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Environmental Voting Records of the California Congressional Delegation and Presidential Candidates, 2004

Stuart H. Hurlbert and Joan S. Dainer
Department of Biology and Center for Inland Waters
San Diego State University, San Diego, California 92182-4614
27 October 2004

SUMMARY

Environmental voting records of California congressmen, President Bush and Senator Kerry are scored on the basis of two criteria: support for legislation aimed at reducing U.S. per capita environmental impacts (data from League of Conservation Voters website) and support for legislation favoring lower U.S. population growth rates (data from Americans for Better Immigration website). Most congressmen of both parties have poor to mediocre overall environmental voting records, with scores in the 30-60 point range on a 100-point scale. Democrats tend to be stronger on reducing per capita environmental impacts, Republicans stronger on reducing the population growth rate. Highest environmental scores are obtained by Gallegly (R-24), Royce (R-40), Rohrabacher (R-46), and Hunter (R-52), and lowest scores by Dooley (D-20), Becerra (D-31), Baca (D-43), and Nunes (R-21). Senator Boxer had a higher score than any other Democrat in the congressional delegation. Senator Kerry's score is better than those of most Democratic congressmen in California though not as good as those of Senators Boxer and Feinstein. President Bush's environmental score is far worse than that of any California congressman, Republican or Democrat. Assessments of environmental voting records that ignore whether congressmen are voting to increase or decrease the rate of U.S. population growth can be very misleading as to which congressmen are having the most positive impact on environmental quality. Reflecting partisan bias and environmental short-sightedness, Sierra Club endorsements and high League of Conservation Voters scores are awarded predominantly to congressmen or candidates whose votes favor, or would favor, high rates of U.S. population growth.

 

"American population has grown by nearly 100 million (50%) since 1970 and is projected to rise by an additional 120 million by 2050, in large part as a result of immigration. Because of high U.S. per capita levels of consumption and production of pollutants, the environmental impact of this population growth is one of the most significant forces on the planet."

-- Frederick A.B. Meyerson, Policy View: Immigration, Population Policy,
and the Sierra Club
, Population and Environment 26:61-69, 2004

 

Introduction

We present here an analysis of the environmental voting records of the California congressional delegation. The approach is similar to that we employed in an analysis of environmental voting records four years ago (Hurlbert & Dainer, 2000; available at http://www.sci.sdsu.edu/salton/CongEnvVotRec.html ). 

Our method combines environmental voting record information already synthesized by and available from two other organizations, Americans for Better Immigration (ABI) and League of Conservation Voters (LCV).  We also examine the pattern of endorsements by the Sierra Club of California congressmen in the 2002 congressional elections in relation to their overall environmental (OE) scores.

Two Dimensions: Conservation and Population

The impact of population on the environment can be viewed as a product of 1) population size and 2) per capita impact on environmental values.  Environmental damage can result when either factor exceeds certain limits.  Maintenance or restoration of environmental quality requires that both factors be managed, directly or indirectly.

We will refer to these as the population and conservation aspects of legislators' environmental voting records.

Population Scores

The best source of information on congressional voting records affecting U.S. population growth is found on the Americans for Better Immigration (ABI) website (http://www.betterimmigration.com/). This website evaluates legislators according to how they vote on immigration legislation that would have large effects on U.S. population growth.

Immigration caused almost half of U.S. population growth since the first Earth Day in 1970 and now is the only cause of long-term U.S. population growth, given that native fertility has been below replacement level for about 30 years. It is indeed disconcerting how many environmentalists and environmental scientists still are completely unaware of this. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, between 1970 and 2000 the U.S. population grew by about 72 million, of which about 32 million was due to post-1970 immigrants and their descendants. A continuation of this post-1970 immigration will account for 100 percent of the additional growth over the next 50 years. In California we are, as usual, ahead of the curve: of the state's post-1990 population growth (6.5 million people), more than 98% has been due to foreign immigration and births to first-generation foreign immigrants.

Americans for Better Immigration (ABI) grades legislators' voting records on a 100 point scale and does this both for the current year and for "career records."  In our analysis below, we have used only the current grades for career records, up through the 108th Congress.

It is important to note that in calculating its grades, Americans for Better Immigration weights all legislative actions according to the numerical effect they will have on U.S. population size. Characteristics of individual immigrants such as nationality, education level, and job skills are not considered.

