The Michigan League of Conservation Voters annual environmental scorecard will be released tomorrow. Unfortunately, it will show that when it comes to taking care of our most precious resources, our lawmakers have been letting us down.
After reading an advance copy of the scorecard, I talked about it with Kerry Duggan, the LCV’s deputy director. What motivates your group to do this? I asked. She said it was simple. “Citizens expect that lawmakers will vote in ways that protect our national resources.
“I wish that were true,” she added, “but unfortunately, politics gets in the way of logic. We are dedicated to shedding light on the good, the bad and the ugly, and the scorecard is our tool for Michiganders to actually check in on how their elected officials have voted to protect our Great Lakes, our state parks, etc.
When I read through the scorecard and compared votes, I was struck by two things. First of all, the deep partisan divisions that now exist on environmental issues. Thirty years ago, you could make a strong argument that the Republicans had pretty consistently been the more pro-environment of our two major parties.
Teddy Roosevelt, in fact, had started the modern conservation movement, founded the U.S. Forest Service, and approved more new national parks than he could shake his famous big stick at.
Even Richard Nixon approved starting the Environmental Protection Agency, and William G. Milliken was the most environmentally conscious governor Michigan has ever had. But that has all changed now. The contrast between the parties is sharp, and nearly all the Democrats have better voting records on environmental issues than almost any of the Republicans.
This doesn’t please those who are running the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. They are a non-partisan, non-profit agency with both Republicans and Democrats on its board.
They can do their job better when there is bipartisan cooperation to protect the environment. But in today’s Michigan, that isn’t happening. The scorecard, by the way, is created by comparing how lawmakers voted on a wide range of bills over the past year.
During the past year, forty-three Michigan legislators received perfect scores on protecting the environment. All were Democrats.
But twelve legislators -- three in the house and nine in the Senate -- voted against the environment every time. Most significantly one of these was Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop.
Not only did he oppose pro-environment bills, all too often, he prevented such bills from even coming up for a vote. “Inaction in the senate was the common theme of this legislative session,” Duggan told me. “Numerous bills were passed in the state house to protect Michigan citizens and children from toxic substances like mercury and arsenic. But none of the bills saw the light of day in the Senate.”
She added that most of the time the Senate did spend on conservation issues was spent trying to dismantle environmental protections, for example, trying to weaken oversight of the state’s natural resources to the federal government’s minimum standard.
Written more in sorrow than in anger, the scorecard itself expresses puzzlement over why Michigan officials have “too often, picked short-sighted policies that put our natural resources in danger.“ That’s a question we should all be asking.
If you want to check it out, the entire scorecard should be online tomorrow at www.michiganlcv.org.