Point of Order

A new Speaker–the same Paul Ryan?
by Theo Koboski -- November 19th, 2015

Out with the old, and in with the new.


Except not quite.

Paul Ryan—representing the small 1st congressional district of Wisconsin—became the 54th Speaker of the House of Representatives last month after the surprise resignation of John Boehner.  But Boehner left behind more than just the lingering scent of cigarettes in the Speaker’s office…he left behind his anti-environment agenda for his successor.


In his last years as Speaker, Boehner was no friend to the environmental community.  He and his House colleagues introduced a slew of legislation that rolled back environmental laws and regulations.  These proposals ranged from rolling back EPA safeguards for waterways and wildlife that stand in the way of the pursuit of coal, to limiting the president’s power to preserve land as National Monuments, to even prohibiting NOAA from enforcing a rule that protected endangered sea turtles from fishermen’s nets.


Official headshot courtesy of paulryan.house.gov

Will Ryan’s speakership be any different?  Right now, it’s way too tough to tell.  The new Speaker was greeted on his first day with a budget battle, a looming debt ceiling, and a multiyear highway bill.  And he’s got a lot more on his plate already.  Immigration remains a high priority issue and the Planned Parenthood debate is sure to spike in the coming months with the formation of a select committee.  From that point, the nation will be fully enveloped by the 2016 election and it seems unlikely that major environmental legislation will make it to the House floor before the next Congress takes their seat in January of 2017.


So instead, let’s take a little trip down memory lane and peek at Paul Ryan’s environmental record throughout his 16 years in Congress.


To start with, Ryan’s lifetime achievement score from the League of Conservation Voters sits at a low 12 percent.  For the year 2014, the same organization gave Speaker Ryan a measly score of 3 percent.


He has spoken openly about his opposition to a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases in America and in 2009 he voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which would have established an emissions plan similar to the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme.


Ryan is the author of a 2009 op-ed piece in which he berates climate scientists for using “statistical tricks to distort their findings and intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.”


He has criticized the EPA for labeling carbon dioxide as a pollutant, and—while running for Vice President—voiced his support for a 10-year $40 billion tax break for oil producers while proposing to cut renewable energy subsidies.


When Paul Ryan took over the speakership in October, he brought with him a message of a fresh start.  In his first address to Congress as Speaker, Ryan vowed to “wipe the slate clean” and fix what he saw as a broken House.  And that note of optimism was extended to everyone.  In Ryan’s own words, “A neglected minority will gum up the works; a respected minority will work in good faith.”


But when the honeymoon phase ends and the claws come back out, will Speaker Ryan stick to his vow?  What will happen when the House Republicans pick up the pace of their assault on President Obama’s climate policies after the December world conference in Paris?  How soon before Speaker Ryan abandons his open amendment/debate process and devolves back to the top-down style of Boehner?


It sure doesn’t look like Paul Ryan will be better for the environmental community than his predecessor, but whether or not the 54th Speaker of the House will be worse is yet to be seen.  It largely depends on how much he’s willing to buckle under the pressure of the House Freedom Caucus—the group of staunchly conservative lawmakers that helped shove John Boehner out the door.


Change isn’t always a good thing.

1 Comment

  1. Meagan
    Nov 20, 2015

    Thank you for such a clearly explained, well-written summary of Paul Ryan’s politics from the environmental side. I can always count on you, as my peer and my friend, to help me understand the political issues that affect the environment!

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