DEMOCRATIC VICTORIES IN STATE GOVERNORS' RACES IMPROVE CLIMATE PROSPECTS

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8 november 2018

The election cleared the way for bold climate policy in these 6 states

By Eric Holthaus, Grist on Nov 8, 2018

Most of the climate-related coverage of this week’s midterm elections was pretty pessimistic. But if you dig down to the state level — the true hotbed of climate policy in the Trump era — the results were much brighter, even hopeful.

Climate-friendly Democrats won governorships and state legislatures across the country. In several key states, they managed to do both at once, achieving a “trifecta”: Unified control of the governor’s mansion and both branches of the statehouse. In most cases, that means there’s a wide-open lane for an expansion of renewable energy mandates and other climate-friendly policy from coast to coast — at a critical moment in planetary history.

Before the election, Democrats had trifectas in Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. This week, they added Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Illinois, New York, and Maine. Combined, those 14 states are home to more than a third of the U.S. population.

More in this series :

Illinois voters saw through this Republican’s climate facade

What Washington and Oregon taught us about climate action on the ballot

Severe weather could dampen Election Day

North Dakota tribes issue thousands of IDs to stop voter suppression

Here’s a quick look at some of states that are gearing up to finally put climate change on the front burner:

New Mexico

Newly elected Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is aiming to transform New Mexico — the third largest oil-producing state in the country, behind Texas and North Dakota — into an environmental leader. She wants the state to be able to produce so much renewable energy that they can export it to California.

Colorado

Incoming Governor Jared Polis campaigned on a promise of 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, which would be the boldest state-level policy in the country. That goal is so ambitious that even Polis admits it will be a heavy lift, but he’s got the backing of the legislature to help make it a reality.

Nevada

Voters in Nevada managed to pass a 50 percent renewables mandate by 2030 on Tuesday, one of the most aggressive in the country — and one of the few big direct democracy victories this week. Incoming Governor Steve Sisolak campaigned in support of the ballot measure, and will have the full support of his state legislature to roll out policies to make it happen.

Illinois

Newly elected Governor JB Pritzker has vowed to turn the most populous state in the Midwest into a renewables powerhouse, boosting its relatively weak 15 percent by 2025 mandate to 25 percent, and ally his state with others vowing to uphold commitments under Paris agreement.

New York

It was the state senate that flipped, not the governorship, in New York. That will free up Andrew Cuomo to answer his critics and pass legislation to put the state on a path to 50 percent renewables by 2030, something he’s been trying to do for a while now. This comes a year after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan for the city to purchase 100 percent renewable energy “as soon as sufficient supply can be brought online.”
Maine

Janet Mills, the first woman elected governor in Maine, is aiming to reduce the state’s emissions 80 percent by 2030 and supports the development of offshore wind farms — widely seen as more efficient and reliable than onshore wind. Maine’s potential offshore wind resources are 75 times greater than its current statewide electricity use, meaning it could soon sell energy to other parts of New England and the East Coast.

In these state plans, it’s easy to get a glimpse of a future United States that’s actually on a path to holding global warming to less-than-catastrophic levels. Today’s bold state policies could quickly grow into regional hubs entirely reliant on renewable energy, leapfrogging the broken incrementalist approach of the past few decades at the national level and stealthily achieving the kind of world we need.


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Clean Energy Is a Winner in Several States as More Governors, Legislatures Go Blue

With the 2018 election, more states will also have one party controlling both the legislature and governor's office. That could help renewable energy—or hurt it.

By Dan Gearino, Marianne Lavelle, Inside Climate News
Nov 8, 2018

Seven Republican-led states voted for Democratic governors this week in an election that could shift the landscape for climate and clean energy policies, especially in the increasing number of states where Democrats will also dominate the legislature.

Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Maine and Wisconsin are all switching from Republican to Democratic governors.

In 14 states, Democrats will have a "trifecta" of the governor's office and control of both houses of the legislatures, with Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Nevada, Maine and New York joining eight others.

That broadens the list of states where ambitious clean energy standards, carbon-reduction initiatives and other climate policies are likely more politically viable than before, environmental advocates say. It also is likely to strengthen state-level opposition to the Trump administration's moves to weaken pollution controls.

"We know that governors are the ones who make decisions on how the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and other environmental safeguards promulgated by the EPA (federal Environmental Protection Agency) are enforced," said Kevin Curtis, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, its political arm. "Does a coal plant stay on line, or is it replaced with clean energy? Governors have a tremendous voice in that question. Do we invest in new fossil fuel infrastructure or do we transition to clean energy? Governors have a big voice in that."

The six states that are gaining Democratic trifectas may be the first places where renewable energy agendas advance, said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters. That happened this year in New Jersey, a trifecta state where Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy has signed several clean energy-related bills and orders since taking office in January.

Election 2018: More States Have Single-Party Trifectas


Republicans continue to have an edge at the state level, controlling the governor's office and both houses of the legislature in at least 21 states. They are on track to have 27 governors, assuming the party wins in results still being finalized in Georgia and Florida. While some of those governors, like Massachusetts' Charlie Baker and Maryland's Larry Hogan, support clean energy and climate policies, many of them are opposed.

"We're not going to make progress everywhere," Karpinski said. "Unfortunately, the leadership of the Republican party is bought and sold by the fossil fuel industry, these days, so you're not going to get comprehensive solutions in some of these states."

Karpinski said that in states where GOP legislatures block action, the environmental movement will look to leadership in cities that are setting ambitious goals.

