Democrats on Offence, Climate Hawk Urges ‘Green New Deal’ After Midterm Election Result
The split result in U.S. midterm elections Tuesday evening is receiving extensive coverage in the country’s climate and energy media, with the new Democratic House majority expected to promote climate action and push back on the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks in spite of an expanded Republican majority in the Senate.
“With their win of control of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats will now have the numbers to put climate change issues back on the congressional agenda,” InsideClimate News reports. “But the Republicans reinforced their firewall against any legislative efforts in the Senate by gaining at least two new members with poor records on confronting the climate crisis. That bolsters the power of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to block any measures unfavourable to the fossil fuel industries.”
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The results across the country were decidedly mixed, particularly on state ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington state, where fossils threw around their corporate weight and unfettered wealth to defeat key ballot initiatives. High-profile Republican climate advocates like Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo went down to defeat, prompting some but not all analysts to declare the death of climate bipartisanship on Capitol Hill.
“The Democratic victors in many races, however, won over voters with the argument that the best prescription for climate action would be to put the House back in the hands of Democrats,” InsideClimate notes. “Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, the Democratic non-profit fundraiser and development consultant who won Curbelo’s South Florida seat, argued that Republicans had done nothing to protect the state’s treasured coast and reefs. Up the coast in Virginia, Navy veteran and nuclear engineer Elaine Luria defeated another Climate Solutions Caucus member, Republican Rep. Scott Taylor, with an argument that he paid only lip service on environmental protection issues vital to the future of Virginia Beach and Norfolk.”
Moreover, “many of the House’s climate science deniers were swept out of office, including Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), Rep. Jason Lewis (R-MN), and Rep. Claire Tenney (R-NY). In Iowa, a state where farmers have been buffeted both by weather and by Trump’s energy and trade policies, voters sent home Reps. Rod Blum and David Young, replacing them with two women with backgrounds as advocates of defending and expanding clean energy in Iowa. Iowa’s sole remaining climate-denying GOP congressman, Steve King, held on to his seat for a ninth term, although his opponent, J.D. Scholten, came within four points of victory in a district that Trump won by 27 points.”
The incoming chair of the House Science Committee, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), “said she plans to steer a new direction for the committee if the Democratic leadership affirms her as chair,” after a five-year reign by climate-denying Republican Lamar Smith. Johnson said she planned to address “the challenge of climate change, starting with acknowledging it is real, seeking to understand what climate science is telling us, and working to understand the ways we can mitigate it,” while restoring the committee’s standing “as a place where science is respected and recognized as a crucial input to good policy-making.”
With Democrats holding the majority and the gavel, “the House Science Committee could well become the arena for scrutiny of the Trump administration’s controversial moves against science, including efforts to restrict the scientific research used by federal agencies in rulemaking and the elimination of experts from federal agency science advisory boards,” writes ICN reporter Marianne Lavelle. “The House Energy and Commerce Committee, with a long history as a powerful oversight committee, is likely to unleash its investigators on the Trump administration’s environmental and energy agencies, sniffing for evidence of waste, conflicts of interest, and abuse.”
Overall, “in one House race after another, Republicans who have been out of step with the prevailing scientific consensus on climate change were replaced by Democrats committed to taking action,” Lavelle adds. “Back in the majority on House committees, Democrats will at least be able to turn a spotlight on the problem by using hearings to bring public attention to communities pummeled by storms, droughts, floods, and wildfires, and wielding subpoena power” to investigate Trump’s attacks on climate policy and action.
“One of our main priorities would be strengthening the economy and creating more good-paying jobs by rebuilding America through investments in green energy and drinking water infrastructure,” said Frank Pallone (D-NJ), incoming chair-apparent of House Energy and Commerce, in a statement before the election. “We would also focus on the need to address climate change by looking at its impacts on our communities and economy, and by holding the Trump Administration accountable for dangerous policies that only make it worse.”
InsideClimate also cites at least three governors-elect—Jared Polis in Colorado, Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, and J.B. Pritzker in Illinois—who’ve all committed to 100% renewable energy targets. They’ll stand in marked contrast to Florida’s next governor, Republican Ron DeSantis, who’s declared that “I am not a global warming person” and has amassed a stellar, 2% pro-environment voting record with the League of Conservation Voters (LCV).
