Midterm elections are overwhelming and filled with wild questions: Who made these districts? Are people really going to vote for candidates who have been indicted for federal crimes? What is Delaware???
At Grist, we ask questions like this every election cycle while keeping tabs on the performance of environmental and climate issues — and those likely to advocate for them. With the midterms now more or less over, it’s clear that it wasn’t a banner evening for climate action.
Unprecedented spending by the fossil-fuel industry proved effective in defeating climate-friendly ballot initiatives in several western states. But there were a couple pro-climate statewide propositions that passed — including one in Florida!!!! — and several fresh candidates took out longstanding climate deniers in tight House races.
Here’s a quick guide to how the climate did on Election Day 2018.
Renewable energy, the hot new ballot initiative
Arizona and Nevada each dipped a toe into the rapidly warming pool of reality and put renewable energy measures on their state ballots. Two of the nation’s top net exporters of sunshine and people fleeing bad decisions, each proposed a measure to ratchet up their renewable portfolio standards year by year, with the goal of having their state utilities get 50 percent of their power from renewables by 2030.
Roughly 60 percent of Nevadans thought the idea sounded swell, but in Arizona, the measure went down in combustion flames. (I’m almost certain we’ll soon learn this was somehow Jeff Flake’s fault.)
Drilling bans, carbon fees, and gas taxes
Imagine fossil fuel companies and vapelords bonding together to achieve a common goal. Terrifying! Well, this happened in Florida, and it proved a most ineffective union. By a pretty huge margin offshore drilling and indoor juul-huffing somehow ended up simultaneously banned via one proposal. Lesson learned: Tie anything you don’t like to vaping, and it will get banned, because vaping is disgusting.
Washingtonians, bless their damp and seasonally depressed hearts, have been trying to make a carbon tax happen for what seems like forever. A moderate proposal didn’t win enough support in 2016, so a coalition of groups representing the environment, labor, and vulnerable communities went back and tried to get a revamped version to pass in 2018. That redo included a plan to direct revenue to marginalized communities and rebranding the price as a “fee.” This time … it also didn’t pass. Look forward to Grist’s coverage of version 3.0 in 2020!
In 2017, California achieved the impossible and passed a 67-percent gas-tax hike to help fund ambitious public transit projects. Proposition 6, this year’s ballot initiative, proposed both reversing that increase and making it really damn hard to pass future ones. But Californians love (or desperately need) transportation infrastructure more than cheap gas, I guess. They rejected the initiative.
A Colorado initiative to more than double the distance of oil and gas developments from buildings and protected lands would have put a significant damper on the growth of fracking in the state. But big oil pumped in roughly $40 million to block the measure, and it didn’t pass.
Climate-controlled Congressional races
Grist did a fantastic — thank you — analysis of which tight House races were most likely to be swayed by anxiety over climate change. Every district we highlighted in that piece appears to have flipped from Republican to Democrat.
The incumbent in Florida’s 26th district, Carlos Curbelo, is a 2017 Grist 50 member and the co-founder of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. He lost his seat, conceding to the clean energy-supporting Democrat Debbie Murcasel-Powell by 10 pm ET on Tuesday night.
In the Houston metro area, incumbent John Culberson, who’s neglected to take any significant position on anthropogenic climate change, lost to Democratic challenger Lizzie Pannill Fletcher in Texas’ 7th district.
Republican Pete Sessions, a noted anti-environment legislator, has reigned over Texas’ 32nd Congressional district (that’s northeast Dallas) for 19 years. Colin Allred, a voting rights prosecutor with a pro-climate platform, was his first challenger in a long time. And he won.
Democrat Tom Malinowski flipped New Jersey’s 7th district away from incumbent Leonard Lance. Lance is also a member of the Climate Solutions Caucus, but has a fraught history with the fossil fuel industry — and by fraught, we mean intimate. Malinowski will enter office with a record of strong support for the human right to clean air and water.
Incumbent Republican Dana Rohrabacher, who represents California’s O.C., has been mired in scandal that wouldn’t be believable on The O.C. That’s what made his seat vulnerable to ex-Republican Harley Rouda, who appears to be pulling ahead as of Wednesday morning. Rouda opposes offshore drilling, which Rohrabacher supports (in addition to Vladimir Putin).