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From Bad to Worse? Republican Leadership Shuffle Churns Up Extremists

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The recent ouster of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) from his congressional seat has shaken Washington Republicans and rattled open several leadership positions. And -- as hard as it is to believe -- the House Republican conference apparently hadn't even hit bottom yet.

You'd think that it'd be hard to get much worse than Eric Cantor's record when it comes to clean air,
clean water, and action to tackle the climate crisis. As Majority Leader, Cantor worked side by side with Speaker John Boehner on pushing a destructive legislative agenda for what has been called the most anti-environmental House in history. Cantor himself earned just a 4 percent positive lifetime environmental voting rating from the League of Conservation Voters. In other words, he was among the lowest of the low when it came to doing the bidding of big polluters.

Cantor led the way on votes that would force the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, gut clean energy investments, take support away from job-creating clean energy projectsm, and bar the Environmental Protection Agency from acting to curb climate-disrupting pollution. He repeatedly voted to give tax handouts to big oil companies. And all the while, he's tried to open up our public lands to drilling and make it harder for the president to designate national parks. Still, while it is no tragedy to see Cantor go, it's no comfort to look at the records of those who will replace him.

Current Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) just won an election among his colleagues to be promoted to majority leader. That's the same McCarthy who somehow scored lower than Cantor on an environmental voting scorecard, garnering just 3 percent. In fact, between 2013 and 2014, McCarthy did not make a single pro-environment vote. Instead, he stood alongside Cantor in rallying support and votes for one of the most toxic agendas ever.  

As majority whip, McCarthy spearheaded House Republican efforts to take nearly 500 votes attacking critical clean air and water safeguards, public lands protections, and clean energy initiatives over just the last four years. And, now, with his eyes on a promotion, he's flip-flopping on one of the few issues he was strong on, by abandoning the Wind Production Tax Credit, better aligning his position with the right wing political ATM that is the Koch brothers. It's no surprise -- as the Sierra Club's Dave Hamilton explained.

"For years, Congressman McCarthy strongly backed the Wind Production Tax Credit as it supported thousands of California jobs, including many in his own district. He even pushed for the PTC to be extended to 2020," said Hamilton. "But unfortunately the path to Republican leadership appears to now go straight through the Koch brothers' office. McCarthy is toeing the line by joining their call to kill competition from the wind industry by killing the PTC and American jobs right along with it."

McCarthy's promotion meant that a vicious fight broke out to fill his old majority whip post. Again, it was a race to the bottom.

The winner? Representative Steve Scalise (R-LA), who has spent much of his recent time attacking the EPA's first-ever carbon pollution protections. You know -- that policy supported by 67 percent of the American people. Why? Well, Scalise is notoriously chummy with fossil fuel lobbyists in Washington. According to the Republic Report, Former congressional staffers from his office have gone on to work for trade groups that have made it a priority to attack clean air safeguards and push offshore drilling. And the Republican Study Committee that he chairs held meetings inside the office of the lobbying firm hired by the Koch brothers to fight efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

In public, Scalise is just as bad. For example, he's rejected climate science as a "myth." His evidence for ignoring the calls for climate action resonating from 97 percent of scientists, the U.S. Military, and NASA? The fact that Barack Obama wore a coat for his January 2013 inaugural address, when he discussed the urgent need to tackle the climate crisis.

In other words, don't expect a new era of reason from the Republican-led House despite the new faces in leadership. Instead, Scalise and McCarthy stand for the brand of extremism that's been well practised there over the last four years,  and which puts polluters in the driver's seat while everyone else is trying to catch a ride.

--Tori Ravenel, Sierra Club Media Team