Pence and environmental degradation go way back

Thursday, October 15, 2020 - 12:54pm

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Quote card design by Opinion

With President Donald Trump having contracted COVID-19, the presidential line of succession has become a topic of discussion. Next in line to the presidency is Vice President Mike Pence, who debated Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris on Wednesday, Oct. 7. This puts Pence’s record front and center. Unlike Trump, who did not serve in public office before going to the White House, Pence served in the House of Representatives for 12 years, later becoming Governor of Indiana for four years before he was chosen to be Trump’s vice president. So, what does his record look like regarding the environment? 

Spoiler alert — it’s not good. Pence has an incredibly long and dangerous record when it comes to the environment, and that alone is reason enough for voting Trump and Pence out of office. 

During the beginning of Pence’s political career, his family-owned gas company Kiel Bros Oil Co. had a large scandal when it collapsed. Kiel Bros was deemed responsible for 85 toxic waste sites throughout Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois, costing taxpayers over $20 million for cleanup. Toxic chemicals from Kiel Bros’ storage containers leaked into soil, streams and even wells of drinking water. Pence himself lost $600,000 when the company went under. However, the vice president dodged legal consequences, and his spokeswoman Alyssa Farah, who was Press Secretary of the Vice President from October 2017 to September 2019, called it “a years-old issue.” Kiel Bros’ profits were privatized and the risks were socialized as Indiana taxpayers were stuck paying the majority of that bill. Court documents revealed that Kiel Bros paid just $3.8 million of the over $20 million clean-up cost and the toxic waste left behind caused cancer clusters throughout Indiana. 

Fossil fuel industries have an incredible amount of lobbying power and donate millions of dollars every year to politicians. When Pence was in the House of Representatives, he was a huge beneficiary of those donations, receiving $234,350 from oil and gas companies and $364,500 from the Energy and Natural Resources sector. One might wonder if all the campaign donations he has received would have an impact on Pence’s voting record. If you thought that it did affect his voting record, you would be correct. 

According to the League of Conservation voters scorecard, Pence voted for the “pro-environment” position just 4% of the time. Pence voted to improve health and environmental protections on average just one in every 25 votes. This meant 96% of the time he sided with the fossil fuel industries pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into his campaign rather than the health and safety of his constituents. 

As governor, Pence called Indiana a “pro-coal state” and repeatedly rolled back renewable energy standards. With the help of Indiana’s Republican-led state legislature, Pence canceled the Energizing Indiana Program which was estimated to save 11 million megawatt-hours and create 19,000 new jobs. In the short time that the program was enacted, it proved to be cost-effective and saved Hoosiers money on their electric bills. The original program was created by the previous Indiana governor, Republican Mitch Daniels, so it was not pushed by what Pence would call the “radical left.” 

Pence also received more than $300,000 in campaign contributions from the Koch brothers, who have made part of their fortune through fossil fuels. The Koch brothers also helped fund a false information campaign stating that climate change is not real, which has spread throughout politics and the media. From 1997 to 2018, the brothers donated around $145.5 million to 90 different organizations that constantly attacked the climate science behind climate change. These groups would paint themselves as experts and argue that climate change is not caused by humans or that it is not even real. 

Mike Pence, unsurprisingly, also denies climate change. In 2001, Pence wrote an article about how global warming “is a myth.” He likened it to the “‘new ice age’ scare of the 1970’s” and argued that the environmental movement was just trying to “raise taxes and grow centralized governmental power.” In the recent vice-presidential debate Pence ceded that “the climate is changing” and followed that by saying “we’ll follow the science.” Pence’s following of science does not appear to include the nearly 100 environmental regulations that have been rolled back by Trump’s administration thus far. 

And this isn’t the only crisis he has neglected. In late 2014, when Pence was governor, one person contracted HIV in a small Indiana town. Three months later, that number grew to 17. Pence resisted calls for safe needle exchanges and even told public health experts that he would “go home and pray on it.” Pence’s prayers did not avert the outbreak and 215 cases of HIV were found — 127 of which could have been avoided if the proper public health recommendations were followed in a timely manner. Pence allowed the largest HIV outbreak in Indiana’s history by ignoring scientists and public health experts. He showed his inability to act swiftly in times of emergency and that he is not prepared to lead the fight against another crisis, the crisis of climate change. 

Pence largely goes unnoticed behind Trump, who gets most of the media attention because of his filter — or lack thereof. Pence also benefits from Trump’s media presence because his record is never put under scrutiny. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that Pence is any better than Trump. Both do not belong anywhere near positions of power and are existential threats to the future of this planet for our kids and grandkids. 

Alexander Nobel can be reached at anobel@umich.edu


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