To borrow from Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones, results from last week’s U.S. midterm elections from environmental and climate change points of view, were a bit of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want, But If You Try Sometime, You Get What You Need.”
What was needed is what happened: The Democrats won control of the House of Representatives. This will end one party rule in Washington come January, providing a seat at the table for pro-climate action forces where they had none before.
But the best the House can do, given control of the Senate and White House by climate change deniers and skeptics, will be to serve as a crucial check on the anti-environmental instincts of the Trump Administration. Those hoping for positive climate action from Washington will likely have to wait awhile.
Green-Sports largely fared well on Election Day. The efforts of Protect Our Winters (POW), a group of elite active and retired winter sports athletes who lobby elected officials at the federal and state level for pro-climate legislation, and its Action Fund, were more successful than not, especially in key winter sports states.
Today’s GreenSportsBlog post looks at the election wins and losses, through both Green and Green-Sports lenses.
Climate of Hope In The Newly Democratic House
That the Democrats won control of the House of Representatives is a good thing for the environment and the climate change fight.
“The elections were definitely good news,” declared Allen Hershkowitz, co-founder of Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI). “Many people who support and respect sound climate science were elected. And many who stymied increased governmental action on climate were thrown out.”
At a minimum, the new Democratic majority will use House congressional committees to investigate and slow President Trump’s environmental deregulatory agenda. “Scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency have been ignored,” noted Hershkowitz. “That will certainly be explored.”
When the new Congress convenes in January, climate change skeptic Andy Biggs (R-AZ), who currently chairs the House Subcommittee on the Environment, will hand the gavel over to Democrat Suzanne Bonamici. She represents Oregon’s first district, which covers the suburbs west of Portland. Bonamici has a lifetime score of 98 (100 is perfect) from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), which rates Members of Congress based on their votes on environmental issues. That’s a big improvement vs. Biggs, whose LCV score is a paltry 6.
Suzanne Bonamici (OR-1), likely to be the new chair of the House Subcommittee on the Environment (Photo credit: Michael Lloyd, The Oregonian)
And, if this week is any guide, the young cadre of new Democratic House members is going to push party establishment to move faster and stronger on climate than was the case in 2009-11, the last time the party was in control.
On Tuesday, close to 200 climate activists, including incoming high-profile Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), jammed into the offices of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA-12), who hopes to re-assume the position of House speaker. Per David Roberts, writing in Wednesday’s edition of Vox, they called on Pelosi to lead the Democrats “in developing an ambitious, comprehensive plan to address climate change — a Green New Deal.”
Protect Our Winters (POW) and its Action Fund Helped Push Climate-Friendly Candidates and Issues Across the Finish Line in Snow Sports States
The POW Action Fund, which “supports [candidates and] elected officials who will take legitimate action on climate,” saw their get-out-the-vote efforts pay off in three important races in mountain west states with big winter sports industries.
Protect Our Winters athletes, including from left to right, snowboarders Alex Deibold, Kaitlyn Farrington and Gretchen Bleiler, helped support climate-friendly clients at the federal and state levels (Photo credit: Forest Woodward)
- Jared Polis, who pushed for the nation’s most ambitious renewable energy goal — 100 percent by 2040 — became governor-elect of Colorado.
- In Montana, Democratic Senator Jon Tester won re-election with a narrow 15,000 vote win. The POW Action Fund gave Tester one of its first endorsements based on his support of Montana’s growing renewable energy industry and its strong outdoor recreation economy.
Steve Sisolak rode a strong protect-public lands and renewable energy platform to the governor’s mansion in Nevada. Voters in the Silver State also approved a ballot measure that requires electric utilities to get 50 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2030, up from around 25 percent today.
Montana Democrat Jon Tester won re-election to the U.S. Senate thanks in part to the efforts of the POW Action Fund (Photo credit: Alex Wong, Getty Images)
New Republican Senators Have Weaker Environmental Records Than Their Democratic Predecessors
Republicans flipped at least three senate seats, with a fourth more likely than not going their way (Florida GOP Governor Rick Scott has a 12,000~ vote lead over incumbent senator Bill Nelson pending a hand recount). Each of the incoming senate rookies look to be significant downgrades on the environment and climate than their Democratic predecessors.
FLORIDA: Bill Nelson has a solid LCV lifetime scorecard rating of 71. Rick Scott, as a two-term governor of Florida, does not have a LCV scorecard (they only score senators and house members). But, according to Kevin Clark, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “Governor Scott regularly put the wishes of corporate polluters above the needs of Florida’s environment and families. He’s sided with a fringe movement of climate change deniers, defunded popular and bipartisan conservation programs, and undermined the enforcement of air, water, and climate protections.”
INDIANA: Democrat Joe Donnelly will exit the senate with a middlin’ 59 LCV score. His Republican successor, businessman Mike Braun, has no environmental record. But he did answer “strongly disagree” to the question “Are additional regulations necessary to prevent climate change?”
MISSOURI: Claire McCaskill, outgoing Democratic Senator from the Show Me State, had a strong 74 lifetime LCV score. Her replacement, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, cheered President Trump’s decision to scuttle the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.
NORTH DAKOTA: North Dakota has been dubbed the “Saudi Arabia of Fracked Natural Gas.” Thus it is no surprise that Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp often sided with the extractive industries. Still, she was able to earn a 52 lifetime LCV score. Incoming GOP Senator Kevin Cramer? During his tenure in the House, he compiled a 1 LCV score. You read that right.
North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer brings a lowly score of 1 (out of 100) the League of Conservation Voters to his new job in the U.S. Senate (Photo credit: Rick Abbott, Forum News Service)
Climate Bipartisanship Weakened
Carlos Curbelo (FL-26), the most vocal Republican in Congress calling for action to address climate change, narrowly lost his South Florida seat to Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who accused him of not going far enough on the environment.
Curbelo was the co-founder of the bi-partisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, along with Democrat Ted Deutsch (FL-22). It was set up to explore policy options that address the impacts, causes, and challenges of climate change. To join the Caucus, a Democratic House member must bring along a Republican partner in a Noah’s Ark sort of way. The election was a bloodbath for GOP caucus members — 21 will not be returning in January (13 lost and 8 retired).
Carlos Curbelo (FL-26), co-founder of the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, lost his re-election bid (Photo credit: Tom Williams, AP)
Carbon Pricing Ballot Initiative Defeated in Washington
In Washington State, voters rejected an initiative that would have imposed the country’s first tax on carbon dioxide. Economists have long said that carbon taxes would be an important tool for fighting climate change. Make it more expensive to pollute, the theory goes, and companies will quickly find ways to reduce their emissions. The YES vote was ahead in the polls by a significant margin in early October. Then fossil fuel industry groups pumped more than $31 million into the campaign and the proposal went down.
I see three key outcomes from last week’s election regarding the environment and climate:
- Positive governmental action on climate will likely continue to come from the states and not Washington for at least the next two years. New governors in Colorado and Nevada, assisted in their victories by Protect Our Winters Action Fund, will play important roles.
- The states will remain the most effective climate policy laboratories because, despite the Democrats winning control of the House, short-term gains on climate in Washington are unlikely. Republicans, whose leadership remains solidly in the climate denial/skeptic camp, still run the Senate and, of course, the White House. A smaller Climate Solutions Caucus in the House will need be a beacon of bipartisan leadership.
- With Congress gridlocked on climate and the President heading in the wrong direction, Green-Sports’ role will become more important. “The opposition from the White House on positive climate action will stall any movement at the federal level,” asserted Allen Hershowitz. “That is why work and progress on climate from the high profile sports sector is more important than ever.”
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