We can’t address the climate crisis without state leadership. At Climate Cabinet Action, that simple truth informs all of our work. But with thousands of state legislators and hundreds of policy battles unfolding across the US, it’s hard to know how to engage.
We needed a tool to help us see the national view of which state legislators were advancing progress, and which were blocking it. That’s why we built the Climate Cabinet Scorecard - the first central database of how every state legislator in 25 states has voted on important pieces of climate and environmental legislation over the past five years.
We began this work as a volunteer-based team in early 2020 - and now, we’re excited to share the results with you.
Here’s how the Climate Cabinet Scorecard was created:
(1) Bill Identification
The first step in building our scorecard was to identify the key climate and energy bills in each state, starting with the 2015 legislative cycle and working toward the present. Since local organizers know their states best, we compiled our bill list using the latest publicly available scorecards and legislative guides from leading state-based groups, including state-based affiliates of League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, Environment America, and Clean Water Action.
We can’t dive into the methodology without first giving credit and thanks to the many state-based advocacy groups upon whose existing scorecards and intel informed this effort. You can see a full list of sources in the scorecard report. We hope you’ll check out the original sources for additional context on each state, and consider supporting these groups’ critical on-the-ground advocacy efforts.
All of the scorecards we used were “environmental” scorecards, not just climate. We decided to keep environmental bills in our own scorecard as well. However, “climate” bills are given a double-weighted in the final Climate Cabinet Score. Including climate and environmental bills allows us to include more data points in states that aren’t yet considering much climate legislation at all -- and also because climate, environmental, and environmental justice issues are often inextricable.
(2) Roll Call Selection
From the bill list, we selected the relevant “roll call” (in other words, version) of each bill. Then queried the LegiScan database to see how every state legislator voted on each roll call, and we pulled the results into our internal database.
While we were able to automate much of this process, state-specific quirks made this a labor- and engineering- intensive step.
(3) Assigning Scores: Double-Weighting “Climate” Votes
Once we had the bills, roll calls, and vote records in our database - we were able to calculate scores! Legislators were scored according to the number of times they took a “pro-climate vote” divided by the total number of opportunities they had to do so. Missed votes were not scored.
At this point, every “climate” bill (including bills related to clean energy, fossil fuels, air pollution, emissions, frontline community impacts, transportation, building electrification, energy efficiency, emissions, climate justice, etc.) was given a double weight in scoring. Some climate bills were good (for example, strengthening clean energy standards) and some were bad (for example, a fossil fuel subsidy).
State-based groups used a wide range of scoring methodologies and metrics. For example, some state groups double-weight specific votes, add “bonus” points for various non-voting actions, score committee votes or bill co-sponsorship, and more. Sometimes, state groups count an “absent” vote as a vote against the environment; or sometimes, it was not scored at all. In the Climate Cabinet Scorecard, we apply a consistent methodology across states. Only bills that received a full floor vote in at least one chamber are included, and all climate votes are double-weighted.
The result is the Climate Cabinet Score. A Climate Cabinet Score of 100 means an elected official voted pro-climate at every opportunity possible. And a Climate Cabinet Score of 0 means the legislator voted anti-climate every time.
We validated this approach through direct outreach and collaboration in many states, and through an initial release of Climate Cabinet Scores for state legislators in 10 states in 2020.
Notes and call-to-action
By their nature, legislative scorecards simplify the legislative process. Legislators are not simple yes/no voting machines, but have incredible agency to propose and fight for meaningful legislation. Much of that work happens behind the scenes in committees and many of the strongest climate bills never receive a floor vote. The bills that come up for a floor vote are only the most visible objective marker of a legislators’ climate record, so it’s always important to seek out additional context. In the future, we’d like to add additional indicators to the Climate Cabinet Scorecard in order to capture more behind-the-scenes nuance.
There is also a significant range of ambition between states that is not reflected in the climate scores. Virginia, for example, has passed and fought for much stronger climate policy than Georgia, even though Georgia’s legislative climate scores are higher, on average. Thus legislative scores should be interpreted within the context of each state’s overarching climate ambition. You can read more about that here.
With those notes, we hope you’ll put these scores to use! State legislators are critical for tackling the climate crisis, and we hope these scores make their power more salient and accessible for climate activists across America. Have fun exploring and using these scores to hold your legislators accountable.
Next Steps for Climate Cabinet Scorecard
We imagine a future in which the Climate Cabinet Scorecard is a crowdsourced, open-access database that is continuously updated with local knowledge and additional indicators. We’re excited to build out this valuable resource for the climate community and build deeper partnerships with local groups across the US.
This will require significantly more engineering and outreach capacity on our team. If you or someone you know would like to support this work, you can make a donation here or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have information about a state you’d like to add -- please reach out to email@example.com!