Providence, Rhode Island -- The Sierra Club is endorsing Senator Lincoln Chafee for re-election this morning. Our event is in Warwick, a "Cool City" where a new project is creating an Amtrak station right next to the Providence airport and an opportunity to dramatically increase the energy efficiency of the region. Chafee is facing a tough September primary challenge funded by the Club for Growth -- a hard-core conservative group committed to ousting moderate Republicans from office. But because in Rhode Island no US Senate candidate can afford to be bad on environmental issues, Chafee's opponent also opposes drilling in the Arctic Refuge, as do the Democrats -- one of whom Chafee will face in November.
For an endorsement event, the media coverage is really quite extraordinary -- in most cases the press has stopped covering endorsements, but we have two television stations on it, plus a slew of radio and newspapers. But the question really boils down to this: Why endorse a Republican, even a leader like Chafee, when he votes to make Senator Frist Majority Leader? I make the point that, in the US Senate, it is vital that committee chairs be environmentally responsible, and Frist hurts there. But it is also vital that environmentalism be nonpartisan, and Chafee is essential there. "We choose individuals, not parties," I remind the press. After all, Chafee single-handedly saved Richard Nixon's greatest legacy and environmentalism's proudest accomplishment of the 1970s: The Clean Air Act.
I concluded by saying, "On Earth Day, people are always calling up the Sierra Club and asking what they can do. My answer to folks in Rhode Island is simple. Be sure you vote, both in the primary and general election. And send Lincoln Chafee back to the US Senate. One of these days, if you do, you'll be able to order a tuna fish sandwich and not say to your server, 'hold the mercury.'"
Update: The Sierra Club's endorsement was criticized in the blogosphere, where an inaccurate article misleadingly stated that Senator Chafee only had a 20% environmental rating from us. This number came from an article on a local Rhode Island TV station's website. The station has since removed that number. The League of Conservation Voters Scorecard currently ranks Senator Chafee at 90%. In addition, the Sierra Club does analyze votes for a scorecard we send out to our members. In 2004, that scorecard rated all Senators on four votes. Senator Chafee was on the right side in all four.
We need more Republicans like Senator Chafee and we will continue to praise those who, like him, stand up for the environment because they know it is the right thing to do.