Tiernan Sittenfeld, LCV’s senior vice president for government affairs, celebrated the end of “the most anti-environmental U.S. House of Representatives in our nation’s history.”
“Since 2009, the extreme Republican leadership of the U.S. House has put corporate polluters ahead of people and their communities time and again,” she said. “For the last two years, they have aided and abetted the most anti-environmental president ever. But now voters have clearly called for change, supporting candidates who campaigned on protecting people and our environment—and rejecting those who gave only lip service to the urgent threat of climate change.”
“The voters are clearly demanding changes in Washington, a return to common sense policies, and greater accountability from their elected leaders,” agreed Fred Krupp, president of the U.S. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). “The results were also a rebuke to the current leadership of the House of Representatives, which has voted repeatedly to undermine science, roll back environmental safeguards, and allow more pollution.”
Krupp added that “pro-environmental candidates and climate champions were on the ballot in hundreds of elections at the federal, state, and local levels. Many winning candidates made environmental protection central to their campaigns; and many who reject climate science were defeated. Even in races where pro-environment candidates did not prevail, clean air, clean water, and climate change were issues both sides attempted to claim.”
One of the immediate debates is whether the defeat of Curbelo and at least 18 other Republican members of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus will reinforce the partisan divide over climate action. “Now that Democrats control the House, there is great potential to move bipartisan legislation to price carbon. I emphasize ‘bipartisan,’ because the only way to enact an effective and enduring solution is to have buy-in from both sides of the aisle,” said Citizens’ Climate Lobby Executive Director Mark Reynolds.
With Curbelo out of Congress, “we’re confident other Republicans will step up to lead, and the existing and potential members are invested in continuing bipartisan work on climate,” he added. “To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of the Climate Solutions Caucus are greatly exaggerated.”
But on Grist, veteran meteorologist and climate hawk Eric Holthaus argues that the prospects for bipartisan climate action in the U.S. are gone.
“The moderate coalition that might have supported such an effort is now in shambles,” he wrote Wednesday morning. “Pro-climate Republicans lost big last night. It’s an open question if there are even any Republicans left in Congress who would support bipartisan market-based climate policies (if there ever were).” After years of trying to find compromise on bipartisan, market-based solutions, “the current strategy isn’t working. And with warnings from climate scientists blaring, it’s time for something different.”
Holthaus urged Democrats to rally around a comprehensive Green New Deal, rather than a more limited focus on a carbon tax or cap-and-trade.
“We need a comprehensive retooling of the American economy for the 21st century,” he wrote. “A jobs guarantee, a goal of 100% carbon-free energy as soon as possible, a commitment to a society that respects our bedrock values of equality and justice. All those needs would exist even without our present climate challenge. Packaging them together under the urgency of climate change is something that will rally people, send the appropriate signals of the scale of the problem, and reward voters with a better society at the end of the day, rather than penalizing them for continuing to use old forms of energy.”
Greentech Media has a rundown on various state ballot initiatives related to renewable energy development, including Nevada voters’ support for a 50% renewable portfolio standard by 2030 (but defeat of a separate initiative to deregulate the retail electricity market), and Arizona’s rejection of a 50% RPS. Washington once again voted down a state carbon tax, Colorado shot down a measure to ban new oil and gas drilling within 2,500 feet of homes, schools, and other occupied areas, Florida voted against offshore drilling, and California voters rejected a measure to repeal a recent increase in the state gas tax. More broadly, CityLab declared a “progressive sweep” on ballot initiatives in 37 states.
Climate Liability News and Axios are both pointing to fossil fuel money as the deciding factor in the ballot losses in Washington, Colorado, and Arizona.
“Oil and gas companies poured US$30 million into opposing the carbon fee proposal in Washington state and a large majority of the $30 million spent to defeat an initiative in Colorado to require larger setbacks for oil, gas, and fracking projects near homes and schools,” CLN notes. “In Arizona, the parent company of the state’s largest utility spent big to defeat a major clean energy ballot initiative.”
“The industry wins are stark examples of how money-fueled negative messaging can persuade voters. It also shows how fights over energy policy have moved to the states as the issue remains mostly off the table in Washington,” Axios adds.