I expect worse environmental voting from Braley going forward, because he's leaving his Congressional district with a partisan voting index of D+5 to run for statewide office in 2014. I expect Loebsack to continue on roughly the same track during the next two years, as he tries to hold his D+4 House seat in a midterm election.

If Braley is elected to the U.S. Senate in 2014, I expect his environmental voting to be comparable to Tom Harkin's lifetime score, rather than Harkin's higher scores from 2011 and 2012.

Any relevant thoughts are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Iowa's House members missed a handful of votes scored by the League of Conservation Voters last year. Braley was absent when the House voted to instruct conferees to insist on including the Keystone XL oil pipeline in the final version of a transportation bill. Loebsack, Boswell, Latham, and King all supported this motion. Based on Braley's previous public statement supporting KeystoneXL, I assume he also would have cast the anti-environment vote here.

Loebsack was absent when the House defeated an amendment to "reduce funding for fossil fuel research and development programs by $554 million." The League of Conservation Voters considers yes to be the pro-environment vote here, on the grounds that "Taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize fossil fuel research when energy companies have every incentive to pay for it themselves. Moreover, taxpayer dollars spent on fossil fuels are resources diverted away from investments in clean energy technologies that do not pollute the planet and do not contribute to climate change.

Ironically, Steve King was Iowa's only "pro-environment" vote on this amendment. He presumably supported it as a vehicle to reduce federal spending; King doesn't generally fight legislation that's good for fossil fuels industries. Braley, Boswell and Latham all helped defeat that amendment, I assume Loebsack would also have voted no (which in this case was the anti-environment vote).

Latham was absent when the House voted to instruct conferees to "remove the authority for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ever revisit a coal ash-specific federal standard, an unprecedented revocation of the EPA's authority to protect Americans from exposure to toxic waste." Among the Iowans in the House, only Braley voted against this amendment (the pro-environment vote). Boswell, Loebsack, and King all helped pass this motion. Since fewer than ten House Republicans voted against the motion, and Latham's record on similar issues tracks closely with King's, I assume that Latham would have taken the anti-environment position here.

King was absent when the House rejected an amendment to "eliminate $100 million in the bill for uranium enrichment research by the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC), a company long beset by technical and financial troubles. This subsidy would support the production of nuclear materials for use in commercial nuclear power reactors and nuclear weapons." The League of Conservation Voters considers a yes vote to be "pro-environment" here. Braley, Loebsack, Boswell, and Latham all cast anti-environment votes to help defeat the amendment. I wouldn't venture to guess where King would have landed on this amendment. The yes votes were an unusual combination of House progressives (who oppose nuclear power) and tea party conservatives (who oppose wasteful government spending). Plenty of King's close allies in the House Republican caucus were among the 60 GOP "pro-environment" votes here.

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