hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News & Issues June 2021


New role will test Stefanik’s green positions

Rise into GOP leadership creates new pressures to adhere to party line


Contributing writer


U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, recently elevated to the House Republicans’ No. 3 leadership post, has a significantly more moderate record on environmental issues than Liz Cheney, the Wyoming congresswoman Stefanik replaced.

That’s prompting some environmental advocates and political observers to question whether Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, might help to reshape her party’s stances on issues such as climate change – or whether she’ll be under pressure to shift her own positions in a more conservative direction.

Much of the news coverage of Stefanik’s rise into the Republican leadership last month focused on her emergence over the past two years as an outspoken defender of former President Donald Trump – and her support for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. She has continued to question the voting process in key states despite a series of rulings by judges and elections officials of both parties who found no evidence of significant voting irregularities.

But while Stefanik has cast herself politically as a fierce Trump loyalist, she opposed several of Trump’s environmental policy priorities in 2020. She voted, for example, to block the weakening of air pollution soot standards, and against funding cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to the League of Conservation Voters, which gave Stefanik a grade of 48 percent on its 2020 congressional voting scorecard. The group gives Stefanik a lifetime score of 38 percent.

Cheney, by comparison, received 5 percent in 2020 and had a lifetime score of 2 percent.
Elsewhere in the region, Democratic Reps. Antonio Delgado and Paul Tonko of New York, Peter Welch of Vermont, and Richard Neal of Massachusetts all received 100 percent scores in 2020.
Among Republicans from New York, Stefanik’s score was below that of Rep. John Katko of the Syracuse area, who received a 62 percent rating, and former Rep. Peter King of Long Island, who received 52 percent. But Stefanik’s 48 percent was the seventh highest score nationally among House Republicans.


New role, new priorities?
Just how Stefanik’s environmental record will affect her new leadership role – or be changed by it – is a matter of debate.

John Sheehan, a spokesman for the Adirondack Council, a regional environmental organization, expressed hope that Stefanik, in her new role, will be able to partner with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to champion regional issues such as increasing funding for acid rain monitoring stations.

“We’ve found ways to work with her in the past, and we expect we will be able to do so again,” Sheehan said.

Others say Stefanik, in her new role, will be pressured to move to the far right on environmental issues.

Former U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, whose retirement created the open seat that Stefanik won in 2014, said it’s likely the only way Stefanik will champion environmental legislation going forward is if it directly affects jobs in the 21st Congressional District.

“I think she has already gone that direction,” he said.
Other political experts say the elevation of Stefanik to the position of House Republican Conference chairwoman doesn’t necessarily mean she will abandon the moderate record that has served her well in her district.

To the extent that Stefanik is seen as more moderate on some issues, she could help Republicans win suburban congressional districts where former President Trump has not been popular -- districts that are essential to the GOP’s effort to win back control of the House in next year’s midterm elections, said Robert Turner, a political science professor at Skidmore College.
“I think Stefanik is actually well focused to do that,” he said.

Taken in perspective, Stefanik did support Trump on many key policy matters – including his unsuccessful effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Nevertheless, Turner said Stefanik’s new leadership position forces her into a tougher balancing act.

“I think this … is going to be increasing pressure for Stefanik,” he said.
Some political experts said Stefanik’s elevation into her party’s leadership can only benefit New York, giving her increased clout to champion regional issues and to garner federal funding for the state.

“She may become the premier female Republican in New York state,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime Democratic strategist based in New York City.


Local issues, national profile
Stefanik handily won a fourth term in November with 58 percent of the vote, and Sheinkopf said her elevation to the Republican leadership will make it less likely a Democratic would be able to defeat her next year.

Turner, though, suggested her leadership role could make her more of a Democratic target – giving a potential opponent wider access to campaign funding and resources.

Steve Ammerman, a spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau, said Stefanik has already been a strong advocate on agricultural issues such immigrant farmworker visas, dairy policy and providing whole milk in schools.

Her elevation to a leadership position “just provides her a bigger platform to advocate for our issues,” he said.

According to multiple news reports, Stefanik has said she will only serve as House Republican Conference chairwoman for the remainder of this two-year congressional session. After that, she has indicated she would seek the top Republican seat on the House Education and Labor Committee.

Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, the current ranking Republican on the committee, will reach her term limit in that role at the end of this session.

Turner, the Skidmore professor, said it would seem to be a step down for Stefanik to give up a national leadership position to pursue one more traditionally associated with bringing resources back to one’s congressional district.

“That would be unusual,” he said. “I can’t think of anyone that has done that.”
He acknowledged, however, that chairing a committee, particularly if Republicans win control of the House in next year’s election, would open up “a lot of opportunities for credit-taking politics.”
Owens, however, was skeptical that Stefanik would leave her leadership position after only one term.

“I think that it was a sound bite that sounded good,” he said. “I would not rely on that statement at all.”

Owens said Stefanik might have been hedging her bets as she campaigned for her new leadership role.
If Trump falls out of favor in the Republican Party, his strong supporters, such as Stefanik, also would fall out of favor, he explained,

“The real test will come if the Republicans take over the House in ’22,” he said.


Stefanik’s votes on environmental issues


U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, voted in line with League of Conservation Voters positions on environmental issues on 10 votes in 2020, and against environmental issues on 10 votes, earning her a 48 percent score.

The scorecard included some legislation that indirectly affects the environment.

Votes in agreement with League of Conservation Voters position:
• In favor of legislation to phase out use of commercial fishing gear deemed to be harmful to dolphins and porpoises
• In favor of legislation to provide $25 billion in emergency funding to the U.S. Postal Service and to block planned operational changes
• Against an amendment to reduce U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funding to a level President Trump proposed
• In favor of an amendment to block President Trump’s proposed weakening for EPA standards for soot, a contributor to acid rain
• In favor of legislation to remove statues of Confederate soldiers from the U.S. Capitol grounds
• In favor of legislation to make the U.S. Land and Water Conservation Fund a permanent program
• Against an amendment to weaken prevailing wage requirements on federally funded highway and public works projects
• In favor of emergency storm disaster funding for Puerto Rico
• In favor of legislation to extend the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative until 2026 and to increase funding
• In favor of requiring the EPA to set a standard for PFAS chemicals and to require monitoring of public water supplies for the chemicals

Votes against League of Conservation Voters position:
• Against an amendment to increase by 50 percent appropriations for renewable energy research and development
• Against a 2021 appropriations bill that would increase funding for environmental, public works and public lands programs
• Against an amendment to designate 400,000 acres of wilderness in Colorado as a National Historic Landscape and to withdraw 1 million acres of land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park from mining claims
• Against an amendment to prohibit spending in the 2021 fiscal year for testing of nuclear explosive weapons, and to prohibit future testing
• Against a transportation and infrastructure appropriations bill that addressed climate change, including increased funding for replacement of lead pipes
• Against an amendment to spend $4.5 billion a year to replace lead pipes
• Against Washington, D.C., statehood
• Against pandemic relief legislation
• Against legislation to permanently protect 1.37 million acres of land across California, Colorado and Washington
• Against an amendment to close an EPA regulatory “loophole” that enables companies to discharge unlimited amounts of PFAS chemicals into waterways.