Pols scored on environmental records
Published 1:03 am, Friday, November 27, 2009
The results are in. Area politicians in the state legislature have been graded in an environmental scorecard released by the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters and most the scores were good enough to hang on the fridge.
"We're a very small state, we're ... very dense and people come because of the scenery and the vegetation and the land that we have and the beauty of it," said state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-26, who was named an Environmental Champion along with state Sen. John McKinney, R-28. "If we're not careful and we don't protect it, it can quickly be lost."
Her work on the Transportation Committee and her call for stronger wetlands legislation was cited by the league, and she stated that her continued goal is to get people off the roads and into trains for the sake of the environment.
One of the ongoing challenges she cited as being a legislator in the area is development.
"Because of our desirability, and because our closeness to New York we're always under pressure from ... development, so we always have to be vigilant here in lower Fairfield County," Boucher said.
McKinney's work in getting the plastic bottle deposit bill passed as senate minority leader was the main reason for being named a champion. In an interview, he said he's often asked by young people what work he's most proud of. His favorite is what he does with the Environment Committee.
"It's perhaps the only place where we can have an impact for generations to come," McKinney said. "A lot of the bills that we pass or argue over are things that can change from time to time, but when you pass legislation to protect our environment you know that you are protecting that for future generations."
McKinney and Boucher were two of 12 politicians recognized as Enviromental Champions.
The Connecticut League of Conservation Voters is a non-profit organization dedicated to bi-partisan environmental advocacy. Both Democrats and Republicans are represented on their board, and the scorecard is released annually. They speak to legislators about important bills and they interview them to see whether they're worthy of endorsements.
"We let Connecticut citizens know how their legislatures are doing on issues impacting on the environment," said Ken Bernhard, vice-chair of the board and a former state representative in Westport. "We advise legislatures ... of what bills we think are important using the collective wisdom of many environmental groups."
When he was in office, he regularly heard from the league, and once he was out of office he was invited to join them. He has seen scores slowly rise this year.
"That's why I'd like to think we are at least significantly contributing to the improvements in the scores," Bernhard said. "I can affirm that when you are advised that there are bills that are important to the environment and you know that environmental issues are important to your constituents, you want to get it right."
Scoring the Politicians
Each legislator, in both the house and the senate, is assigned a score based on their voting record on bills that the league deems important to the environment. In the last session, some of these bills pertained to protecting land within 100 feet of waterways, schools using green cleaning supplies and subsidizing dairy farms in the state.
Boucher scored a 92 percent, while McKinney scored a 74 percent, which was the lowest in the area.
"Unfortunately I missed a number of votes, I think three votes, and that lowered my score more than usual," McKinney said. As a member of the Environment Committee, he said he also has more items to vote on than some of his colleagues, so that also affects the score.
According to Bernhard, McKinney was recognized not because of his voting record "per se" but for his work in getting the plastic bottle bill passed, which makes water bottles and other similar containers recyclable.
"One bill for which he deserves a great deal of credit is the bottle bill which has floundered in the legislature for 15 years," said Bernhard. "For as long as he's been in the legislature, he's been a strong advocate and it finally passed. John has also been one of those people who will also take our calls and ... has been an excellent advocate for the environment."
State Rep. Joe Mioli, D-136, said the reasons for the high scores that he his colleagues received was because of the issues that his constituents hold dear.
"We're very much interested in our quality of life: the environment and the overcrowding and the traffic and all the stuff like that," he said.
Although he scored a 96 percent, he noted that the issues aren't as "black and white" as his voting decisions.
For State Rep. Kim Fawcett, D-133, it's all about balance. Fawcett had 91 percent on the scorecard.
"We have to be really careful that we're hearing both sides and I certainly worry about what we're doing to our planet but I have to make sure that we're balancing that with the economic impact," she said.
Other politicians echoed such sentiments. State Rep. Tony Hwang, R-134, who scored a 89 percent, praised the league for doing a "yeoman's work" even though stats don't always tell the whole story.
"It's good that they do this. It really is, because it brings awareness. It [makes] people diligently look at legislation," Hwang said.
A change in thinking
Another area of agreement that most local politicians had was that environmentally conscious issues are becoming more critical no matter what political party someone is from.
"I do believe there is a growing awareness...that this is not a partisan issue to the extent it was. Increasingly, it's a bi-partisan issue," said State Rep. Tom Drew D-132, who scored a 97 percent. "Now climate change is becoming a global concern increasingly. Years ago people used these as wedge issues. I know when I first started running I decided I was going to use a different language [pertaining to environmental issues]."
In his shift from legislator to an environmental advocate grading legislators, Bernhard has also seen that change.
"I think [constituents] want their legislators to be environmentally protective and they know that we're going to score them and they want to do well," he said. "Somewhat immodestly, but the connection between our existence, our endorsement process and our score card have helped our legislators vote the right way."