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As election nears, mixed grade for Stefanik on environment

NCPR
August 10, 2016

By: Brian Mann

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Republican Elise Stefanik has stirred controversy with some of her votes on green issues, especially when it comes to climate change.

But during her first two years in Washington, some activists and organizations have worked closely with Stefanik on other issues ranging from invasive species to management of water levels on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

On the plus side: Invasives and Lake Ontario

She had made efforts to support funding for invasive species and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

When Stefanik dropped by North Country Public Radio’s studio last month, one of the things she wanted to talk about was invasive species. "Oftentimes we are the gateway of aquatic invasive species," she said.

This is part of an interesting tradition in the North Country. Except for a few really controversial issues, the environment – which is an ugly flash point in much of the U.S. - tends to be pretty bipartisan here. For decades, Republicans and Democrats have partnered on a things like land conservation, invasive species, clean air and water. In her first term, some environmental groups say Stefanik has lived up to that tradition.

Jim Howe is chapter director of the Nature Conservancy of Central and Western New York, which includes part of Stefanik’s 21st House district. The Nature Conservancy last October honored Stefanik with its “Supporter of Nature” award. Howe said Stefanik has worked hard on important issues including a new, more holistic management plan for Lake Ontario. "It's probably the single biggest thing we can do for our freshwater resources here in the state. The plan would restore about 64,000 acres of wetland. The congresswoman has been very supportive," Howe noted.

Willie Janeway, head of the Adirondack Council green group, agreed that there are things in Stefanik’s voting record that warrant praise. "Something we're pleased with is on the funding side. She had made efforts to support funding for invasive species and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is federal money that supports Park projects in the Adirondacks," Janeway said.

Big questions about climage change

One green group gave Stefanik a failing grade for her environmental votes.

But environmentalists – even those who praise Stefanik for some of her work – find a lot in her first term that’s alarming. Their biggest concern is climate change – Stefanik has acknowledged that global warming is real, but she’s voted steadily against Federal efforts to curb carbon pollution. "She and most of the current House majority have repeatedly opposed efforts to address climate change, to recognize it as an issue," Janeway said.

Some environmental groups are much more critical. A national group called the League of Conservation Voters gives Stefanik a rating of 9 out of a possible score of 100 on environmental issues.

Travis Proulx with Environmental Advocates of New York, argued that Stefanik’s strong talk about the environment doesn’t always match her actions. "The rhetoric doesn't actually match the voting record," he said.

Proulx also points to global warming as the key issue where Stefanik is vulnerable. "When you dig down in and look at how she's voting, she's actually put together one of the most extreme anti-environment voting records currently in the House of Reprsentatives," he said.

So green groups give Stefanik a range of grades on green issues. What’s certain is that at least some environmentalists see her as someone they can work with in Washington – that’s not something they say of all Republicans. Jim Howe with the Nature Conservancy said his group tries to find areas where collaboration is possible. "That helps us build relationships toward advancing more conversation on issues where we don't agree." he said.

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