Conservation Scores

The best information on congressional voting records concerning conservation issues, i.e. per capita impacts on the environment, is found on the League of Conservation Voters website (http://www.lcv.org/scorecard/scorecardmain.cfm). The LCV concerns itself mostly with legislation dealing with what might be called standard or proximal environmental issues, such as creation of reserves and wilderness areas, protection of rare and endangered species, control of emission or discharge of pollutants, management of national forests and grazing lands, and so on. It does not consider votes on any legislation relating directly to U.S. population growth rate. The LCV has been asked by some environmentalists to take such votes into consideration but so far has refused these requests.

The LCV evaluates each legislator's voting record on an annual basis, giving them a score on a 100 point scale.  In the following analysis we use for each legislator the mean of their scores for the 106th through the 108th sessions of Congress.

The Record and Disclaimers

The basic information provided by the ABI and LCV websites, as well as our calculated overall environmental (OE) scores, are given in an appendix at the end of this report.  Our brief discussion of voting record patterns will focus on four charts (Figures 1-4).

The value and validity of the data presented is a function of the care, integrity and judiciousness with which the LCV and ABI have carried out and reported their evaluations.  From all that we know of these organizations, we believe they have high standards.  If errors in their evaluations of congressmen were pointed out, they doubtless would be quick to correct them.

The simplicity of our analysis and charts belies the complexities underlying the voting records of these California congressmen.  Both conservation and population issues interact with large numbers of other social and economic issues.  Congressmen vary greatly in their experience, philosophies, and constituencies.  For such reasons we attempt no deep analysis in this short report.  As with our earlier report, we hope mainly to raise provocative questions in people's minds and to stimulate people to think about what positive steps they can take toward protecting the environment in both the long and short term by engaging in the political process.

Sierra Club Endorsements

The Sierra Club reviews all candidates for congressional seats and decides, for each, whether to remain neutral, to give the candidate a positive endorsement, or, in rare cases, to give a candidate a negative endorsement but without giving his/her opponent a positive one.  In 2002, the Sierra Club gave positive endorsements to 30 congressmen and a negative endorsement to one.  This information is available on its website at http://www.sierraclub.org/endorsements/2002/ and in Figure 3.

 

Why Progress is Slow:
Population and Conservation Scores Negatively Correlated

Our first chart (Figure 1) plots the conservation score and population score for each representative and senator, listed in order of district number. Two patterns stand out in Figure 1.

First, for most congressmen, the line connecting their population with their conservation score is long.  Generally where one score was high, the other was low.  In only four cases -- Ose (R-3), Dooley (D-20), Nunes (R-21), Bono (R-45) -- were both scores low or mediocre, and in no case were both scores on the high side.

Second, Democrats generally had the highest conservation scores and Republicans the highest population scores.

The negative correlation between the two scores and also the extreme polarization of the voting records of the two parties are shown more dramatically in Figure 2. Also plotted are scores for the two major presidential candidates, President George W. Bush and Senator John F. Kerry.  Though Bush has no legislative record both the LCV and ABI websites have given him a score based on ad hoc criteria.

The regression analysis shown for these data confirms the negative correlation between population score and conservation score, and indicates that if we know the conservation score of a congressman, we have, on average, 72 percent of the information we need to predict their population score. 

The desirable "northeastern" quadrant of Figure 2 is terrifyingly vacant, as it was in our analysis for the year 2000.  Senators Boxer and Feinstein and Representative Harman (D-36) come closest to entering this region of environmental champions.  This empty sector suggests why environmental degradation continues apace in the U.S. Democrats are mostly voting to increase population size; and Republicans are voting for actions that favor high per capita impacts on the environment.

Home base for the worst environmental records, the "southwestern" quadrant of Figure 2 is also nearly vacant.  Unfortunately, President Bush resides here, an anti-environmental lone wolf as out of sync with California Republicans as he is with California Democrats.

 

Calculating an Overall Environmental Score

An overall environmental (OE) score was calculated for each congressman by averaging their population and conservation scores, but weighting the population score twice as heavily as the conservation score.  Why that particular weighting? In our earlier analysis (Hurlbert & Dainer, 2000), we contrasted the results of weighting population and conservation scores in the ratio of 1:1 versus 3:1. Given the pattern shown in Figure 2, the particular weighting used has a big influence on, among other things, which political party receives the best overall environmental scores.

Our selection of a 2:1 weighting for this report does tend to make Republican legislators look better (Figure 3), but we are not Republicans and do not choose the 2:1 weighting for that purpose. Rather it is simply that there are strong arguments why an overall environmental (OE) score should be based on a heavier weighting of the population score than the conservation score.

First, U.S. population growth is increasing more rapidly than is per capita impact on the environment, as the latter might be estimated, for example, by per capita consumption of resources or per capita production of wastes.

