Are Most Americans Dirty? The League of Conservation Voters Thinks So

Is your congressman “pro-environment” or “anti-environmental”

Is your congressman "pro-environment" or "anti-environmental"? Every year, the League of Conservation Voters tries to answer that question for you when it issues its annual Congressional Scorecard, grading members of Congress on their environmental votes. The League then dubs certain members enemies of the environment, selecting the "worst" for their "dirty dozen" election targets. But if one tried applying the LCV test to most Americans, they’d likely find a "dirty" American majority.

The LCV takes positions so far outside of mainstream American values it’s not surprising that the LCV reports a "record" number of members with a zero scores for 1999. More than one third of US Senators scored zero, and sixty percent of House members voted against LCV’s agenda 60 percent of the time.

But what does this record tell us? Most lawmakers, like most Americans, support limited government. That’s because the Scorecard does more to measure ideology, particularly support for big government, than environmental concern. Not surprisingly, as frequent advocates of government programs, Democrats (average score: Senate, 80 percent; House, 78 percent) always do better than limited-government Republicans (average score: Senate, 49 percent, House, 46 percent). Indeed, members gained high environmental marks for supporting spending programs, laws that trample property rights, and heavy regulation.

Nearly all LCV-selected positions push increased federal regulation. But most Americans don’t consider that pro-environment. According to the polling company’s 1999 National Environmental Survey, 66 percent of Americans believe that state and local governments would do a better job protecting the environment than the federal government.

Consider a few specific examples illustrating LCV’s bias for big government and out-of the mainstream thinking.

The LCV scores opposition to US funding of ‘family planning,’ abortion, or population control overseas as anti-environmental. But is it fair to suggest that such funding is an environmental issue? Sixty two percent of Americans don’t support such funding, according to the polling company. And it’s really poverty–not too many people–that poses environmental problems. If LCV wants to address that real concern, they should promote wealth-generating policies that will feed more people, pay for pollution control technology, and generate the willingness to pay for wildlife conservation.

According to the LCV, regulatory accountability is also anti-environmental. The LCV negatively rated members for supporting a provision to the Mandates Information Act that allows members to stop floor proceedings on a bill when it would cost consumers more than $100 million annually. If Congress wants to move the legislation, it could proceed after a simple majority vote. Accordingly, the legislation simply demands that members of Congress consider the impacts of government mandates before passing bills. Americans desire such accountability. In fact, 76 percent of Americans support an even bolder approach that would require Congress to vote on each government regulation before agencies finalize them.

Finally, the LCV rates support for protecting US sovereignty and private property as anti-environmental. House members received negative scores for voting to prohibit US spending to help the United Nations designate US territories as "World Heritage Sites." The LCV contends that such UN designations are simply "symbolic." Yet a UN designation of Yellowstone National Park led to the elimination of mining operations on the nearby New World Mine–a more than symbolic impact. Hence, this vote sought to provide basic protection of US interests and property rights. Americans support such accountability and property rights. For example, the polling company found that that 63 percent of Americans believe individuals should receive compensation from the federal government when its actions impact the value of private land.

Members of Congress should not be fooled into supporting the LCV agenda because it’s not environmental, and it’s contrary to the views of most Americans. The fact that so many members of Congress only received zeros or other low scores indicates that the LCV is out of sync with public opinion. If anyone deserves a zero, it’s the LCV for failing to see what is obvious to most Americans: Pro-environment is not equivalent to pro-big government.

Ms. Logomasini ([email protected]) is director of risk and environmental policy at CEI.