Donor Bets $500,000 on Ayotte's Environmental Record

Jul 7, 2015

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, expected to face a tough re-election battle next year, has received a $500,000 donation from a Republican entrepreneur who wants his party to confront climate change.

As reported by The Hill, Jay Faison, founder of the ClearPath Foundation, hopes to spend as much as $175 million in the 2016 cycle. Ayotte is his first major beneficiary. 

  “We are looking for strong Republican leaders who are forward thinking, recognize the risk of climate change, and who believe America can accelerate it’s inevitable transition to clean energy without harming the economy,” Faison said in a statement.

Ayotte has a mixed record on the environment.

She was one of five Republicans who earlier this year backed a Senate resolution that stated "climate change is real" and is “significantly” caused by human activity. That represents a much firmer position than one she took in 2010, when she told the Portsmouth Herald that she didn’t believe the evidence of climate change was “conclusive.”

As state attorney general, Ayotte apparently took her charge to look out for the health of New Hampshire's air and water seriously. On at least two occasions, she challenged the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush over Republican-sponsored bills that would have weakened protections of clean air and water. 

In 2005, she and 12 other attorneys general signed a letter opposing the Clear Skies Act for its failure to impose limits on carbon dioxide emissions.

Ayotte's office also opposed changes to the federal government's Toxics Release Inventory program that would have made it harder to access information about dangerous chemicals. (For a good overview of Ayotte’s environmental record as attorney general, see this Concord Monitor story from 2010.)

Ayotte has a lifetime score of 23 percent from the League of Conservation Voters, which tracks Congress on issues such as clean energy and environmental regulations.

The group dinged Ayotte for backing a Senate bill to truncate the federal approval process for the Keystone XL Pipeline and for supporting the repeal of a bill, later signed by President Obama, that reformed the federal flood control program. According to the LCV, repeal would have led to "the destruction of wetlands, forests, and other habitats that help mitigate flood damage.”

Ayotte backed an amendment to the Water Resource Development Act of 2013 that would have prohibited the expansion of streams and wetlands subject to protections under the Clean Water Act. She also opposes cap-and-trade legislation, signing a "No Climate Tax" pledge from Americans for Prosperity to vote against any bill "relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue."

As this New Republic piece notes, Ayotte recent environmental credibility is a bit of surprise.

One way to look at it is as an effort to boost her credibility with environmentalists before her 2016 reelection effort. The other is to, in essence, acknowledge what Jay Faison and other Republican environmentalists are now saying: It’s time for conservatives to quit denying the existence of climate change and start proposing their own solutions.