As even a casual political observer knows, the era of the moderate Republican is over, especially in the House of Representatives. The Republican House has made a fetish of attacking the environment. It has passed innumerable bills to strip the EPA of its authority and funding and to handicap the regulatory process. Not a single House Republican has a greater-than-50-percent lifetime rating on the League of Conservation Voters’ scorecard.And so it was bewildering on Thursday when the Environmental Defense Action Fund (EDF Action), the Environmental Defense Fund’s campaign arm, began dropping $250,000 on ads supporting Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican from upstate New York who is facing a self-financing Democratic challenger, Sean Eldridge. (Eldridge is the husband of Facebook cofounder andNew Republic publisher Chris Hughes.)This is just the beginning of EDF Action’s efforts to help elect Republicans. As Politico notes, “The Environmental Defense Action Fund is rolling out a seven-figure ad campaign to aid green-minded Republicans in the midterm elections, part of a longer-term effort to find GOP partners on priorities like climate change. … The group hasn’t publicly identified other Republicans it plans to support in its 2014 effort, which it says is worth around $1 million so far.”

Veteran environmental activists might roll their eyes, thinking, “There goes EDF again.” EDF is widely viewed among greens as the sellout organization that helps corporations and politicians greenwash their records. This is the group, for example, that takes money from oil and gas companies and pro-drilling foundations to produce research that shows lower methane leakage from fracking than other credible studies.

But EDF would say it is merely pragmatic, trying to play an inside game. Republicans control the House, and could soon control the Senate, so cozying up to the most reasonable ones is smart politics. “The fundamental dynamic we have to change is that there’s very little incentive for Republicans to come to the table,” says Tony Kreindler, senior director at EDF Action. Even some more progressive environmental groups are sympathetic to that viewpoint. LCV is backing Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and is considering also supporting Gibson and Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.). [Editor’s note: EDF Action points out that it also supports Democratic candidates and runs ads criticizing Republican climate deniers.]

The whole premise that Gibson is a pro-environment Republican is debatable. His lifetime rating from LCV is a paltry 33 percent. That’s good for a Republican, but it would make him the most anti-environment Democrat in the House. And it would be especially unimpressive for a Democrat from New York state. Kreindler praises Gibson’s “leadership” on climate. But leadership usually means sponsoring legislation or leading the charge to pass it. Gibson has done neither. Rather, he has simply voted the right way on a few key pieces of legislation, which is what EDF Action praises him for in a new TV commercial.

“He has never sponsored a bill that I would consider a climate bill,” notes R.L. Miller, who founded the Climate Hawks Vote super PAC to support climate leaders in Congress. Miller offers a more plausible explanation for EDF Action’s support for Gibson: “The polarization in Congress [on climate change] is mostly because Republicans don’t admit the reality of climate science. If you find one [who does], you treat them like rare birds.” And any environmentalist knows what to do with a rare bird: protect it at all costs.

“We see [Gibson] as a serious legislator who recognizes that we have a moral obligation to address climate change,” says Taurel. Maybe so, but he isn’t the best possible representative from his district. EDF Action is grading him on a steep curve and rewarding him for being less bad than most Republicans, not actually better than the Democratic alternative.

Eldridge’s campaign website touts his commitment to climate action, while Gibson’s does not, and Eldridge has been more outspoken in opposition to fracking and “dirty energy.” Gibson has signed the “No Climate Tax” pledge promoted by Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity, which Eldridge hascriticized him for. The pledge only applies to revenue-raising carbon taxes, so in theory Gibson could support a revenue-neutral carbon tax, but the optimal climate policy might use the revenue for clean energy development. Gibson has also previously voted to bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, to open the Outer Continental Shelf to drilling, and to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Taurel refused to say whether Gibson is actually better on the environment than Eldridge, or any conceivable Democrat, would be. That’s because Gibson isn’t better. The parties are now fully ideologically aligned. The most conservative Democrat is more liberal than the most liberal Republican. There is no way Eldridge would have a worse environmental record than Gibson.

So the question of whether to back Gibson comes down to your theory of how to pass environmental legislation. To this political observer, EDF Action’s theory isn’t pragmatic. It is naive. Only a fool would think that climate legislation is as likely to pass under a Republican House as under a Democratic one.

Only a fool or the Environmental Defense Frauds.

Grenwashed Chris Gibson

Newly Grenwashed Chris Gibson

environmental defense frauds / environmental defense fund