Almost half of the state Senate and more than a third of the state House of Representatives have perfect voting records on environmental issues, according to Connecticut’s leading environmental advocacy group.
The Connecticut League of Conservation Voters released its annual Connecticut Environmental Scorecard on Wednesday. Co-chairman David Bingham, of Salem, said the scorecard has been tabulated for 14 years as a way to “shine the light of day” on the environmental record of every state senator and representative in the Connecticut General Assembly.
Bingham said numerous lawmakers from both parties voted in line with the league’s priorities 100 percent of the time, whether it was for bills to protect the environment or against bills that might threaten it. The scores took into account 30 separate votes on 16 bills as they made their way through committees, the House and the Senate. The final score for each lawmaker is the average of all of his or her votes.
In the Senate, 12 Democrats and 3 Republicans were scored at 100 percent. In the House, there were 45 Democrats and 12 Republicans with perfect scores.
According to Bingham, protecting the environment is not a partisan issue.
“Clean air and clean water are not things that just the Democrats or Republicans care about. Both sides care about them equally,” Bingham said. “It’s how you do the regulations and how you raise the money needed to do environmental protection that is the real crux of the issue.”
He said scores, especially among Republicans, have been steadily improving since the league started keeping track.
But a look at the scorecard shows most of the lowest rankings this year were among Republicans. Freshman state Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, garnered the lowest score at 44 percent.
France did not return a call for comment.
Sixteen House Republicans and one Democrat voted with the league’s priorities less than 70 percent of the time. The lone Democrat was state Rep. David Alexander of Enfield, who voted with the league’s priorities 67 percent of the time.
The league described the 2015 session, and the subsequent special session to tie up loose ends, as a “banner year” for environmental causes that saw the passage of six of its priorities and the defeat of three bills considered unfavorable to the environment.
Two bills — one to prevent the use of pesticides on municipal playgrounds and another to ban microbeads that are harmful to aquatic life — seemed dead in the water when the regular session ended in early June. But when a special session to approve the state budget was held later that month, the two priorities showed up as amendments in the lengthy budget implementation bill.
Microbeads are tiny plastic particles used as abrasive or exfoliating agents in more than 100 different personal care products, including facial scrubs, soaps, cosmetics, and even toothpaste. They are made of plastic and end up in waterways. The new law will be phased in over two years with a complete ban on the sale of all personal care products containing microbeads by 2018.
Bingham said the league has lobbyists to keep tabs on what’s happening at the state capitol, but he credited concerned citizens with conveying the importance of the two measures to Senate and House leadership as the special session approached.
“We let the public know when something slips through the cracks and doesn’t get done during regular session, and they tend to let their legislators know,” Bingham said.
The league also successfully fought legislation that would have delayed the cleanup of brownfield sites and another that would have made it more difficult to establish or enforce new environmental regulations that are more stringent than federal standards.
One of the league’s unmet goals was the passage of a ban on plastic bags. Bills regarding plastic bags were raised in 2009, 2011, and again this year. The legislation would have imposed a 10-cent fee on customers for each plastic bag they are given at a store, and under this year’s bill plastic bags eventually would have been phased out completely. By October 2019 stores would have only been able to sell reusable bags.
The legislation was opposed by groups such as the Connecticut Food Association, which represents the grocery stores. It also was criticized by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who says he needs plastic bags to clean up after his dogs.
According to Bingham, the scorecard has been instrumental in building support for environmental issues among both parties. The legislature took up only three of the league’s concerns 14 years ago when the scorecard first came out, he said, and this year it took up 16 of them.
Among the legislative champions outlined in the report were state Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, and state Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton.
Lavielle, a member of the transportation committee, was an advocate for failed lockbox legislation that would have prevented transportation funding to be diverted to the general fund.
“Two of the most effective actions the state can take to protect our environment are providing convenient, reliable, and efficient mass transit choices, and developing an infrastructure that will allow the convenient use of alternative power for cars and other motor vehicles,” Lavielle said in a press release. “The League of Conservation Voters and I share those goals.”
Hwang was identified as a leader in legislation to create a marine inventory for the Long Island Sound to better protect its natural resources.
The league recognized 14 Democrats — calling special attention to Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr. of Branford and Rep. James Albis of East Haven — for spearheading several pieces of environmental legislation. The two co-chair the Environment Committee.
The scores also form the basis for the league’s endorsements during the General Assembly election season, which Bingham said has proven to be an incentive for lawmakers who may not have scored as well as they would have liked in prior years.
“All of our legislators have a chance to redeem themselves in the second session before the next election cycle happens,” Bingham said.
Among the league’s priorities for next year will be resurrecting the plastic bag bill, restricting pesticides on state park lawns, and discouraging the use of toxic artificial turf where children play.