The 111th Congress started off with great promise for the environment, most significantly with House passage of comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation. As the 2010 National Environmental Scorecard reflects, the successes of 2009 were followed by an incredibly disappointing second session in 2010. Indeed, the most important votes of 2010 are the ones that didn’t happen: first and most importantly, the Senate failed to even begin debate on a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill that would have created jobs, increased America’s energy independence, and protected the planet from carbon pollution; next, the Senate failed to respond to the greatest environmental disaster in our nation’s history — the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Even as the Senate failed to take up a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) tried to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from moving forward with commonsense steps to reduce carbon pollution. Her resolution would have undermined the historic clean cars standards, given polluters a free pass to spew unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the atmosphere, and overturned the EPA’s science-based finding that carbon pollution presents a clear threat to public health and welfare. This legislation was so egregious that LCV has taken the unusual step of double scoring the vote on it to convey just how high a priority it was to defeat this resolution.
Unfortunately, the best that can be said of Senate environmental action in 2010 is that a majority of senators voted to reject the Murkowski resolution. After a vocal minority of senators blocked action on a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill, the Senate failed to respond to the oil spill disaster in the Gulf. Although Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and other senators crafted an oil spill response bill, it was pulled when it became clear there were not 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.
Whether blocking action on a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill or on a response to the disaster in the Gulf or on any number of other issues, the filibuster enabled a vocal minority of senators closely allied with Big Oil and Dirty Coal to stand in the way of progress throughout 2010. In fact, the 2010 National Environmental Scorecard includes only six different Senate votes — a paltry and disappointing number that reflects the extent to which environmental opponents stymied efforts to even debate key legislation.
Of the six different Senate votes included, only two were pro-environment and both were defeated. One would have cut subsidies to oil and gas companies, and the other would have eliminated tax breaks for the top income earners and invested the savings in renewable energy. The other Senate votes, in addition to the Murkowski resolution, include a delay of implementation of the EPA’s lead paint rule, an anti-environmental border fence amendment, and an extension of the environmentally harmful biodiesel tax credit.
Thanks to the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the House didn’t take up any of the Dirty Air Acts pushed by representatives who sought to prevent the EPA from moving forward with protecting public health and holding polluters accountable under the Clean Air Act. In light of the fact that there were no floor votes on this top priority issue, LCV has taken the highly unusual step of scoring
cosponsorship of any of these bills.
In its most significant environmental action of the year, the House passed a bill to respond to the oil spill disaster in the Gulf. The House also considered other legislation, including votes to boost energy efficiency, prevent ocean acidification, reduce algal blooms, restore the Upper Mississippi River Basin, expand water education, protect our estuaries, and expand the San Antonio Missions Park. Alas, the Senate failed to act on many of these modest House successes, resulting in a dismal legislative session across the board.
As we reflect on the disappointments of 2010, LCV is all too aware that 2011 will bring even more challenges when it comes to protecting the environment and public health and bringing about a clean energy future. Unfortunately, we lost many environmental champions in the 2010 elections, and in many cases they have been replaced by climate change deniers who have been quite vocal about their disdain for commonsense safeguards to protect our air and water. The new House leadership has also made clear that it is intent on undoing decades of environmental progress during the 112th Congress.
Despite the lack of progress in 2010 and the uphill battle we face in 2011, the importance of these issues remains unchanged. LCV will be there at every step of the way in 2011 and beyond, working to protect the environment and public health and transition our nation to a clean energy economy.