The 7 States that Flipped from GOP Governors to Democrats

Four of the seven states that switched to Democratic governors are in the Midwest, partially reversing the region's swing toward Republicans in 2014.

In Michigan, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, a former state legislator, defeated Republican Bill Schuette, the state attorney general. Whitmer had support from environmental advocates because of her criticism of Enbridge's Line 5 fossil fuel pipeline and her support for moving to 100 percent renewable energy. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder had reached the state's term limit.

Democrat Janet Mills, Maine's attorney general, was elected governor. She supports clean energy and will replace an outspoken foe of wind power. Credit: Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Wisconsin Democrat Tony Evers beat Republican Gov. Scott Walker in a close race that was near the 1 percent mark that could trigger a runoff. Walker, a Republican, had made an enemy of environmental groups with an array of positions on clean air, water and clean energy (along with outraging public employees for his moves against collective bargaining). However, rapid policy changes are not likely in Wisconsin because Republicans retained control of the legislature.

Maine is poised for a major change in direction on climate and clean-energy policy with the election of Democrat Janet Mills, who will replace term-limited Republican Gov. Paul LePage, an outspoken foe of wind energy who also has sought to reduce how much utilities pay to rooftop solar owners who sell power to the grid. Mills, the state attorney general, would seek to reverse LePage's actions on renewable energy, which could give new lift to Maine's stalled ambitions to develop offshore wind. She defeated Republican Shawn Moody, an auto-body business owner who had said he would carry on LePage's legacy.

In Illinois, Democrat J.B. Pritzker, a venture capitalist, defeated Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Pritzker has said he wants the state to move to 100 percent renewable energy. Rauner supported some renewable energy efforts, including as part of a 2016 law that is now boosting the state's solar power, but he also supported easing pollution rules for coal-fired power plants.

Nevada could become a leader on renewable energy with the election of Democrat Steve Sisolak, who made support for solar power part of his campaign. Sisolak, chair of the county commission in the county that includes Las Vegas, defeated Adam Laxalt, the state attorney general, who had sued the Obama administration over environmental issues and had criticized Sisolak's positions on renewable energy. Sisolak will replace term-limited Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, whose tenure included a drastic reduction in support for rooftop solar that was so unpopular the policy was reversed.

In New Mexico, solar-power-friendly policies will have a better chance of passing with Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, a member of Congress, elected governor, replacing a term-limited Republican who vetoed solar incentives three times. Lujan Grisham defeated Republican Steve Pearce, also a member of Congress, who had strong support from the oil and gas industry.

Laura Kelly (front), a state legislator who has supported clean energy policies, defeated Republican and Trump supporter Kris Kobach (middle) for Kansas governor. Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Kansas, a leading wind energy state, elected Democrat Laura Kelly, a state legislator who has supported clean energy policies. Kelly defeated Republican Kris Kobach, the secretary of state who drew national attention for using unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud to try to make it harder for people to vote, attacked Kelly for her support of state requirements that utilities obtain at least 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources.

"For the next two years, most clean energy and climate policy action will likely continue to be at the state and local level, with last night's election results creating a host of new opportunities," said Trevor Houser, head of the energy and climate practice at Rhodium Group, an economic and policy research firm.

Colorado, Oregon Keep Governor's Offices in Democratic Hands


In Colorado and Oregon, two states where climate and clean energy issues are on the agenda, Democrats retained control of the governor's offices.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who supports renewable energy, won the Colorado governor's race. Credit: Jeremy Papasso/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

In Colorado, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat, prevailed over Republican Walker Stapleton, the state treasurer, in a race with clear contrasts on environment and energy issues. Polis has embraced a plan for 100 percent renewable energy, while Stapleton talked about developing the state's oil and gas resources. Polis replaces Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, who could not run again because of term limits.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, won a second term, defeating Knute Buehler, a state legislator. She has supported plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the use of clean energy, a policy direction that she says she will continue.
Republicans Also Held on in Some States Democrats Hoped to Flip

Republicans had their share of wins, retaining control in states where Democrats had hoped to prevail.

In Ohio, Republican Mike DeWine, the state attorney general, defeated Democrat Richard Cordray, a former state attorney general and the first director of the Federal Consumer Protection Bureau. Cordray's loss is a blow to clean energy advocates who had hoped to see a counterweight to a Republican-controlled legislature that has been hostile to renewable energy.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine (center), a Republican, was elected to replace Republican Gov. John Kasich (right). The state, where the legislature has opposed renewable energy efforts in recent years, will remain a GOP trifecta. Credit: Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, won re-election, defeating Democrat James Smith, a state legislator. Smith is a strong supporter of solar power, while McMaster stressed his own opposition to offshore oil drilling.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, won a second term, defeating Democrat Molly Kelly, a former state legislator. Sununu vetoed a bill this year that would have expanded net metering, a system for compensating rooftop solar owners. Clean energy advocates supported Kelly.

In Oklahoma, Republican Kevin Stitt, a business executive, was elected governor over Democrat Drew Edmondson, a former state attorney general. Stitt benefited from support from the oil and gas industry, one of the most influential interests in the state.

In Florida, Republican Ron DeSantis received more votes than Democrat Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, in a close race that could trigger a recount. Gillum made climate change part of his campaign in a state that has been dealing with toxic algae blooms and flooding from rising seas. DeSantis, who until recently was a member of Congress, rejects climate science and has said he is "not a global warming person."


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