Climate Transparency Lacking on Senate Websites

The websites of U.S. senators are a poor place to look if you are interested in their views on climate change, according to a recent analysis. Although websites are one of a politician's best ways to present their views and educate and engage their constituents about important issues, many of the nation's senators fail to do so, based on a review of websites by Grist, the environmental news outlet.

Grist combed through 99 Senate websites (Minnesota's new Sen. Franken missed out) looking for the members' views on – or even just a mention of – several climate and energy related topics. For example, just by having a webpage for energy, environment, or climate issues, a senator earned 3 points (out of a possible total of 25). If climate change is at all mentioned, he or she wins 3 points. Several senators failed to even get that far. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) got zero points, as did Illinois' Roland Burris (D) and Mississippi's Thad Cochran (R). McConnell does, however, have a link to last April's Hillbilly Days.

It is odd that what is viewed as either a serious national security threat or the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the nation would get so little attention on the websites of those with significant power to do something about it. (Speaking of hoaxes – the website of infamous climate change denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) scored in the top five – the Senator's views on climate are crystal clear and there for all to see.)

One theory is that by keeping constituents – and fellow senators – in the dark about their positions, senators increase their leverage. According to John Wonderlich, policy director at the Sunlight Foundation,


"There's an incentive to not have a clear position," he said. "For a senator whose vote is going to be courted, it's in their interest to be a little bit coy, because their vote becomes a bargaining chip ... It's all about jockeying for clout within your caucus, or trying to get a committee seat, or trying to secure support for some other measure."


Plus, it's harder to hold your senators accountable when you do not know where they stand on major policy questions.

The Congressional Management Foundation has been reviewing congressional websites for years. Their most recent report is the 2007 Gold Mouse Report, which presented awards to congressional websites, including a gold medal to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who received a D (8 out of 25 points) from Grist for his website's climate transparency.

The U.S. and the United Nations agreed that climate change was a big problem back in 1992, and the problem has only gotten bigger since then. It's past time for senators from the planet's biggest contributor to climate change to let us know where they stand.

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