WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) on Wednesday joined his GOP colleagues on Capitol Hill in announcing the formation of a new conservation caucus.
The kickoff of the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus comes after President Trump gave a widely criticized speech this week touting his administration’s environmental record and as Republican lawmakers appear increasingly eager to herald their green credentials.
But environmentalists are accusing Upton and others in the group of attempting to greenwash their records.
President Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican conservationist for whom the caucus is named, is “absolutely rolling over in his grave,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Upton has a lifetime score of 26% from the League of Conservation Voters, an advocacy group that tracks lawmakers’ pro-environment votes. His is one of the higher scores among House Republicans. His LCV score has fluctuated dramatically in recent years; it was 40% in 2018 and 0% in 2010.
As the former chair of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, Upton was one of the central players in the formerly GOP-led House efforts to fight the President Obama administration’s environmental policies and regulations.
Upton joined other Republicans from the U.S. Senate and House on Wednesday to formally announce the launch of the group, which its leaders said will “embrace and promote constructive efforts to resolve conservation and environmental problems that align with market-based approaches and promote American ingenuity.”
Upton will serve as vice chair of the new caucus.
“Preserving and protecting our environment should not be a partisan issue, and the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus demonstrates our commitment to tackling some of the biggest environmental challenges in a bipartisan way,” Upton said in a statement.
In 2018, the Michigan congressman joined a bipartisan House caucus aimed at pursuing climate change policies. He stressed on Wednesday that “climate change is real” and noted that while the U.S. government is divided, “Many of us — all of us, I hope — do care deeply about the environment.”
The Republicans in the caucus stressed that they intend to approach the environment differently than their Democratic colleagues, some of whom are pushing for the Green New Deal that’s drawn the wrath of conservatives.
“I believe we can protect our environment in a way without threatening jobs or destroying the economy. As we move forward, I’m excited to continue working with my colleagues and doing everything we can to ensure safe drinking water, support our national parks, and preserve our environment for generations to come,” Upton said.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters on Wednesday that Republicans “need to showcase that we care about conservation, we care about the environment and we have innovative solutions that are not top-down regulatory solutions.”
He added, “We believe that you cannot have a healthy environment and destroy the economy. And we believe that our friends on the other side care about the environment, but they care so much they’re going to destroy the economy in the name of saving the environment. That is a false choice.”
Several GOP lawmakers in the caucus have lower LCV scores and have shown less willingness than Upton to break with their party on environmental votes.
Graham’s lifetime rating is 12%; Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) has a lifetime score of 10%; Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) has a score of 4%. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has a lifetime score of 17%.
Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity said of the new caucus and of Trump, “Do they really think … that they can just say they’re green and people will believe them? … I think it’s a desperate political green masquerade.”
He suggested that Trump and the GOP lawmakers are making their environmental push in light of new polling data indicating that the environment presents a liability for the party heading into 2020.
“They’ve read the poll numbers” and have decided to engage in a “marketing ploy,” Snape said. But “votes matter,” he added.
John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said there’s “at least reason for concern that the caucus is purposefully avoiding controversial issues in the name of focusing on less controversial issues in a way that would let them say there’s a conservative environmental agenda.”
He said the caucus should ultimately be judged by how much and how fast it will act to cut dangerous air pollution.
“We’ll have to see what the answer is to that question.”