Blowing green smoke: Politicians whose environmental claims don't hold up

Jim Motavalli Green PoliceEveryone knows that the only renewable energy that politicians always support is their own hot air. They often get the rhetoric right on support for green issues, but their votes and record of taking money from polluters tells another story. I thought it would be instructive to compare the actual performance of some Congressional incumbents with the blarney on their websites (where they always put on a green face).

There are some ripe targets on the campaign trail right now. The League of Conservation Voters compiles an annual "Dirty Dozen" among the aspirants to higher office, but I thought I'd confine my reporting to actual incumbents with voting records and money trails.

U.S. Rep. Joe BartonJoe Barton (R-Texas)

From the evidence of his website, this is one Congressman in touch with the earth: "I strongly support the underlying goals of our nation's environmental laws like the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and those that protect our National Parks and wildlife habitats," he said. "They were passed to safeguard both people and the environment. Since these laws were first written 25 years ago, we have accomplished a lot. We have made our rivers cleaner and the air we breathe healthier. The EPA does a diligent job of monitoring society's impact on the world around it."

Hmmmm. Is this the same Barton who was so incensed about the BP oil spill hearings that he apologized to BP for the "shakedown" from the floor of Congress? (Later, he apologized for the apology.) Here is the moment captured on video. Note how pleased and humbled BP CEO Tony Hayward looks:

On his website, Barton boasts that he "drafted the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT) aimed at solidifying our energy security, while still addressing the concerns surrounding carbon intensity." He drafted it, all right, but it addresses concerns of carbon intensity by increasing it dramatically. According to Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch, quoted at Sourcewatch, the bill "included new loopholes that could reduce gas mileage requirements; weaker protections for coastal communities; tax breaks to promote more coal burning. Indeed, if the legislation became law in its current form, it would prolong smog problems in much of the nation, shift the burden of cleaning up poisoned water supplies from oil companies to cash-strapped public agencies, and even threaten environmental damage from some forms of renewable energy."

And, of course, it would have enabled drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (a provision that was stripped out of the final bill, which made it into law). The Washington Post opined that the bill, signed by President Bush in July of 2005, was nothing more than a broad collection of subsidies for U.S. energy companies, particularly nuclear and oil. No wonder: Barton's biggest contributor between 1989 and 2010 is Anadarko Petroleum ($144,100), with RRI Energy ($97,109) close behind. Oil and gas gave him a total $1.47 million in the period, making the industry his largest contributor.

But the distinguished gentleman says the EPA is doing a "diligent job."

Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.)

Blanche LincolnThis Democrat from Arkansas tells a heartwarming story of rural environmental values: "Having been raised in a seventh-generation farm family in Arkansas, I grew up with a love of nature and a great respect for the conservation of land and water resources," she says. "I value our environment and want to find ways to best protect it for wildlife and for our enjoyment."

That's the hot air. But on the floor of Congress, where it matters, Lincoln (who's been pushed to the right in a tough re-election fight with a Tea Party candidate) has lately proven a reliable vote against climate and energy legislation. She also co-sponsored an anti-environmental resolution (written by energy lobbyists) from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that would have blocked the EPA's finding that carbon dioxide is a pollutant. Her lifetime League of Conservation Voters score is a mediocre 49, but others as we will see are much worse.

Lincoln takes a lot of oil money, according to, and it's her fifth largest source of funds in 2009-2010, $327,250.

Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)

Roy BlountThis Congressman, hoping for elevation to the Senate on Election Day, has a dismal record on environmental issues. But there's one resource thing he's very concerned about--our dependence on foreign oil. From his website: "Every unit of energy we can produce in America means one fewer unit we'll need to buy from the Middle East and Africa. And thankfully, the United States is rich in domestic energy--from clean coal and traditional fuels, to the agricultural energy that will help power our world into the next generation."

Sounds great: We can end our dependence on unstable parts of the world and grow or mine our own clean energy right here at home. Unfortunately, Blunt is knee-deep in extraction dollars. The Midwestern cash cow ethanol is deeply flawed (it competes with food crops and is energy-intensive to produce), and anyone who has seen mountaintop removal mining knows that "clean coal" is an oxymoron.

A legitimate domestic energy program would encourage renewables such as solar and wind, but Blunt is antagonistic. He has a lifetime LCV score of just 2%, which is an achievement of sorts (and earned him a place on this year's LCV's "Dirty Dozen" list). Last year, he got a zero after voting against every green bill. Since taking office in 1997, he has accepted more than $1 million from Big Oil companies and other energy interests ($460,198 from oil and gas specifically), while voting against repealing subsidies for them. He voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act. He doesn't like clean energy standards, either.

Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

Michele BachmannKnown for extremist statements and skirting the edges of reality, Rep. Bachmann has opposed environmental appropriations even when they're seemingly non-controversial, such as educational grants for outdoor activities. The bill, she said, "continues our nation down the ill-fated road of shifting control of school curricula away from the parents and teachers and local school boards who best know what their children need into the hands of the federal government and its one-size-fits-all approach."

Bachmann has a lifetime LCV score of 2%, just like Blunt. On her website she doesn't even try to put up much of an environmental front, but does find room to express concern for, you guessed it, American energy security. Her solution: Drill, baby, drill, and not only in Alaska but also on the outer continental shelf. She also wants to exploit the oil shale in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, an environmentally ruinous and very expensive proposition. But then Bachmann goes green: "As a member of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus (RE&EEC), I am working to raise awareness and educate lawmakers on technologies to improve energy efficiency and explore alternative forms of energy."

Really? Bachmann doesn't spend a lot of time educating lawmakers on renewable energy technology. Recent pronouncements include a declaration that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is "the most perfect place on the planet to drill." She said that global warming is "all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax." And also that carbon dioxide is "natural" and "a harmless gas."

Bachmann voted against saving free-roaming wild horses and burros, Cash for Clunkers, Amtrak upgrades and the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which would encourage the renewables she claims to be raising awareness about. One thing you can say for Bachmann: She doesn't appear to have taken much oil and gas money. But that's about all you can say.

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