Rep. Mike Doyle picks up Sierra Club endorsement, but his challenger says he never received a questionnaire

Rep. Mike Doyle picks up Sierra Club endorsement, but his challenger says he never received a questionnaire
click to enlarge Mike Doyle - CP PHOTO: RYAN DETO

CP photo: Ryan Deto

Mike Doyle

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Forest Hills) has served in Congress for more than 20 years, and this election cycle is being challenged by Jerry Dickinson, a younger candidate who is running to the left of Doyle. Dickinson has said Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District should be run by a representative with stronger progressive policy positions, like support for the Green New Deal, a bold proposal to transition the country away from reliance on fossil fuels and toward sustainable energy.

But last week, Doyle secured a strong endorsement from the Sierra Club, one of the country’s largest and most well known environmental groups. Barbara Grover is the political committee chair of the Pittsburgh-area Sierra Club chapter, which is called the Allegheny Group of the Sierra Club. In a statement, she said the group’s decision was based on Doyle’s support for the CLEAN Futures Act and his Environmental Scorecard rating with the Sierra Club.

“We are confident that he will continue to work to protect Pennsylvania families’ health, air, and water, and build a clean energy economy that works for all our residents,” said Grover in a statement. Former Allegheny Group chair Mike Pastorkovich said the group is grateful for Doyle’s support in “protecting marine mammals, the Grand Canyon, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, blocking the Environmental Protection Agency from reducing carbon pollution, and much more.”

Doyle says he is honored to receive the Sierra Club endorsement again. The Sierra Club endorsed Doyle in 2018 as well.

“Protecting the environment has always been a top priority of mine in Congress and it’s humbling to receive the support of one of the leading organizations dedicated to protecting our air and water,” says Doyle. “Climate change is one of the biggest dangers of our lifetime. That’s why I support bold policies that will get our nation's economy to 100% clean energy. I look forward to continuing to work with Sierra Club and their allies on our shared priorities.”

But Doyle’s primary election opponent, Dickinson, says he’s disappointed with the Allegheny Group’s endorsement and feels the process was not fair to his campaign. Dickinson says his campaign requested a questionnaire from the Sierra Club but never received one.

Grover said Dickinson didn’t seek the endorsement and didn’t know why he didn’t receive a questionnaire. She said the group should have sent him a questionnaire, but said she didn’t personally send one to Dickinson.

“I do not know what happened there,” said Grover. “Could be just an oversight.”
Grover added that this is the first year that the Allegheny Group of the Sierra Club is collaborating with another environmental group, Clean Water Action, on sending questionnaires.

However, the Clean Water Action Pennsylvania campaign director Steve Hvozdovich says that the groups are collaborating on state-level endorsements, not federal candidates. He says that Clean Water Action sent and received questionnaires from Dickinson and Doyle.

Hvozdovich couldn’t comment on Sierra Club’s endorsement process, but did note that sometimes groups will provide political endorsements on incumbents based on record, especially if that record shows strong alignment with the group’s advocacy.

Grover noted in an email to City Paper that Doyle did seek the Allegheny Group’s endorsement, and defended the decision.

“We base our endorsements on the overall record of an incumbent or the overall background actions of a new candidate not just on one environmental issue,” Grover wrote. “Rep. Doyle has a 97% Environmental Scorecard rating for 2019 and a 79% lifetime rating. This record shows a long commitment of support for the environmental issues Sierra Club has been concerned about.”

She added that the group conducted a personal interview with Doyle to talk about his position on the Green New Deal, renewable energy, the CLEAN Futures Act, and other environmental issues, and that the conversation indicated Doyle’s continued commitment to support environmental concerns of the Sierra Club.

Regardless, Dickinson questions the Sierra Club endorsement given his support for the Green New Deal and other environmental policies that align with the Sierra Club, and Doyle’s opposition to the Green New Deal. Dickinson also supports a ban on fracking, while Doyle hasn't signified support for a ban.

“Mike Doyle supports fracking, opposes the Green New Deal, and takes hundreds of thousands of dollars from the fossil fuel and energy industries,” says Dickinson campaign manager Albert Suh. “The Sierra Club, like Jerry, opposes fracking, supports the Green New Deal, and has denounced the corrupting influence of fossil fuel money on politicians. The Allegheny Group Sierra Club’s decision to endorse a candidate who embodies everything they stand against is inexplicable.”

Since 2010, Doyle’s campaigns have accepted $127,000 from the oil and gas industry, according to Open Secrets. However, in this 2020 cycle, Doyle has only accepted $7,000 from the oil and gas industry so far. When asked about his support for the fracking industry in December 2019, Doyle signified a belief the industry can operate cleanly if regulated.

In 2018, a fracking well in Ohio, just 60 miles from Pittsburgh, exploded and leaked 57,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere over 20 days. That single leak eclipsed the annual amount of methane that is emitted by the oil and gas industries of France, Norway, and the Netherlands combined.

Doyle also supports the transitioning away from fracking through his support of the CLEAN Futures Act. And while the CLEAN Futures Act and the Green New Deal are similar, the Green New Deal is more ambitious in that its goal is to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2030, while the CLEAN Future Act’s goal is by 2050. Another main difference between the Green New Deal and CLEAN Futures Act is the Green New Deal supports direct federal spending to create green infrastructure, while the CLEAN Futures Act supports a subsidy program to incentivize private businesses to decarbonize industrial facilities.

Sierra’s Club national website advocates for the Green New Deal, including a petition started last year encouraging members to contact their Senators and telling them to support the Green New Deal.

Grover acknowledges Doyle’s concerns about the Green New Deal, but noted his support for the CLEAN Futures Act was something the Allegheny Group could get behind.

As part of the endorsement, the Sierra Club will lend its volunteer strength to Doyle’s campaign.

“We look forward to a victory for Rep. Doyle on election night and to his continuing to fight for the environment as a U.S. Representative,” said Allegheny Group Conservation Chair Ellen Wright in a press release.