WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) 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 speech this week touting his administration’s environmental record and as Republican lawmakers appear increasingly eager to herald their green credentials.
Gardner joined other Republicans from the 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.”
Gardner said Wednesday that he hopes the platform will “shine a light on the strong [environmental] leadership” of the Republican caucus.
But environmentalists say Gardner — who’s considered the most vulnerable Republican senator in 2020 — is trying to greenwash his record.
The Roosevelt Conservation Caucus is “all hat and no cattle,” said Jessica Goad, deputy director of Conservation Colorado. “The bottom line is this: Senator Gardner has cast anti-environment votes 85 percent of the time, so the formation of the Roosevelt Conservation caucus could be a good thing, but it has to be action-oriented.”
The group issued a report in June criticizing Gardner’s record, including votes to block environmental regulations and to support Trump’s nominees for agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department.
The Colorado senator said he supports an “all of the above” energy policy that includes the use of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas as well as nuclear and renewable energy.
“We’re not going to shy away from the things that will make this country a stronger, better, cleaner place,” Gardner said.
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.
“From a Republican point of view, I think we 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,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
“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.”
Gardner has a lifetime score of 10% from the League of Conservation Voters, an advocacy group that tracks lawmakers’ pro-environment votes. His score in 2018 was 7%.
Other GOP lawmakers in the caucus also had low LCV scores. Graham’s lifetime rating is 12%; Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) has a lifetime score of 8%; Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) has a score of 4%. Others in the group received higher marks from LCV — Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has a lifetime score of 17% and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has a 26% score.
Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, said of the 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.”
Snape 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,” Snape said. “Is it enough for Cory Gardner to join a green club?”
President Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican conservationist for whom the caucus is named, is “absolutely rolling over in his grave,” Snape said.