The U.S. Congress has become increasingly hostile to the environment, climate, public health, and water since 2010. The past eight years have seen frenzied attacks on landmark laws like the Clean Water Act, an ongoing failure to address the climate crisis, and the influence of corporate special interests has become a stranglehold on our democracy. This went into overdrive in 2017, after the election of President Trump. Today, the majority in Congress puts the bottom lines of the fossil fuel industry, industrial agriculture, developers, and other polluters before the health of our environment, the public, or the climate.Ideologues in the House and the Senate, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, have led this assault, undermining basic protections for our water, walking back our nation’s leadership on climate and helping President Trump install corporate cronies in his cabinet. Clean Water Action scored several House and Senate floor votes, including Congressional Review Act resolutions, amendments or “riders” to government funding bills, stand-alone bills like the Farm Bill and the 2017 Tax Reform Bill, and confirmation votes of President Trump’s cabinet, agency, and Supreme Court nominees.
SCORING: Clean Water Action tallied 33 votes for each Representative and 12 votes for each Senator. Due to the ongoing and historic hostility to environmental protections of the 115th Congress, “NO” was the pro-environment vote for most votes in both the House and Senate. For a perfect 100%, a Member of Congress must vote correctly on all votes for which they register a vote.
Most votes followed party lines — Republicans generally voting against, and Democrats in favor of the environment. Ninety percent of all Republican members of Congress scored zero or in single digits. While 91% of all Democratic Members of Congress scored 90% or higher, including 168 perfect scores of 100%. The partisan breakdown is clear – Republican Members of Congress favor corporate special interests while putting our health, environment, and climate at risk.
Following are the biggest attacks from the 115th Congress. Description of individual votes can be found here. The full scorecard can be viewed as a spreadsheet, or as a pdf. (The House Scorecard starts on page 10 and Senate Scorecard starts on page 28.)
*Special thanks to ProPublica for their excellent project Represent, which we used to compile roll call votes.
The Congressional Review Act
In the first few months of the Trump administration, Republicans in Congress used an obscure provision, known as the Congressional Review Act (CRA), to repeal more than a dozen regulations that were enacted by the Obama Administration in 2016. One of the first bills signed by President Trump was a CRA resolution that wiped out the Stream Protection Rule, which gave communities near mountaintop removal coal mining operations enhanced information about mining activities. It also provided modest protections for surface water, which many of these communities rely on for drinking water, by requiring coal companies to properly dispose of their mining waste instead of simply dumping it in streams.
The Congressional Review Act was also used to cancel rules to prevent corruption in the oil and gas industry and overturn protections for wildlife in Alaska. Congress attempted and failed to use the CRA to eliminate a rule that would require the oil and gas industry to reduce venting, flaring, and leaks at industry operations on public and tribal lands. Congressional Review Act resolutions require a simple majority in the Senate so they cannot be filibustered. The CRA also prevents “substantially similar” rules from ever being adopted in the future. Prior to 2017, the CRA had only been successfully used to repeal one rule.
The Senate has a duty to vet and approve or disapprove of nominees for high level agency positions including cabinet members, federal judges, and nominees for the Supreme Court. The Senate approved Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil to be Secretary of State, Scott Pruitt and
Andrew Wheeler for the top two positions at the Environmental Protections Agency, Ryan Zinke to run the Department of the Interior, and Rick Perry as Secretary of the Department of Energy. Scott Pruitt immediately began to roll back policies like the Clean Water Rule and Clean Power Plan, sideline career officials and scientific advisors, and decrease enforcement actions. He wasted taxpayer money on first class flights and unneeded security enhancements, attempted to leverage his position for personal gain, and got into a series of serious ethics scandals, leading to his resignation and replacement by Andrew Wheeler, the current Acting Administrator. Ryan Zinke is working to reduce the size of several national monuments and open up public land for fossil fuel extraction, while sparking numerous investigations into his ethical lapses, attacks on science, and potential Hatch Act violations. Rick Perry has attempted to prop up the failing coal industry.
Riders on Government Funding and Other Must-Pass Bills
Republicans in Congress have used must-pass funding bills to sneak in attacks on protections for clean water and health that would not pass on their own. By attaching riders to funding bills for EPA or the Farm Bill, Republicans have side-stepped robust debate over unpopular provisions to weaken protections for streams, wetlands, and drinking water. The “Dirty Water Rider” would repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule, wiping out clear Clean Water Act safeguards for vital parts of our natural water infrastructure. While these provisions have passed the House of Representatives many times, they have yet to pass the Senate.
Attacks on science, agency budgets, the GOP Tax Scam, and the rider to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The House of Representatives tried to undermine science with several bills. The House has also worked to slash agency budgets including a 33% reduction to EPA. So far the bills to restrict the use of science in health and environmental regulations and to cut agency budgets have not passed in the Senate. Unfortunately the same is not true for an amendment that overturned a 30 year ban on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In late 2017, Congress passed a tax reform bill that wildly benefited corporations and the wealthy. Included in that tax bill was an amendment that opened up this wilderness to fossil fuel extraction, putting wildlife at risk.
Republicans in Congress are putting our health at risk by placing the priorities of corporate polluters and special interests before the needs of the American people. The Dirty Water Agenda in Congress must be stopped.