Environmental groups dispute whether U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, is a Republican climate change pacesetter or one who is lagging behind the congressional norm.
“If you package all this stuff up together you can tell there’s actually some substantive move in the right direction,” said Tony Kreindler, senior director of government relations for the Environmental Defense Fund, a national environmental group that praised Stefanik for recently introducing a resolution urging the House “to commit to working constructively” to address climate change.
Some suggest the resolution is mere rhetoric.
“A non-binding resolution on climate action isn’t climate action,” said Travis Proulx, a spokesman for Environmental Advocates of New York. “For us, the bottom line is simple: What are her votes?”
Stefanik received a 29 percent, out of a possible 100 points, in the most recent League of Conservation Voters scorecard, based on votes in 2016.
Her score is up from 9 percent in 2015, bringing her “lifetime” score to 19 percent over two years in the House.
“So in other words she’s batting about 190,” said Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks. “That batting average (in professional baseball) would get her yanked from the team.”
The League of Conservation Voters, which compiled the scorecard, however, praised Stefanik for scoring among the highest of Republican House members.
The nationwide House Republican score in 2016 was 5 percent, and the average House member score was 43 percent.
The nationwide House Democrat average was 94 percent.
“This represents their willingness to support key bipartisan conservation issues that provide a significant benefit to New York such as renewing the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” the group said, referring to Stefanik and other top Republican scorers.
Kreindler, of the Environmental Defense Fund, noted the improvement in Stefanik’s environmental voting record.
“And I would say it was about July of 2016 where we saw the realization manifest itself in actual votes,” he said.
Bauer said it is particularly important for Stefanik to have a strong environmental voting record because she represents the Adirondack Park.
“I think it’s safe to say that in the year 2017, we are beyond resolutions. We need action,” said Bauer, of Protect the Adirondacks.
Kreindler said Stefanik’s climate change resolution, which has 16 Republican co-sponsors, is significant, because it restores bipartisan agreement that climate change is an important issue, agreement that was there in 2009 before it became unpopular for Republicans to acknowledge climate change.
“After 2009 and 2010, the politics, if you might remember, got really crazy… And it got very partisan in that seven years of darkness,” he said. “What we are seeing is folks starting to chip back away at that partisan divide and get back to a conversation about solutions.”
Bauer said Stefanik, indeed, has the potential to be a leader on climate change if she can put together a coalition of about 25 Republicans that would vote with Democrats on environmental issues.
Kreindler said the environment is an issue that is less confrontational than others for a Republican.
“It’s very hard to be a Republican in a swing district and maintain your voter coalition without moderating on a couple of issues,” he said. “Frankly on the environment, it is a very good issue on which to moderate.”