We look at the big results of the midterm election night and what they mean for national clean energy and climate policy in the years to come.
Rundown of where we’re at post-election:
- Democrats secured a House majority, controlling 221 seats as of publication.
- Republicans kept their majority in the Senate controlling at least 51 seats, with Beto O’Rourke narrowly losing to Ted Cruz.
- Democrats gained at least 7 Governorships. Scott Walker (R) lost in Wisconsin, and Andrew Gillum (D) narrowly lost Florida. The race in Georgia is still too-close-to-call, with Stacey Abrams (D) hoping for a runoff election for December.
No major statewide upsets in the Commonwealth. Here’s the rundown:
- The state’s congressional delegation will remain all Democratic, with Warren and House Democrats easily defeating their GOP opponents.
- Governor Baker cruised to a second term, with outlets reporting his victory only minutes after the polls closed.
- Democrat’s increased the size of their supermajorities in the legislature, with GOP incumbents Senator Richard Ross and Rep. Jim Lyons losing to their Democratic challengers.
Also as a policy, carbon pricing emerged as a winning issue among those running in competitive and open districts across Massachusetts. In a year where Democrats were expected to increase control in the state legislature, some first-year lawmakers will shape the direction of climate policy for at least the next decade.
Democratic House Control and Climate Action
House GOP, Democrats likely to approach climate differently: Using the House as a platform, Democrats will likely begin pushing for new efforts to address climate change in the coming session. This would include using the national budget to encourage renewable energy projects, and pushing back against the Trump administration efforts to ignore global climate warnings by resurrecting the defunct select committee on climate change.
At the same time, House Republicans are likely to become more conservative, with the Freedom Caucus (ie. the ‘Tea Party’) gaining 15 GOP seats in already solid red districts. This will likely lead to a more hardline approach to clean energy policy from House Republicans, as opposed to the consensus-driven approach advocated by more moderate GOP members.
Conflict among House Democrat may arise over whether to push for ambitious spending on renewable infrastructure, or push for market-based incentives like tax breaks for clean energy. A small bloc of climate-focused progressives have publically pushed for a ‘Green New Deal,’ which would include deficit spending to modernizing energy infrastructure and create hundreds of thousands of green jobs.
House Democrats to target Trump EPA rollbacks: Democrats are expected to focus a good deal of their new power in the House on stopping Trump’s proposed EPA rollbacks. This includes proposed changes to clean car standards, the clean power plan, and methane leak regulations. Democrats can use their control of committee chairmanships to exercise the House’s right to hold hearings and subpoena the records of EPA and top energy officials. Likely targets include Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and of course the next EPA chief.
Uncertain future for Climate Solutions Caucus: The 90-member Climate Solutions Caucus in the House may not survive into the net session. At the time of publication, 11 of the 45 Republicans on the caucus have lost their seats, with more at risk in close races in the West. Congressman Carlos Curbelo (R-Florida) is among those who lost. He was the GOP co-chair and the top Republican on the committee. Last session, Curbelo introduced an ambitious carbon pricing bill, but this wasn’t enough to fend off a spirited Democratic challenger.
There is a fear that this damage to the Solutions Caucus, whose goal was to encourage bipartisan solutions to climate change, will sink any effort to pass lasting climate legislation at the Federal level. Yet others point to the existing weakness of the caucus, which failed to stop a GOP-backed resolution that opposed any form of a carbon tax (with most Republicans on the caucus voting for the resolution).
In the short-term, the Caucus will have to restructure because it requires equal participation from both parties. We’ll have to keep an eye out to whether it is able to survive in the coming session.
Carbon Pricing in Washington State
Fossil fuel money prevailed in defeating a ballot question in Washington State that would have instituted the nation’s first statewide price on carbon.
The measure proposed charging companies $15/ton for emitting carbon pollution, and increase that by $2 each year until the state meets its climate change target. Revenue would have gone to clean air projects, community health initiatives, and wetlands restoration.
Last week, polling showed 50% of likely voters supported the carbon tax, with 36% opposed and 14% still undecided. As of publication, 56% voted to reject the proposal, while only 44% supported it. A revenue-neutral carbon price was on the ballot in Washington state in 2016, but that too failed to get the necessary votes.
Some worry that this ballot loss will signal that state electorates are not ready for a carbon tax, but last night’s outcome probably had more to do with record campaign spending than it had to do with public opposition. Industry opposition groups spent a record $30 million to oppose the carbon tax, compared to the $12 million spent to support it.
Other Ballot Questions
Washington’s carbon pricing question wasn’t the only ballot question we followed last night. Here’s a quick rundown of the results of other energy and environmental statewide referendums.
Arizona renewable energy mandate: Voters overwhelmingly REJECTED a ballot initiative that required the state to adopt a 50% renewable energy standard. Opponents spent over $40 million to defeat the measure, which was polling behind for the past few months.
Nevada renewable energy mandate: Nevadans overwhelmingly ACCEPTED a proposal to double that state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which requires a minimum portion of electricity to come from renewable sources. The RPS will rise until its at 50% in 2030.
Colorado oil and natural gas drilling restrictions: A proposal that would have kept fossil fuel wells areas deemed “vulnerable,” (like schools, homes, and waterways) was handily REJECTED by Colorado voters. The proposal would have made 95% of the state off-limits to drilling, according to industry estimates. Fossil fuel interests outspent supporters of the ballot by 40 to 1.
Florida offshore drilling ban: Florida ACCEPTED a constitutional amendment to ban all offshore oil and natural gas drilling in state waters. Technically already in place, the amendment would make it harder to reverse the law. Interestingly, because of a quirk in the state constitution, the same ballot measure also banned e-cigarette use in the workplace.
California fuel tax repeal: A Republican-backed measure to repeal a law that increased the gas tax by 12 cents a gallon, was REJECTED by California voters. Supporters of the measure thought that California’s already high taxes would increase the chance that the measure would pass.
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