In 2011, the Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives unleashed a truly breathtaking and unprecedented assault on the environment and public health, the breadth and depth of which have made the current House of Representatives the most anti-environmental in our nation’s history. The 2011 National Environmental Scorecard is a sad testament to the radical nature of the first session of the 112th Congress in the House; this Scorecard includes so many votes that the House votes section spans two pages for the first time ever.
The 2011 National Environmental Scorecard includes 35 House votes, which is far more than have ever been included in any previous Scorecard. But to be clear: many others warranted inclusion and would have been included in a typical year. In fact, all told there were more than 200 House votes on the environment and public health in 2011. 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.
The good news is that while the House voted against the environment an unprecedented number of times, both the U.S. Senate and the Obama administration stood firm against the vast majority of these attacks. Indeed, not only did the nation’s bedrock environmental protections emerge largely unscathed from 2011, the Obama administration also made major progress through administrative actions to protect our air and water.
The first session of the 112th Congress got off to a particularly appalling start with H.R. 1, the House Continuing Resolution spending bill, must-pass legislation to fund the federal government and avoid a shut down. Even before it reached the House floor, H.R. 1 included sweeping assaults on the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the wildlife and wild places Americans hold dear; it also made drastic cuts to transit, energy efficiency, and renewable energy while protecting the profits of polluting industries. As if that weren’t enough, members of Congress proceeded to offer a dizzying array of anti-environmental riders to H.R. 1 on the House floor. In light of what was at the time the most anti-environmental bill ever, the League of Conservation Voters took the extraordinary step of creating a Continuing Resolution Special Edition National Environmental Scorecard. Nine of those 25 votes are included here.
Even though H.R. 1 included more attacks on the environment and public health than usually occur in an entire year, the House Republican leadership was just getting started. An astounding number of attacks soon followed and were sustained over the course of the year. Indeed, the parade of horrible House votes in 2011 left virtually no aspect of the environment and public health untouched.
In the summer months alone, the House voted on numerous bills and amendments with major implications for our air, water, land, and wildlife. These include sweeping bills such as the FY 12 House Interior and Environment Appropriations bill, which was brought to the House floor with more than three dozen anti-environmental riders already included, thus replacing H.R. 1 as the single worst attack ever on the environment and public health. Fortunately, that bill was pulled from consideration and never passed the House. There were targeted attacks on environmental statutes, including the Clean Water Act, which threatened the quality and safety of the water Americans use for fishing, swimming, and drinking. There were bills to cut much-needed funding for energy efficiency, climate change adaptation, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of the Interior. Additionally, there was legislation to expedite a decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, a dangerous project that would transport the dirtiest oil on the planet right through the middle of the United States in order to export it. The House took many other anti-environmental votes during the summer as well.
As if the House had not yet done enough damage, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) released a fall agenda just before the House returned from its August recess in which he laid out plans to gut ten so-called “job-killing regulations,” most of which are critically important to protecting public health and the environment. The House voted on the Cantor Agenda throughout the fall, passing an unprecedented nine abysmal bills between mid-September and early December. These included multiple rollback bills to prevent the EPA from enacting critical regulations under the Clean Air Act to protect public health and the environment, as well as to block specific rules to reduce mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants, cement kilns, industrial boilers and incinerators.
Fortunately, the Senate stood in sharp contrast to the House in 2011. There are just 11 Senate votes included in the 2011 National Environmental Scorecard, and they include strong rebukes to House votes on key issues such as upholding new rules to reduce power plant pollution and defending the EPA’s ability to issue lifesaving public health protections. While the Senate was able to block many of the most damaging bills passed by the House, the Obama administration also made clear its opposition to the House agenda, offering numerous strong statements that catering to polluters is not a jobs agenda. The Obama administration also made major progress through administrative action on the next round of fuel efficiency and global warming emissions standards for cars, the Cross State Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to reduce power plant pollution, a delay of the harmful Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and more. That is not to say there were not disappointments on the administrative side, including the decision to delay critically needed updated smog standards, but on balance the Obama administration accomplished a lot in 2011.
As we begin 2012, it could not be clearer that we stand at a crossroads when it comes to the kind of planet we will leave our children. LCV is grateful to the Obama administration, the Senate, allies in the House, and the millions of people across the country who helped to ensure that the House leadership did not succeed in gutting our nation’s cornerstone environmental and public health protections in 2011. We look forward to continuing to work together in 2012 and beyond to protect the planet for future generations.