GOP senator receives 'conservation' award despite anti-environment record

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ConservAmerica gave Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner an environmental award despite his 7% rating from the League of Conservation Voters.

A Republican conservation organization lauded Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) with its first-ever "Congressional Champion Award" on Thursday despite his poor voting record on environmental issues.

The group, ConservAmerica, also honored Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), whose likely Democratic opponent in 2020, Sara Gideon, was recently endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters.

The timing of the award is beneficial to Gardner, who has spent the last several months receiving criticism from environmental groups in Colorado who were disappointed with his job performance.

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The award also comes less than one year out from 2020 Election Day, when Gardner will likely face a tough reelection race.

"The Congressional Champion Award is given to lawmakers who demonstrate a commitment to environmental and conservation policies that reflect the values and traditions we share as Americans," Jeff Kupfer, president of ConservAmerica said, adding that those traditions include "personal freedom and individual responsibility, free markets and competition, private property rights, a love of the great outdoors and a desire to enhance and protect our lands and waters now and for future generations."

Until a rebranding effort in 2012, ConservAmerica was known as Republicans for Environmental Protection.

In 2018, Gardner had a 7% rating with the League of Conservation Voters, which scores members of Congress based on their voting record on environmental issues. Gardner's rating in 2017 was 0%, meaning he did not cast a single pro-environment vote the entire year.

"Senator Gardner's voting record is unacceptable," Jessica Goad, deputy director of Conservation Colorado, said in June. "He ran on promises to protect our land, air, water, and communities and he has failed to deliver on nearly all of those promises."

In an analysis that month, Conservation Colorado reported that Gardner voted "five times to block limits on carbon pollution, seven times to protect billions in subsidies for fossil fuels, seven times to undermine scientific reviews, and 10 times to make it harder to establish or enforce environmental protections."

While Election Day is almost a year away, three prominent environmental groups are already airing ads criticizing Gardner's voting record, according to the Denver Post. Environmental Defense Fund Action is running radio ads criticizing both Gardner's record and his close ties to Donald Trump. Conservation Colorado and Rocky Mountain Values are running a television spot criticizing Gardner for taking campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.

As recently as October, Garder voted so side with Trump on a rule weakening carbon emissions standards for coal-powered power plants.

Despite those things, Gardner has tried to paint his record as environmentally friendly.

"Every American should want to protect the environment and pass our beautiful country on to the next generation better and cleaner than it was given to us," Gardner said last week, accepting the award from ConservAmerica.

It's not the first time Gardner has tried to tout his environmental record. In July, he was part of a group of Republicans that created the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus, a group focused on constructive efforts to address environmental problems.

The move was met with criticism from the Sierra Club, one of the nation's largest environmental groups.

"This greenwashing caucus won't provide Congressional Republicans with the political cover they want until they actually vote to protect the environment, take on the fossil fuel industry, and tackle the climate crisis," Melinda Pierce, legislative director of the Sierra Club, said at the time.

Gardner is regularly referred to as one of the nation's most vulnerable senators seeking reelection in 2020. Colorado supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, and, following the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats took control of both legislative chambers and every statewide elected office.

Gardner's record on the environment has long been met with skepticism by critics.

"We know Senator Gardner will try to rewrite his toxic environmental record, but the facts are clear," Alyssa Roberts, a spokesperson for the Colorado Democratic Party, said on Nov. 1, a few days before Gardner received his award.

Gardner, she said, "is the only Colorado senator ever — Republican or Democrat — to refuse to sponsor wilderness legislation."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.