Second, technically and politically, large reductions in U.S. population growth rate are more feasible than are large reductions in U.S. per capita impacts on the environment. A 10 percent reduction in population growth rate could be rapidly and easily achieved by a moderate reduction in immigration rates.  A rapid 10 percent reduction in overall per capita resource consumption and waste production would require draconian measures.

Third, the positive effects of even large reductions in U.S. per capita rates of resource consumption would be quickly cancelled if the U.S. population growth rate continued high.  Within a few years we would be back where we started from.

For example, assume that somehow we achieved a 10 percent reduction in U.S. per capita consumption for all resources (food, forest products, fossil fuels, minerals, land, etc.). This would accomplish a major reduction in per capita environmental impacts.  With the U.S. continuing to grow at 1.3 percent per year, however, total U.S. resource consumption would in less than 9 years be just as high as it was prior to the 10 percent cut in per capita resource use.  Then what do we do? Ask everyone to cut back an additional 10 percent?

So it seems clear that population growth should be given heavier weight because it is tending the cancel out many of the actions taken by government and environmental organizations to protect the environment. The decision as to how much more weight to assign the population factor relative to the conservation factor is nevertheless subjective.  It depends on, among other things, the relative weight that one wants to assign to short-, medium-, and long-term consequences.  We thus do not claim any sacrosanct status for our 2:1 weighting.

From Silver Medalists to Terminators

This analysis finds most legislators to have very mediocre voting records, with overall environmental scores (OE) in the range of 30-60.  Congressmen are labeled in Figure 3 according to their OE scores as: Champions (80-100), Silver Medalists (60-79), Fence Straddlers (40-59), Dark Siders (30-39), or Terminators (20-29).  (We intend no insult to Governor Schwarzenegger with the last label. We also used it in our 2000 report, before he was Governor of California.)

The labels are not entirely facetious.  Champions are absent. Silver Medalists comprise about a third of the delegation, though it is probably overgenerous to be giving out silver medals for scores as low as 60.  The Dark Siders and the Terminators are lead (ex)terminators of environmental quality.  They themselves perhaps should be targeted for early termination, unless something of unusual redeeming social value can be found in other portions of their voting records.  Though not shown in Figure 3, Bush's OE score is 15, at the very bottom of the heap.

Details of congressmen's individual population and conservation voting records can be found on the LCV and ABI websites.  We attempt no profound analysis of them here but only note the more salient patterns. 

In general, Republicans have better OE scores than do Democrats and earn 8 of the 9 top scores (Figure 3). Senator Boxer will perhaps be surprised by the company she is keeping at the top of this chart!  Next best-scoring Democrats include Harman (D-36), Cardoza (D-18), and Senator Feinstein.

The very worst environmental records are those of Dooley (D-20), Becerra (D-31), Baca (D-43), and Nunes (R-21) (Figure 3).  All of the legislators in the bottom third of the chart are Democrats with the sole exception of Ose (R-3) and Nunes (R-21).

These patterns conflict with the common perception that Democrats are much "better" on environmental issues than are Republicans. This conflict is due in part to that "common perception" being based the myopic view that U.S. population growth is not a major environmental issue, at least not one that U.S. environmental organizations should tackle. The conflict also is due to our procedure giving credit to congressmen for environmentally favorable actions that have been motivated by other than environmental concerns.  In particular, those Republicans who vote for measures designed to slow illegal immigration or reduce legal immigration quotas, often are doing so on grounds of certain social, cultural and economic problems created by high immigration rates.  Those grounds may be perfectly valid, but they are not environmental even if their environmental consequences are positive.

In our previous analysis (Hurlbert & Dainer, 2000), the two California congressmen with the highest overall environmental scores were also Republicans -- Brian Bilbray (R-49) and Steve Horn (R-38).   Ironically, in 2000 Susan Davis (now D-53), with the endorsement of the Sierra Club, defeated Bilbray. Horn retired in 2002 and was replaced by Grace Napolitano (D-38). Again endorsed by the Sierra Club in their current races, Davis and Napolitano have mediocre to poor overall environmental records (Figure 3).  We do not consider this progress. From conversations with environmentally-oriented colleagues and friends in San Diego, we understand that many of them voted against Bilbray reflexively because he was a Republican, and not on the basis of his actual environmental record.

In addition to Ose, there are three other Republican representatives with exceptionally poor environmental records‚ -- Radanovich (R-19), Dreier (R-26), and Bono (R-45) (Figure 3). So sometimes Republicans do live up to the "common perception!"

