Susan Collins is generally considered to be a moderate Republican, especially on environmental issues. But just how good is she? If she were a Democrat in the House, she'd be the seventh worst Democrat on climate - better than Nick Rahall and a few members of the CoalBlue caucus. Climate Hawks Vote has crunched the numbers, and Collins' leadership score on climate is -13 on a scale of +100 to -100.
Yep, minus 13 is what passes for Republican leadership on climate.
Briefly, the Climate Hawks Vote scorecard seeks to measure leadership - not just votes - on climate. We look at six factors - public engagement , bills authored, bills cosponsored, press releases, caucuses, and website - to gauge who's leading on climate and who's not. The scorecard covers all House Democrats so far, and it's tough - the average score is +23. While working on one for Senate Democrats, we've decided to include a handful of Senate Republicans who might be considered moderate on climate, including Susan Collins. And her score is shockingly low.
Here's the details.
We weight public engagement far more than any other factor. Speeches on the Senate floor, roundtables with fishermen concerned about ocean acidification, a photo-op at a new wind farm in the district - all of those would give Collins a positive score, if she did any. But she hasn't. It's so bad that a local alt-weekly asks: Where's Collins on carbon? Instead, she gave a GOP rebuttal speech complaining about EPA overregulation, and Senator Wyden called her out on a Senate floor speech. Her score is -11 (40 points possible).
Collins has authored ten bills scored as climate bills (Climate Hawks Vote scores bills introduced whether or not they're up for votes) since the beginning of the 112th Congress. Five constitute attacks on the EPA, such as S. 1538, the Regulatory Time-Out Act of 2011 seeking a one-year delay on EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases and the CURB Act (S. 602 in the 112th Congress, S. 1730 in the 113th Congress) requiring all "major regulations" (DC-speak for, mostly, EPA rules) to be tracked and attacked. Five are scored positively, including two to create a mercury database, two on clean cookstoves, and one on energy efficient schools. But because Collins' bad bills are core and her good bills less important, Collins ends up with a score of -8 (20 points possible) on this item.
Collins has also cosponsored ten bills, so far, scored by Climate Hawks Vote as climate bills. Again, her record is mixed - she's supported one of the many "build Keystone XL pipeline now" bills, but also some energy efficiency bills. She ends up with a net +1 (10 points possible).
Collins has put out 19 press releases scored by Climate Hawks Vote. Some are positive, such as her praise for clean cookstoves (more on that below), offshore wind, and the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill. But her very mixed record is, perhaps, epitomized by this press release in which she blasts Senator Mitch McConnell for wanting a permanent moratorium on greenhouse gas regulations, while at the same time demanding a two year moratorium on the exact same greenhouse gas regulations! All of the positive and negative press releases cancel each other out, so her score ends up as a zero (10 points possible).
Collins hasn't joined the Climate Action Task Force or any other internal work group (10 points possible).
Her website acknowledges that climate change exists, but doesn't tout solutions, so she scores +5 (10 points possible). Total score: -13, which puts her above Nick "All Coal, All The Time" Rahall and John Barrow of Georgia, but below retiring Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and oil-drenched Henry "Must Be Primaried" Cuellar of Texas. By comparison, Chellie Pingeree and Mike Michaud, representing Maine's First and Second Congressional Districts respectively, score +54 and +25.
Oh, about those cookstoves? The idea is to provide developing nations with clean cookstoves that don't spew soot, aka the super-pollutant black carbon. But there's a cookstove manufacturer in Gorham, Maine that's vocally upset about EPA emission standards, and Collins acknowledges seeking the views of a Maine woodstove manufacturer before writing a letter to the EPA on those same standards. So the cookstove bill looks to be as much product placement for a local business as it is a climate bill.
In short, Collins acknowledges that climate change is real, which puts her light years ahead of most Republicans in Congress; but far from proposing credible solutions, her actions range from policy homeopathy to delay to active hindrance. If she were a Democrat, she'd be in the very bottom tier. National environmental groups don't blindly support all Democrats just because they play on the blue team. But apparently some national environmental groups support Collins just because she's a Republican.
Collins' delay-and-dither approach is flat out wrong. Maine, faced with ocean acidification and warming seas affecting its iconic lobster harvest, deserves better. Support for business-as-usual politicians like Collins, and her many counterparts on the Democratic Party side, is tantamount to acceptance of a business-as-usual carbon emissions trajectory.
I co-founded Climate Hawks Vote to elevate the voices of those few leaders who see the climate crisis as a priority. Shenna Bellows has earned our endorsement. She will seek limits on carbon emissions. She opposes the Keystone XL pipeline. And - unlike Collins - she’s taken a firm stand on an issue important to Maine voters and the larger climate community: she’s opposed the proposed Portland Montreal Pipeline Reversal, a plan to re-engineer an existing pipeline to carry carbon-intensive tarsands from Canada to Portland, Maine and then to the global marketplace. Read more on the Climate Hawks Vote endorsement of Shenna Bellows on our website.