Not a Single Republican Has Mentioned Earth Day in Congress Since 2010

National Journal
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April 21, 2014, 4:03 p.m.

For years, men­tions of Earth Day have sprung up each April from mem­bers of both parties. In April 2010, Demo­crats spoke of Earth Day over 150 times, mostly in com­mem­or­a­tion of its 40th an­niversary. But no Re­pub­lic­an has uttered the words “Earth Day” on the House or Sen­ate floor since 2010.

The last to do so was Sen. Lamar Al­ex­an­der of Ten­ness­ee, in sup­port of ex­pand­ing nuc­le­ar-power gen­er­a­tion. “Forty years ago, at the time of the first Earth Day, Amer­ic­ans be­came deeply wor­ried about air and wa­ter pol­lu­tion and a pop­u­la­tion ex­plo­sion that threatened to over­run the plan­et’s re­sources,” reads Al­ex­an­der’s speech. “Nuc­le­ar power was seen as a sa­vior to these en­vir­on­ment­al di­lem­mas.” Eight months later, the melt­down of the Fukushi­ma Daii­chi nuc­le­ar power plant in densely pop­u­lated, nuc­le­ar-de­pend­ent Ja­pan would set off a new wave of en­vir­on­ment­al di­lem­mas.

What ex­plains the ap­par­ent Re­pub­lic­an aver­sion to talk­ing about Earth Day, and Demo­crats’ eager­ness to do so? For one thing, Earth Day was foun­ded 44 years ago by a Demo­crat­ic sen­at­or, Gaylord Nel­son of Wis­con­sin. An­oth­er reas­on is the in­creas­ing po­lar­iz­a­tion of Con­gress. As re­cently as 2000, Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Ben­jamin Gil­man of New York took to the House floor to say, “From com­bat­ing glob­al cli­mate change to pro­tect­ing threatened spe­cies to provid­ing clean wa­ter, we have a duty to act loc­ally and glob­ally to pro­tect the en­vir­on­ment for our present and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.” Con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans like Gil­man were rare in the 1990s, but they are seem­ingly ex­tinct today, as over 40 years of vote scores from the League of Con­ser­va­tion Voters shows.

Since Earth Day was first cel­eb­rated in 1970, the League of Con­ser­va­tion Voters has been scor­ing the votes of mem­bers of Con­gress on en­vir­on­ment­al mat­ters. Over the past 40 years, mem­bers have be­come in­creas­ingly con­cen­trated in­to two camps: high-scor­ing Demo­crats and low-scor­ing Re­pub­lic­ans. But it was not al­ways so.

In 1971, only about a third of all House mem­bers re­ceived scores less than 20 or great­er than 80 on the LCV’s 100-point scale. The oth­er two-thirds fell in between those two poles. But last year, 82 per­cent of mem­bers re­ceived high or low scores. The middle ground, in the past oc­cu­pied largely by mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans and con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crats, has mostly dis­ap­peared, a phe­nomen­on that Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s own vote rat­ings also il­lus­trate.

With­in each party, the shifts to the ends of the spec­trum have been dra­mat­ic. In 1971, only 17 per­cent of House Demo­crats re­ceived LCV scores high­er than 80; in 2013, 83 per­cent scored 80 or high­er. Re­pub­lic­ans have moved in the op­pos­ite dir­ec­tion. In 1971, just 16 per­cent of House Re­pub­lic­ans re­ceived scores be­low 20; in 2013, vir­tu­ally the en­tire House Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence—97 per­cent—re­ceived LCV scores be­low 20, and most of those Re­pub­lic­ans re­ceived scores be­low 10. No won­der, then, that House and Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans don’t talk much about Earth Day any­more.

LCV En­vir­on­ment­al Score­card by Party
1971-2013

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