Conservation Voters of PA, PennEnvironment, Sierra Club—Pennsylvania Chapter, and Clean Water Action recently released their 2017-2018 Pennsylvania Environmental Voting Scorecard.
The scorecard scores each member of the Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives based on their votes on the most crucial environmental legislation that came before the General Assembly this session, as selected by the groups.
“The goal of the scorecard is to inform the public about crucial legislative decisions that affect them, our environment, and our communities,” said Josh McNeil, executive director of Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania (CVPA). “It also empowers members of the public by providing objective, impartial information they can use to engage with their elected representatives and hold them accountable.”
The organizations reached out to other environmental advocates and non-profit leaders to make sure they were reviewing and scoring the most important and highly-watched environmental votes. More than a dozen of the votes scored represented attacks on the government’s ability to protect people from pollution.
“Sadly far too many legislators continue to cast their vote on behalf of polluters and their well-heeled lobbyists,” explained Steve Hvozdovich, Clean Water Action’s Pennsylvania campaigns director. “A common thread of these attacks centered on the idea of ‘regulatory reform,’ an innocent-seeming phrase that can cover a multitude of bad actions.”
The so-called regulatory reform legislative package of 2018 included several bills designed to completely disrupt the ability of the Department of Environmental Protection to do its job and protect the residents of the commonwealth.
Only two pieces of legislation among all of the votes scored can be considered pro-environment: the creation of the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy Program to spur investment in clean energy and a bill to make it harder to seize conserved land by eminent domain.
The paucity of pro-environment legislation is due to the lack of legislative leadership, according to David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment.
“What we should all remember about this session is the legislation that was left on the table and never brought up for a vote—bills that would’ve improved air and water quality, moved us towards clean energy, and protected public health,” said Masur. “It might seem unimaginable, but among the bills leadership buried were efforts to put Pennsylvania on track to getting 100% of its energy from renewable sources, to test schools for lead hazards, and to protect our children from lead poisoning.”
Nevertheless, 81 lawmakers in total—62 from the State House and 19 from the State Senate— earned the distinction of “Environmental Champion,” with a perfect score of 100 percent.
Standing in stark contrast are the 18 members of the General Assembly—11 from the House and seven from the State Senate—who received 0 percent.
Environmental Champions make up less than one-third of the General Assembly, a sizable impediment to passing the laws and securing the resources needed to properly restore and safeguard the state’s environment for generations to come.
“All Pennsylvanians should be grateful to the Environmental Champions in the General Assembly for refusing to capitulate to the powerful business interests that are preventing a pro-environment agenda in Harrisburg,” said Joanne Kilgour, director of the Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania Chapter. “One can only hope that the voters of Pennsylvania will use the latest Environmental Scorecard to identify legislators who are truly looking out for the health and quality of life of all Pennsylvanians.”
To provide the public with a more complete understanding of legislators’ voting records on the environment, the 2017-2018 scorecard included a lifetime score for each legislator for the first time. This score is based on legislators’ votes on previous environmental scorecards since the 2007–2008 legislative session.
While this may only reflect a portion of the careers of long-standing legislators and will be less relevant for recently elected lawmakers, the lifetime score will help give context to each legislator’s views on environmental issues over time.
“Democracy works best when the public has the facts to make smart decisions,” explained CVPA’s McNeil. “This scorecard is meant to give the general public and constituents the facts they need in order to know how well their elected officials are representing them, as opposed to big polluters and their allies.”
Click here for a copy of the 2017-2018 scorecard.