The First Woman (and Most Pro-Environment) Speaker of the House

Mar 29, 2019

By Craig Auster, PAC & Advocacy Partnerships Director

Nancy Pelosi has made history, time and again. The first woman to serve as minority whip. The first woman to serve as minority leader and head a major party in Congress. The first woman to serve as speaker of the House.

But an important piece of history that receives less attention is the leading role Speaker Pelosi has played in addressing climate change and protecting clean air, clean water and our public lands. As the leader of our new pro-environment House majority, Pelosi has already showed her commitment to tackling the climate crisis, reinstating the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, and recently supporting the introduction of H.R. 9, the Climate Action Now Act, which will ensure our country honors its commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement. These are actions that ensure climate change is and will remain central to this Congress’ agenda.

In addition, Speaker Pelosi is leading a caucus that includes a number of strong pro-environment women who have crucial leadership roles in the 116th Congress:

And,  more pro-environment women will chair full committees in the House than ever in history:

Of course, Pelosi’s environmental leadership doesn’t come as a surprisesince the very beginning of her political career, we’ve known Pelosi to be an environmental champion.

A Pro-environment Star is Born

First elected in a special election in 1987, she ran on the environment and has made it a priority ever since, sponsoring or co-sponsoring hundreds of environmental and clean energy bills and resolutions. In 1989, in her first full term, Pelosi was an original co-sponsor of bipartisan climate legislation, the Global Warming Prevention Act. That same year, what became known as the “Pelosi Amendment,” set strong standards for environmental assessments and public disclosure by multilateral international development banks. During her tenure in Congress, she has earned an outstanding 94 percent lifetime score on LCV’s National Environmental Scorecard, including a perfect 100 percent in 2018.

Ascending to Leadership

Not only did Pelosi consistently champion environmental legislation, but as she gained influence in Congress, the environment was a cornerstone of her policies.  In 1992, the Los Angeles Times wrote about her rising prominence in the Democratic Party and called attention to her leadership for the environment, saying that Pelosi:

Has emerged from relative obscurity to become one of the Democrats’ rising national stars. She has played a key role as co-chair of the Democratic Party Platform Committee in proposing solutions to the nation’s economic, environmental and social problems

Leading the House Democratic Caucus

A decade later, Pelosi became the leader of the House Democratic Caucus and one of the most powerful voices opposing the Bush administration’s extreme anti-environmental agenda. As LCV noted in our 2004 endorsement, “She continues to fight against the Administration’s proposal to weaken mercury regulations, the cuts in funding for critical environmental programs in the 2005 budget, and the Administration’s opposition to reinstating the Superfund polluter pays fee.”

Her strategic and effective opposition to President Bush’s unpopular agenda led the Democrats to pick up 31 seats in the House and retake the majority for the first time since 1994.

Speaker of the House, Round I

After her historic election as the first woman to serve as speaker of the House in 2007 and despite a divided government, Pelosi immediately set about fulfilling her campaign pledges, including creating the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. She introduced the Green Jobs Act and launched the “Green the Capitol” initiative to make the Capitol a model of sustainability.

After President Obama’s election, under Speaker Pelosi’s leadership, the House took a number of important steps in 2009 to address the climate crisis and invest in clean energy. The stimulus bill included the single largest investment in clean energy in history, $90 billion plus leveraging almost $150 billion in private and other capital. A few months later, the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the first comprehensive climate legislation to pass a chamber of Congress. Later that year, Speaker Pelosi led a 20-member delegation to the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.     

Defending Progress as Democratic Leader

The Tea Party wave of 2010 ground progress on climate in Congress to a halt, and as Democratic Leader, Pelosi led the resistance to the extreme anti-environment Republican leadership of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, and now President Trump. Once again, her hard work, determination and political skills led her caucus to victory in the midterm elections, with Democrats picking up 40 net seats in 2018, the most seats since the post-Watergate election.

Speaker of the House, Round II

After Pelosi became the first woman to be re-elected speaker, she immediately  promised to reinstate the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and called climate change “the existential threat of our time” in her first speech as Speaker. Already, Speaker Pelosi’s House has turned the page on eight long years of climate denial and is tackling climate change head-on.


We’re thrilled to work with Speaker Pelosi and so many committed pro-environment women leaders in the House this Women’s History Month and every month.