The 2016 election illuminated the challenges that American women face in running for federal office. Not only did the first woman presidential candidate from a major political party lose, the United States made no progress in increasing the number of women in Congress. Two years earlier, in 2014, women had surpassed more than 100 seats for the first time in history; a symbolic milestone in the long struggle for women’s equality in US government. Yet it will take more than century at our current rate for our legislature to achieve equal representation.
Statistics conveyed by organizations like the Center for American Women in Politics and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research highlight this disparity: women comprise roughly 51 percent of the population and 53 percent of the electorate but only 20 percent of Congress. Women are not the only constituency impacted by unequal representation – our entire policymaking process suffers.
 Laura Cohn, “The U.S. Made Zero Progress in Adding Women to Congress,” Fortune, November 21, 2016.
 Sheryl Gay Stolberg, “More Women Than Ever in Congress, but With Less Power Than Before,” New York Times, February 2, 2015.
 Nia-Malika Henderson, “Women will reach political parity in 2121. Why will it take so long?” Washington Post, May 22, 2014.
“We need to have more women in Congress — we need more consensus-builders, we need people who will listen more, who are less ego-driven and partisan. I really believe if you had 51 percent women in Congress, the whole dynamic would change.”Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Since 2000, Rachel’s Network has made the case that gender disparity in government not only stymies equality, it has serious implications for environmental policy as well.
In previous iterations of When Women Lead (in 2003 and 2011), we analyzed the voting records of federal legislators going as far back as 1983 using League of Conservation Voters (LCV) Environmental Scorecard data. We found that women in Congress vote for legislation supporting clean air, clean water, renewable energy, climate action, and public health much more often than their male counterparts (and similarly vote more often against legislation that would roll back these protections).
This update brings our analysis up to the present. After comparing annual LCV scores each year from 2006-2017, we again found that women legislators vote for environmental protections more often than their male counterparts in both the House and Senate.
Climate change, pollution, food and energy insecurity, chemical safety, and biodiversity loss have become urgent global concerns that threaten lives and livelihoods in the US. If we want to make progress on protecting the environment and public health, we should help elect more women to public office, and support them during their tenure.
Women’s Environmental Voting Records in the House of Representatives
Since 2006, women in the House of Representatives have consistently outvoted their male colleagues on environmental protection. The average LCV score of women in the House over the 12-year period was 71 compared to 40 among men. Women in the House of Representatives also outscored men in the House every year over the twelve-year period studied.
Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced legislation that would hire veterans for green jobs, secured grants for energy efficiency and STEM education, and became a founding member of the Safe Climate Caucus in 2013.
Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY) joined the House Climate Solutions Caucus in 2015 to develop policies addressing climate change. She also helped defeat an amendment to a Defense Department authorization bill that would have blocked a study on the impact that climate change is having on national security.
Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL) has led efforts to advance energy conservation and protect our vulnerable coastline.
Women with Perfect Environmental Scores in the House
Over 40 percent of the representatives earning perfect LCV scores (100) in 2015 were women: Anna Eshoo, Julia Brownley, Judy Chu, Nancy Pelosi, Linda Sánchez, Lucille Roybal-Allard, and Janice Hahn (CA); Diana DeGette (CO); Elizabeth Esty (CT); Lois Frankel (FL); Jan Schakowsky (IL); Chellie Pingree (ME); Donna Edwards (MD); Katherine Clark (MA); Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ); and Nydia Velázquez, Yvette Clarke, and Nita Lowey (NY). In 2016, 37 percent of the LCV scores of 100 were women including Barbara Lee, Jackie Speier, Zoe Lofgren, Norma Torres and Susan Davis (CA); Kathy Castor and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL); Colleen Hanabusa and Tulsi Gabbard (HI); Niki Tsongas (MA); Brenda Lawrence (MI); Betty McCollum (MN); Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM); Grace Meng and Louise Slaughter (NY); Alma Adams (NC); Joyce Beatty, Marcy Kaptur, and Marcia Fudge (OH); and Suzanne Bonamici (OR).
Women’s Environmental Voting Records in the Senate
The average LCV score of women Senators from 2006-2017 was 73 compared to 42 from their male counterparts. Women Senators also outscored men in the Senate every year over the 12-year period studied.
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Former Senator Olympia Snowe‘s (R-ME) matching lifetime LCV scores of 65 put them near the 10-year average for all women senators. Both women voted for public land protections, water conservation, clean energy and climate change funding, and more.
In April 2015, President Obama signed Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-NH) bipartisan legislation, the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2015 (a bill she co-sponsored with Rob Portman, R-OH) in 2013.
The Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016 marked the first time the Senate passed a comprehensive energy bill since the Bush Administration. It was led by two women from across the aisle: Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).
Women with Perfect Environmental Scores in the Senate
While women comprised only 20 percent of the Senate, they made up 32 percent of the LCV scores of 100 in 2015, with perfect votes from Tammy Baldwin (WI), Mazie Hirono (HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Elizabeth Warren (MA), and Barbara Boxer (CA). In 2016, women comprised 27 percent of perfect scores with nine senators including Maria Cantwell (WA), Patty Murray (WA) and Jeanne Shaheen (NH).
“We’ve got to get more women to run. We need to be strategic and identify women to run in open seats at every level of leadership. And once those women are recruited, we need to make sure that they have the support, financial and otherwise, to be successful.”Debbie Walsh, Director, Center for American Women and Politics
We can close the gender gap and make a difference for the environment by following these suggestions from fellow advocates:
About Rachel’s Network
Rachel’s Network is a vibrant community of women at the intersection of environmental advocacy, philanthropy, and women’s leadership. With a mission to promote women as agents of change dedicated to the stewardship of the earth, we meet with cutting-edge thinkers, build productive alliances, and connect with savvy, like-minded women to strengthen our leadership and impact.
About Rachel’s Action Network
Rachel’s Action Network (RAN), a nonpartisan 501(c)(4) organization, is an advocacy resource for women who want to translate their philanthropic giving into political impact. Our programs empower women leaders to influence the political process and make their voices heard on the issues they care about.