January 24, 2019

Climate Change and the Elections: Five Takeaways

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WASHINGTON — The results of Tuesday’s elections could have a significant influence on how the United States deals with global warming in several ways.

In the Trump era, much of the action to fight climate change has been happening at the state level. On that front, the results were mixed: Several key climate policies on the ballot, including a carbon tax in Washington State and an aggressive renewable power target in Arizona, were defeated soundly. But Democrats who favor of clean energy also took control of a number of key governorships and state legislatures, opening doors for expanded action.

On the national level, Democrats recaptured the House and are expected to put climate change back on the agenda, albeit cautiously. But the electoral churn also meant that one of the congressional Republicans who was, in theory, most open to engaging on the issue lost his seat.

Here are five key points from Tuesday:

The biggest climate policy news of the night came in Washington State, where voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have imposed the country’s first tax on carbon dioxide pollution.

After Mr. Trump’s disavowal of the Paris climate agreement, 16 states and Puerto Rico pledged to uphold the accord anyway and keep fighting climate change on their own. They may find new allies now.

Democrats won governorships in seven states that were not already part of this climate alliance: Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico and Wisconsin. All of the incoming governors in those states have called climate change a major problem. Two of them, Tony Evers of Wisconsin and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, have also pledged to move their states to 100 percent carbon-free electricity in the years ahead.

It remains to be seen what sorts of climate or clean-energy policies these new governors may try to enact, and some of them face divided legislatures. But there are already a few hints: In Maine, for instance, the governor-elect, Janet Mills, has vowed to overturn her predecessor’s moratorium on new wind turbines in the state.

Carlos Curbelo, the most vocal Republican in Congress calling for action to address climate change, lost his South Florida seat on Tuesday to a Democrat who accused him of not going far enough on the environment.

Representing one of the most vulnerable parts of the country, where flooding caused in part by sea level rise has become a chronic problem, Mr. Curbelo broke with much of his party by acknowledging that human activity drives global warming and calling for a policy solution. This year he went a step further, becoming the first Republican in a decade to propose a tax on carbon emissions.

But neither that nor Mr. Curbelo’s moderate positions on issues like immigration were enough to save him from a shift of political winds that flipped his district blue and led his challenger, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, to a narrow victory.

Some Democrats and environmental activists, describing Mr. Curbelo as a victim of voter antagonism toward Mr. Trump, made a case Tuesday that Mr. Curbelo’s loss would not deter other Republicans from engaging on climate change.

“It clearly didn’t hurt Carlos to display conviction and courage,” said Bob Inglis, a Republican former congressman from South Carolina who is working to get members of his party to accept climate change. “It only helped him. What hurt him was being tied to a party that’s tied to Trump.”

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