On January 3, 2021, the 117th Congress convened in Washington D.C., establishing one of the most diverse groups ever elected in the history of the United States. Unfortunately, the Center for American Progress reports that, despite the assortment of representation, there are still 139 elected officials (109 Representatives + 30 Senators) in this class of Congress who continue to uphold this false narrative that there is no scientific evidence of human-caused climate change. To put these numbers in perspective, there are 541 individuals in the 117th Congress in total (encompassing the United States and its territories). With a little division, we see that a whopping 25.69% of our elected officials still do not believe in the severity of the climate crisis, including the role that humans play in it.
Let that sink in for a moment.
While 97% of climate scientists believe in human-caused climate change, 25.69% of our Congress members do not, making "climate change" one of the most politically divisive issues we face today.
However, it's not fair to emphasize the 139 who refuse to do nothing when there are plenty of other environmental leaders in Congress who are trying to make the world a better place. So, how about we focus on the people who really do fight for what their constituents want for a change?
By analyzing lifetime legislative scorecards from the League of Conservation Voters (an environmental advocacy group), I'll be highlighting the top five senators who have, historically, not only voted to pass plenty of environmental bills throughout their careers but have also introduced policies of their own. So, without further ado, let's see the list of the Senators of the 117th Congress who have the best environmental voting records!
Top 5 Senators
Jeff Merkley (Democrat-Oregon)
Hailing from the great state of Oregon, Sen. Merkley serves as the epitome of a climate leader. Not only has he co-sponsored legislation to safeguard U.S. ports from illegal fishing, but he has also voted (repeatedly) to protect our natural ecosystems and implement sustainable timber practices. Not to mention, the Humane Society scores him at a 100% when it comes to protecting animal rights. Even outside of his chambers, Sen. Merkley does everything he can to be heard. In an Op-Ed he wrote for the Washington Post last year, Sen. Merkley wrote about his experiences seeing the devastation in his own state due to excessive wildfires, noting that these wildfires are proof that we are currently facing a climate emergency. He followed up by urging President Biden to take bold action by invoking the National Emergencies Act (NEA) and Defense Production Act (DPA) to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Due to all of his environmental accomplishments, Sen. Merkley is currently serving as the Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee of the 117th Congress, overseeing environmental justice, chemical safety, and waste management. Earning a lifetime environmental voting score of 99% from the League of Conservation Voters, Sen. Merkley takes the top spot in the Senate.
Brian Emmanuel Schatz (Democrat-Hawaii)
Coming from Hawaii, it's no surprise that Sen. Schatz ranks high on this list. In fact, sea level rise has already eroded 70% of Hawaii's coastline. As such, it is in Hawaii's best interest to find a solution to the climate crisis as soon as possible. Fortunately for our Hawaiian constituents, Sen. Schatz is fighting that battle for them. On May 27, 2021, Sen. Schatz co-sponsored the Climate Change Financial Risk Act of 2021, which would require the Federal Reserve to establish an advisory group of climate scientists and economists to help prepare financial institutions for drought and sea level rise. Furthermore, under his leadership, Hawaii is becoming an international leader in clean energy, with islands like Kauai and Honolulu being selected to participate in a Department of Energy program to adopt cost-effective and resilient clean energy solutions. Earning a lifetime environmental voting score of 98% from the League of Conservation Voters, Sen. Schatz comes at a close second in the Senate.
Chris Van Hollen (Democrat-Maryland)
As member of the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. Van Hollen is no stranger to environmentalism. Early last year, Sen. Van Hollen, along with thirty-one other Senators, introduced legislation to achieve net-zero domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Otherwise known as the Clean Economy Act, the bill would require the EPA to prioritize public health, lower costs, and support for frontline communities. A vocal supporter of the cap and dividend system, Sen. Van Hollen has also repeatedly come out in support of national, and even international, climate action. In fact, on April 15, 2021, Sen. Van Hollen introduced the US Climate Act to prioritize the role the climate crisis plays in foreign policy. A trailblazer in the climate movement, there's no question that Sen. Van Hollen will continue to develop new policies to fight the climate crisis for many years to come. Earning a lifetime environmental voting score of 98% from the League of Conservation voters, Sen. Van Hollen comes third on our list.
Tina Smith (Democrat-Minnesota)
Sen. Smith has been a climate champion ever since she was the Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota leading the "50% by 2030" renewable electric standard campaign and expanding the use of renewables. After being elected into the Senate in 2018, Sen. Smith continued her advocacy on a larger scale, introducing numerous policies like the Clean Energy Standard Act to achieve net-zero emissions from the electricity sector by 2050 and the Promoting Grid Storage Act of 2019 to increase the research of more efficient energy storage mechanisms. Sen. Smith's most important attribute, however, is her willingness to propose bipartisan solutions to the climate crisis. For instance, in 2019, Sen. Smith reached across the political aisle to Republican Sen. John Hoeven from North Dakota to create incentives for corporations to install carbon capture and storage technology. It is this principle of bipartisanship and cooperation that really characterizes Sen. Smith's presence on the Senate floor. Also earning a lifetime environmental voting score of 98% from the League of Conservation voters, Sen. Smith comes fourth on our list.
Margaret Coldwell Hassan (Democrat-New Hampshire)
Last and certainly not least, we have Sen. Hassan. Representing the state of New Hampshire, Sen. Hassan has worked tirelessly to prioritize clean energy. A strong believer in creating a national target of 50% clean and carbon-free electricity by 2030, Sen. Hassan introduced the Net Meter Act in 2019 to create a national study on efficient net metering policies. Sen. Hassan has also implemented bipartisan legislation within her own state, preserving New Hampshire's wildlife sanctuaries, refugees, and national parks. Not to mention, she has been a vocal opponent of offshore oil and gas drilling along the New England coast. Sen. Hassan knows the vital role she can play in leading the climate fight, and she recently even donated nearly $250K to the University of New Hampshire in support of their climate change research. Wrapping it up for our top Senators, Sen. Hassan comes fifth on our list, earning a lifetime environmental voting score of 98% from the League of Conservation voters.
One major takeaway from this list is that because we are looking at lifetime legislative records, there are many new faces leading the climate fight (for instance, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) who don't necessarily rank high because they haven't been serving as long. Regardless, in no way should their efforts be discredited. They are doing extraordinary things, and they are the reason the climate movement continues to flourish!
Another major takeaway is the fact that the Senators with the best environmental voting records are all Democrats! Now, this isn't done on purpose; however, it does tell us a lot about which party really cares about fighting the climate crisis. In fact, when it comes to voting on environmental legislation, most - if not all - Republicans tend to rank below their Democratic counterparts.
So there we have it – the top five Senators in the 117th Congress who are really devoting their time and effort to spearhead the climate movement. Of course, with a 50-50 Senate split, these five senators are not nearly enough to keep the ball rolling; bipartisanship is of the utmost importance. But, I'm sure that with these five leading bold initiatives and policies, we might just find a solution to this crisis after all.
Aayushi Ranjan is a high school sophomore at American Heritage School in Delray Beach, FL.