League of Conservation Voters “Scorecard”: Most Americans Are “Dirty”

Every year, the League of Conservation Voters issues a “Congressional Scorecard.” Supposedly, this Scorecard tells the American public which members of Congress support environmental causes and which are “anti-environmental” by grading them on selected environmental votes. They then dub members as enemies of the environment and eventually select the “worst” for their “dirty dozen” election targets. But the votes the LCV scores actually rank members on their support for big government–not the environment. Members receive high scores if they support big spending programs, laws that trample property rights, and heavy regulation. Moreover, many of the positions that the LCV takes are contrary to what most Americans believe. In fact, if one tried applying the LCV test to most Americans, one would find a “dirty” American majority. Consider some specifics:

  • Nearly all LCV-selected positions reward members for supporting increased federal regulation. But Americans recognize that increased federal control is not necessarily pro-environment. According to a 1999 poll conducted by the polling company for the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), 66 percent of Americans believe that state and local governments would do a better job protecting the environment than the federal government. 1

  • One Scorecard selection rewards members for supporting a policy to allow the Department of Transportation to make Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards more stringent. But that would lead to smaller cars and more fatalities. As CEI’s Legal Counsel Sam Kazman recently noted, “Given the overwhelming evidence that CAFE kills people by downsizing cars, the LCV’s rating of CAFE votes demonstrates that, when it comes to conservation, human life ranks at the bottom of this group’s priorities.” 2 In fact, according to a CEI study, between 2,600 and 4,500 automobile fatalities in 1997 can be attributed to the federal government’s fuel economy standards, and proposals to make standards more stringent could lead to 3,800-5,800 deaths annually. 3

  • The LCV scores negatively those who oppose federal funding for “family planning,” abortion, or population control overseas. Yet such population control is not an environmental issue. Poverty–not people–poses environmental problems. If the LCV wants to address that very real concern, they should promote wealth-generating policies, which will feed more people and pay for such things as water treatment facilities. In addition, wealth generates the funds and willingness to pay for environmental goods such as wildlife conservation. 4 In any case, most Americans oppose such funding. In fact, 62 percent of Americans oppose US-government funding of these items, according to the polling company’s 1999 environmental poll. 5

  • The LCV scores positively members who support increased government funding for renewable and solar energy programs. “But renewable energy is not always better for the environment, and it’s certainly not more efficient if it demands government subsidies. Rather than measuring members’ support for the environment, the LCV rewards members for supporting corporate welfare.” 6

  • The LCV scored negatively Senators who voted to delay a ban on commercial fishing in the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Alaska. But if we ban fishing in Glacier Bay, it will shift to other areas, perhaps depleting fishery resources that are owned “in common” (unowned resources or those owned by the “public” via the government). Resources owned in common often become abused as many users access their “share” before someone else. Banning access as the LCV advocates won’t solve such problems. Privatizing resources or establishing private property rights produces stewards (i.e., owners) with an interest in protecting the long-term viability of these resources. Ownership explains why we never worry about running out of cows, chickens, and other privately owned and highly demanded commodities. Where it exists, private fisheries and fishing rights have a proven record of success, while government management is often poor, if not disastrous. 7

  • The LCV also rated members negatively for supporting the Mandates Information Act, which allows members to temporarily stop proceeding on bills that would cost consumers more than $100 million annually. If Congress wanted to move the legislation, it could proceed after a simple majority vote. Accordingly, the legislation simply demands that members of Congress consider the costs of government mandates before passing bills, which simply promotes accountability. According to the polling company, Americans desire such congressional 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. 8

  • House members received negative scores for voting to prohibit the use of US funds for designating any US territory as a “World Heritage Site.” The LCV contends that such designations are simply “symbolic,” indicating that the area is of “global importance.” However, the Scorecard also points out that some designations note when a resource is “in danger,” a label that implies the need for urgent action. Such designations have already promoted regulation. In fact, a UN designation of Yellowstone National Park led to the elimination of mining operations on the nearby New World Mine, an impact that was more than “symbolic.” Hence, this vote was designed to provide basic protection of US interests and property rights and is by no means “anti-environmental.” Americans support such accountability and property rights. For example, CEI’s National Environmental Survey reveals that 63 percent of Americans believe individuals should receive compensation from the federal government when its actions impact the value of private land. 9

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 a large majority of Americans. After all, being pro-environment does not mean you have to be pro-big government.


1 National Environmental Survey (Washington, DC: Competitive Enterprise Institute/the polling company, January 1999), p. 9.2 “Most Americans are Dirty, Says Enviro Group: Attack Those Who Don’t Support Big Government,” CEI Press Release, February 14, 2000.3 Julie DeFalco, The Deadly Effects of Auto Fuel Economy Standards (Washington, DC: CEI, 1999).4 See Ronald Bailey, “The Progress Explosion: Permanently Escaping the Malthusian Trap,” and Nicholas Eberstadt, “World Population Prospects for the Twenty-First Century: The Specter of ‘Depopulation’?” Earth Report 2000, Ronald Bailey, ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000), pp. 1-21 and 63-84.5 National Environmental Survey, p. 17.6 Ben Lieberman quoted from press release, “Most Americans are Dirty, Says Enviro Group.” For a discussion of foolish energy conservation programs, see “Wasting Energy on Energy Efficiency,” The Freeman (April 1999), pp. 18-21.7 For a discussion of private fishery protection, see Michael De Alessi, “Fishing for Solutions: The State of the World’s Fisheries,” Earth Report 2000, pp. 86-114.8 Clyde Wayne Crews, Jr., “So, What Will This Unfunded Mandate Cost Me?” CEI On Point, February 8, 1999; National Environmental Survey, p. 23.9 National Environmental Survey, p. 14. For more analysis of the LCV’s positions on property rights, see “1999 Private Property Congressional Vote Index,” 11th edition (Battle Ground, Washington: League of Private Property Voters, February 2000); for copies email [email protected].