Vern Buchanan, Republican Representative to the House for the 16th congressional district in Florida was named as a “legislative leader” in 2016 by the U. S. Humane Society for his record on animal protection issues. He was the only Republican to receive a “100-plus” rating by the organization. Yet, at the same time he obtained a pathetic 29% (out of 100%) rating by the League of Conservation Voters. So what is Buchanan? Is he a congressional leader on the environment? Is he cleverly anti-environment? Is he a “moderate” (something he loves to be called) on the environment?
In looking at his public positions on environmental issues and on his roll call votes it seems as if Buchanan is an “old-time” environmentalist (think early 20th Century) with nuanced positions designed to appeal to what he perceives as voters’ interests in his district. Buchanan is an environmentalist along the lines of Teddy Roosevelt. He wants to protect animals and land, but he is generally opposed to government regulation in other environmental areas. That said, however, he adjusts those perspectives to suit his district.
For instance, he is a supporter of the Endangered Species Act, in favor of protecting manatees, wants a designated area for the Florida panther to roam, and supports laws to curb animal cruelty. The animals that are found in Florida get special attention, but when it comes to animals outside of Florida Buchanan seems to find a reason not to care much about them. For instance, he claimed that it would be too much government intrusion to try to save wild horses in the far west and voted against legislation that would try to do that. That is, there are no wild horses in the 16th congressional district.
The idea of protecting species, especially the manatee and the panther, are particularly attractive positions for Buchanan because they are highly visible, in effect, “sexy” environmental positions. Everybody loves big goofy manatees and who wouldn’t want to try to save the beautiful Florida panther from extinction? Glad he agrees with this, but it hardly counts for leadership.
Instead, Buchanan’s environmental consciousness pretty much stops at protecting species—endangered species in Florida as well as pets. He dislikes using government regulation to try to protect or clean up the environment (unless, of course, it directly relates to his district). For example, Buchanan signed on to a letter to the Trump administration opposing oil and gas drilling off the coast of Florida (a policy Trump is considering). He also wants the government to spend more money to research red tide, a problem that affects the 16th district’s beaches quite frequently. But if you don’t live in the 16th district Buchanan doesn’t seem to think you need a clean environment. He voted to prevent the Interior Department from enforcing a rule that would prevent coal companies from discarding mining debris into or near streams (mainly in West Virginia).
On the issue of climate change, arguably one of the most important issues facing the world, Buchanan is eerily silent. He almost never addresses the topic. To figure out where he stands, however, we can look at some votes he has cast. In the past he has voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act, voted to limit the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, voted against an attempt to put a tax on carbon emissions, and voted against an attempt to merely state that man-made carbon pollution contributes to climate change. In this, he seems to be merely following the party line.
The irony is that of all the environmental issues out there climate change and the attendant rise in sea levels is the one that will perhaps threaten the 16th congressional district the most as much of the district will slowly slip into the Gulf of Mexico.
In sum, on the easy and sexy environmental issues Buchanan is an environmentalist. But on the really complex, difficult, long-term, and more fundamental environmental issues, he is at best cowardly in trying to avoid taking positions and at worst anti-environment. Sadly, these more fundamental environmental issues are the ones that pose the greatest threat to our world.