This week of uncertainty has left us all obsessively checking our phones for newly released votes. It’s hard not to put so much pressure on the results of the presidential election particularly with the climate in the balance. However, if the last 4 years have shown us anything, it’s that the presidency is not the only place where inspiring climate action can happen.
Check out several down ballot and ballot initiative wins for climate action from this election.
In Colorado, there was the first Democratic flipped Senate seat with former Governor John Hickenlooper defeating incumbent Senator Cory Gardner. Hickenlooper was a presidential hopeful running with a central climate message. His campaign for Senate followed that same narrative with his campaign website writing, “Our planet’s health, economic well-being, and national security are all at risk. It is imperative that we address the climate challenges we face with a fierce sense of urgency — human lives and livelihoods are at stake.”
Gardner on the other hand has floated the line on climate, admitting its existence and generally supporting renewable energy. However, climate advocates are quick to point out his 11% lifetime score on environmental votes from the League of Conservation Voters and his opposition to President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
With the wildfires in Colorado still blazing, it couldn’t be more clear that Colorado needs a climate champion like John Hickenlooper representing them in the Senate.
In Arizona, the second flipped seat for the Democrats in the Senate with Mark Kelly defeating incumbent Senator Martha McSally. Kelly, former astronaut and husband of former Representative Gabby Giffords, has been sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters.
LCV Action Fund Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Tiernan Sittenfeld remarked, “Mark Kelly is committed to commonsense climate solutions and investing in all communities in Arizona, especially the low income and communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by pollution and environmental injustice.”
McSally has a 7% lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters and has refused to support the United States rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement.
Arizona is a state remarkably impacted by climate change, with Phoenix as the hottest city in America and increasingly large wildfires across the state. It needs someone who will fight to increase renewable energy jobs and contain carbon emissions. Mark Kelly is that person.
The “Squad” Grows
All four members of the “Squad” (Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan) have handily won their elections. These women are steadfast defenders of the climate and are all endorsed by the Sunrise Movement.
Joining their ranks and building their progressive support of the Green New Deal in the House are Jamaal Bowman of New York, Cori Bush of Missouri, and Marie Newman of Illinois.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has already played a large role in the development of Joe Biden’s proposed climate plan and would likely continue to shape his climate policy moving forward if Biden is elected.
Incumbent Governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper, has defended his position against challenger Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. Through Cooper’s first term, he has turned North Carolina into a climate leader in the South. With Executive Order No. 80, Cooper has committed North Carolina to reducing electric greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality in the power sector by 2050. His administration has also released a clean energy plan, a North Carolina climate science report, and a Climate Risk Assessment and Resilience Plan.
Forest, on the other hand, said in an interview recently that, “I think the jury’s out on it. This whole notion of climate change and global warming is very new to the world of science.” He even went so far as to say that climate change is “the religion of the left” and that “the left…don’t have a hope in God. They have no hope in a higher power.”
Despite not experiencing a swing to the left in the State Senate or House as predicted with judge-ordered redrawing of voting districts, Governor Cooper has 2 years of experience making progress on climate change with a Republican legislature. He won’t stop fighting for climate any time soon.
The Michigan State Supreme Court obtained Democratic control though the re-election of Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack and election of Elizabeth Welch making the breakdown 4-3. Both women are endorsed by the Michigan League of Conservation Voters with Welch serving as its former President.
This Court has been in the news recently for going head to head with Governor Whitmer’s Covid-19 orders declaring many unconstitutional. A potential upcoming case to watch with the new court dynamics is the fate of the Enbridge Line 5 petroleum pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac. This pipeline has been subject to multiple legal battles over the safety of these aging pipes. Leakages from these pipelines would have immense effects on the Great Lakes and shoreline and island communities.
State Ballot Initiatives
Nevada’s Question 6 amended the State’s Constitution to require electric utilities to acquire 50 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2030. Constitutional amendments in Nevada need to be approved in two consecutive even-numbered election years. Since this amendment also passed in 2018, electric utility companies will officially upgrade its Renewable Portfolio Standard from the previous standard of 25% by 2025.
New Mexico Amendment 1 will restructure the state’s public utility commission to shrink from five to three members who are all appointed by the governor. This may not seem like a win for the climate, but climate advocates have pointed out that this commission has become increasingly partisan.
Under the new system, a bipartisan nominating committee, with a mandatory Native American representative, will provide the Governor a list of qualified, geographically diverse experts from which to select. Once the Governor selects from that list, the appointee must also be reviewed and approved by the New Mexico Senate. This rigorous process will ensure that members of the public utility commission are qualified and not tied to election funding.
Louisiana Constitutional Amendment 5 is the one initiative on this list whose failure we celebrate. This amendment would “authorize local governments to enter into a cooperative endeavor agreement with new or expanding manufacturing establishments and allowing the manufacturing establishments to make payments to the taxing authority instead of paying property taxes.”
In terms of the climate, passing this amendment would allow local governments to enter an agreement with oil and gas companies which would permit them to stop paying taxes and instead make comparatively small payments to the government. For example, Cameron, a liquified natural gas firm, under a cooperative endeavor agreement paid just $38,000 in taxes compared to the $220 million it would have paid otherwise.
The amendment failed, thereby prohibiting local governments from giving oil and gas companies tax breaks that would incentivize their continued growth and emissions.
City Ballot Initiatives
Columbus Issue 1 passed, “authorizing the city to establish an Electric Aggregation Program, which would allow the city to aggregate the retail electrical load of customers within the city’s boundaries, and allowing customers to opt-out of the program.”
Community Choice Aggregation allows Columbus to meet its 100% renewable energy by 2022 goal, increase clean energy jobs, and provide competitive pricing with more local control over energy sources.
Denver Ballot Initiative 2A authorizes the city of Denver to levy an additional 0.25% sales tax generating an estimated $40 million per year to fund climate-related programs and programs designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.”
This provides a great opportunity for the city to increase its investments in creating jobs in the area of renewable and clean energy technology and management of natural resources; on solar power, battery storage and other renewable energy technologies; neighborhood-based environmental and climate justice programs, and more in the face of dramatic loss in revenue due to the pandemic.
Opponents of the initiative noted that it’s inherently a “regressive tax,” affecting low-income communities disproportionately. However, the bill that places the initiative on the ballot specified that “dedicated funding should maximize investments in communities of color, under resourced communities, and communities most vulnerable to climate change and endeavor to invest 50% of the dedicated funds directly in community with a strong lens toward equity and race and social justice; the spending of funds will be overseen by the office of climate action, sustainability and resiliency and the citizen’s sustainability committee; all funds will be subject to an annual report available for public review.”
What does this all mean?
While still uncertain, the most likely scenario for our federal government is a Joe Biden presidency with a majority Republican Senate, majority Democratic House, and an extremely conservative Supreme Court. This does not bode well for immediate, ambitious federal climate policy. Climate expert Bill McKibben, importantly noted this week that states and cities will have to continue to lead the way on climate change in the face of federal gridlock.
82% of voters agree that “the primary goal of U.S. energy policy should be achieving 100% clean energy.” No matter the eventual outcome of the presidential election, the support from Americans to move on climate is stronger than it has ever been, and this shines through in all the down ballot and ballot initiative climate wins from this election.