Advocates for clean energy and climate action became governors, attorneys general, commissioners and more on Tuesday, but some climate hawks fell. An offshore-drilling ban passed, an onshore-ban failed, and America will not be trying out its first climate tax.
The impacts will begin to be felt today, said J.R. Tolbert, the vice president of state policy for the advocacy group Advanced Energy Economy, in a pre-election analysis that identified some of the key races listed below.
“A lot of people make promises when they run,” Tolbert cautioned. “It’s the period that begins next Wednesday, really through their first 100 days of office, that really sets the stage.
“If you really want to see where people stand, watch who they appoint to key cabinet positions, to be their energy office director and if they have PUC (Public Utilities Commission) appointments in the short term, look to see who they appoint to the PUC as well.”
Here are the outcomes of key races in the states:
Arizona: Climate Loses
Arizonans said no to Proposition 127, which would have required electric utilities in Arizona to derive an increasing percentage of their electricity from renewable resources, up to 50 percent in 2030. At press time, Republicans, both men, were leading races for both seats on the Corporation Commission, which regulates the state’s utilities. The Democratic candidates, both women, had called for increased development of renewable energy in the sunny state.
Colorado: Climate Wins
Coloradans said no to Prop. 112, which would have required such strict setbacks for fracking wells that they could not be drilled in about 95 percent of the state. However, they elected Democrat Jared Polis as governor, and he campaigned on a call for 100 percent renewable energy. He should have ample support for that effort because Democrats, who already control the state House, also took the state Senate on Tuesday. “We think that would unleash the ability to see real progress on electric vehicles as that has stalled in a Senate committee for the past two years,” Tolbert said, and it would bring reality to the discussion of 100 percent clean energy.
Florida: Climate Loses
Florida banned oil drilling and exploration in state-controlled waters off its coasts, but it may soon have more waters than coasts because it also elected a governor, Republican Ron DeSantis, who has a 2 percent score from the League of Conservation Voters. DeSantis earned that honor as a congressman largely by supporting dirty energy and opposing climate mitigation. Florida also retired a climate champion, Bill Nelson, from the Senate and ousted its only U.S. House Republican who dared advocate a carbon tax. Read more about what happened for climate and energy in Congress.
Illinois: Climate Wins
Illinois Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker has pledged to push for 100 percent clean energy and to build infrastructure to support electric vehicles. “Working with the state legislature there, we think there is a real opportunity for a Pritzker Administration to get a lot done,” Tolbert said.
Michigan: Climate Wins
Michigan elected a new governor who has pledged 1oo percent clean energy and vowed to create an Office of Climate Change to coordinate the effort to achieve that goal. Gretchen Whitmer handily defeated the state’s Republican attorney general, Bill Schuette, who had earned the moniker “Scott Pruitt of the Midwest” for his lawsuits against the EPA and his opposition to clean energy and energy efficiency. The stark contrast between the candidates led Tolbert to declare Michigan had the most at stake in this election. Whitmer is likely to face opposition from Republican majorities in the state House and state Senate.
Nebraska: Climate Loses
Early this morning it appeared Nebraskans would defeat Christa Yoakum in her bid to serve on the state’s Public Service Commission. She campaigned in favor of renewable energy and opposed the Keystone XL Pipeline, which is slated to pass through the state. Victorious Republican Dan Watermeier favors the Keystone pipeline and campaigned on a promise to deliver broadband internet access to farmers.
Nevada: Climate Wins
Nevada elected Democrat Steve Sisolak as governor and passed the first stage of a constitutional amendment to increase the state’s renewable portfolio standard. Constitutional amendments require two subsequent votes in Nevada, but Tolbert expects the legislature and new governor to preempt that necessity. “If Sisolak is elected, we believe there will be a receptive voice to the RPS increase in the governor’s mansion, which would lead to the legislature acting on that,” Tolbert said. Nevada also yanked a climate-science denier out of the U.S. Senate and replaced him with a woman receptive to clean energy and climate action.
New Mexico: Climate Wins
New Mexico elected Michelle Lujan Grisham as Governor, who is expected to propose increases to the state’s renewable-energy and energy-efficiency standards. “That could actually lead to some quick policy victories,” Tolbert said, “quick market opportunity in the state as well.” Grisham could get some help with that effort if Steve Fischmann holds on to take a seat on the State’s Public Regulation Commission. “We are entering a revolution in the energy industry with solar, wind, and now storage, which is really the holy grail,” the former state senator told the Las Cruces Sun-News editorial board. An environmental candidate was also leading the race for State Lands Commission early this morning. Stephanie Garcia Richard has vowed to crack down on methane pollution from oil and gas drilling rigs.
New York: Climate Wins
New York City’s public advocate, Letitia James, was elected the state’s attorney general with strong climate credentials. She has called for divestment of New York State pensions from fossil fuels and she sued ExxonMobil for misleading the public about its climate impacts.
Ohio: Climate Does OK
Republican Mike DeWine defeated Democrat Richard Cordray to become Ohio’s governor. Both men had called for clean energy development that included protecting the state’s nuclear industry. Cordray was expected to have gone further by strengthening the state’s renewable-portfolio standard and lifting regulations that have slowed development of the wind industry. “Both of the candidates here campaigned on less carbon intensity but tend to have different views on what that means,” Tolbert said.
Washington: Climate Loses
Washington voters defeated Prop. 1631, a carbon-tax initiative that was viewed by some as a bellweather testing the nation’s openness to such ideas. The initiative would have imposed a very modest $15/ton price on carbon, increasing by $2 each year until the state reached emissions goals. It would have raised an estimated $1 billion per year that would have been spent by a commission, perhaps a less attractive prospect than the Republican plan for a carbon dividend that distributes the spoils to taxpayers.