 

 

Sierra Club: Pro-Environment or just Pro-Democrat?

The pattern of Sierra Club endorsements in 2002 relative to OE scores is quite amazing (Figure 3; a check indicates a positive endorsement, an X a negative one). Of the 24 legislators with the worst scores (20-39), 75% were endorsed by the Sierra Club. Of 15 with intermediate scores (40-59), 53% were endorsed by the Sierra Club. And of the16 with the best scores (60-80), only 13% were endorsed by the Sierra Club.

In other words, if our procedure for estimating the environmental friendliness of voting records has any validity to it, then endorsement by the Sierra Club should be regarded as the kiss of death by anyone concerned about the U.S. environment from a big picture, long-term perspective.

Looked at in another way, the pattern of endorsements suggests that the Sierra Club is more focused on supporting the Democratic Party than on supporting the environment. Of the 17 Democrats with the lowest OE scores, 82% were endorsed by the Sierra Club in 2002. Of the 16 Democrats with the highest scores, 88% were endorsed by the Sierra Club. (Senator Boxer was not running and is not counted here). Of the 20 Republicans, none was endorsed.

Thus, a Democratic candidate has roughly an 85% chance of being endorsed regardless of how bad their overall environmental record is, while a Republican has, at least in California, a 0% chance of being endorsed regardless of how good their record is.

Relative to other environmental organizations, the Sierra Club is regarded as quite partisan. This may have to do with its large size and the fact that its board of directors is elected by the membership.  In any case, it seems to be viewed by much of the public as a more politically left organization than most other environmental groups.  The downside of this is that it makes many environmentalists, including congressmen, in the political center or on the right unsympathetic to the organization and its projects.  This can result in them reflexively opposing Sierra Club-supported legislation just as many of our San Diego colleagues reflexively voted against Bilbray in 2000.

Currently, in 2004, the Sierra Club is endorsing 31 Democratic candidates in California for Congress, including Senator Boxer and most of the legislators with the worst OE scores in Figure 3. It is endorsing no Republican candidates.  Full information is available at http://www.sierraclub.org/endorsements/2004/.

LCV Scores: Just So Much Noise?

Like Sierra Club endorsements, the utility of the League of Conservation Voters scores for voting records may be minimal for voters who understand U.S. population growth to be a serious environmental issue in our country.

A correlation for California congressmen between the OE score and the LCV score is almost non-existent (Figure 4).  If we gave the ABI population score a little less weight in calculating OE scores than we have, the regression line in Figure 4 might tilt slightly upward to the right, instead of downward to the right. The critical fact, however, is that the combination of a horizontal or near horizontal regression line and the high degree of scatter of the points about it indicate that if one of these scores is a reasonable index of the quality of an environmental voting record, the other definitely is not.

Put another way, if it makes sense to give votes affecting U.S. population growth significant weight in an environmental voting record score, then reliance on the LCV conservation scores is likely to make a voter a victim of 'noise.'  It would lead one to vote for a candidate with a poor overall environmental record about as often as it would lead one to vote for a candidate with a good environmental record. Might as well flip a coin as rely on the LCV scorecard.

 

 

Conclusions

The major conclusion of this exercise is that assessment of environmental voting records of congressmen is radically affected by whether or not votes on legislation affecting the rate of U.S. population growth are taken into account.  The apparent environmental 'friendliness' of individual congressmen and their rankings relative to each other are greatly affected by what is done here.

Some persons feel that whether a congressman is voting to increase or decrease the U.S. population growth rate should be irrelevant to his or her environmental credentials.  Such persons can continue to rely on websites such as that of the League of Conservation Voters or the Sierra Club for assessment of environmental voting records.

Other persons will recognize that the high rate of U.S. population growth is a strong driver of environmental degradation and will want to take a more comprehensive approach. All must recognize, however, that Sierra Club endorsements and high LCV scores are awarded predominantly to congressmen or candidates whose votes favor, or would favor, high U.S. population growth rates. From the broadest perspective, environmental records of such legislators must be recognized for what they are -- mediocre at best.

 

Acknowledgments

Alan Kuper, a founder of Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization (SUSPS), first suggested the idea of combining congressional voting record data already available on different websites.  Results of his own project along these lines - Comprehensive U.S. Population (CUSP) Congressional Environmental Scorecards - may be found at http://www.uscongress-enviroscore.org/.  At least in 2000, Kuper's CUSP scores showed little correlation with our OE scores. This was demonstrated and discussed in a 2002 supplement to our 2000 report.


 

 

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