What did the midterms mean for state and local climate action?
From Arizona to Michigan to Houston.
(Programming note: Next week’s newsletter is for paid subscribers. I’ll be back in everyone’s inbox two Thursdays from now, likely doing a quick round ups of stories around the U.S. for the rest of the year. This month’s bonus edition will go out on next Wednesday, not Thanksgiving Day. It’s all about resources for parents (and people with young people in their lives) about talking to their kids about climate change, from the youngest questions to the frustrated teens, but also about how they can listen back. Paid subscribers make this newsletter possible, from the technology costs to the coffee I consume writing it. Become a paid subscriber here.
(Maryland Governor-elect Wes Moore, right, is expected to push the state towards more proactive climate policy. Photo Credit: Howard County Library)
The U.S. midterm elections are now — for the most part — settled. With more of the dust cleared, I wanted to take a look at the results of some key local and state elections especially relevant to climate action.
In October, I took you on a tour of elections this year for state regulators who make consequential decisions about renewable and fossil energy, including the closely-fought race in Arizona for two of five seats on the Corporation Commission. There were four likely candidates — split evenly by party and orientation towards climate policy — for two spots. The competitiveness of the up-ballot races, Governor and U.S. Senator, meant it was hard to tell how this one was going to shake out.
While Democrats won in those two races, that didn’t translate to the ACC and the candidates running on more proactive climate policy.
(State-wide results from NYT/AP)
In an extremely polarized state, split-ticket voting can make all the difference for individual races. Split-tickets probably benefitted Republican ACC candidates in Arizona, based on the difference in results in highly-populated Maricopa County between this race and the up-ballot races
But a quick look at the total number of votes cast also indicates that some Arizona voters left this section of their ballot blank — or didn’t select enough candidates. Across Arizona, there were about 2.5 million ballots cast in the Governor and Senate race. Because each voter gets two selections for candidates for the ACC, if everyone who voted for governor also selected two candidates, there would be 5 million votes total. That didn’t happen: there were 4.5 million, leading to a total undervote of about 500,000. Almost 200,000 of those were in Maricopa County.
Under-voting is a perennial issue in lower-profile races and especially in ones where voters don’t realize some races allow more than one vote. Given how close this election was, an additional 500,000 votes from people who were /already voting/ could have switched around this race entirely.
So, what does this mean for the ACC? It’s highly unlikely they will reconsider the state’s renewable energy rules anytime soon and gas utilities regulated by the board will have a more favorable board to contend with.
But jokes on me for writing in October that “in Louisiana elections, the public service commission will not be swept this year by climate-hawks.” It’s still not true, but there was a surprise there, Baton Rouge newspaper The Advocate reports:
Public Service Commissioner Lambert Boissiere III was pushed to a runoff in his bid for re-election Tuesday, a promising sign for climate activists who have spent big to unseat him and usher in a more progressive candidate.
Boissiere, of New Orleans, fell well short of the 50% needed to win outright in Louisiana’s jungle primary. With all precincts in the 3rd District counted, Davante Lewis, a young policy advocate from Baton Rouge, had secured the coveted spot in the runoff by placing second out of five candidates.
Lewis only got 18% of the vote, making the runoff an uphill fight. But I noted in October, many utility regulatory races in the Gulf Coast and north of the Rocky Mountains didn’t even have a contested race. Even in a place where fossil fuel companies hold significant sway, not trying is the quickest way to lose.
Voters directly approving money for climate work
New York state’s ballot question to voters to fund climate bond outperformed the governor’s re-election bid by more than 10 points. The $4.2 billion bond includes dedicated funding for flood reduction and storm water upgrades — adapting for the current and future climate — and for renewable energy projects, including in buildings.
Two major cities in Colorado also approved expanding and keeping money for climate- related projects in ballot questions and In Boulder and Denver, voters are poised to keep and expand taxes for climate and wildfire projects.
Rhode Island voters approved a smaller climate adaptation bond for parks, cleaning up watersheds, small business energy loans, among other items.
Governor’s races and trifectas
They may not all be surprises, but Democrats gaining control of all three branches of state government in Michigan, Maryland, Massachusetts and Minnesota means likely new or more aggressive climate policy in those states. Michigan, whose executive branch has been in a lengthy legal fight over a gas and oil pipeline through the states, could see the most change. This story from Bridge Michigan goes over Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s campaign promises on the environment, efforts that should be easier with an undivided state government.
That being said, Democratic gains in state legislatures does not always translate to aggressive climate policy or crucially, the implementation of it. This Inside Climate News article notes how thin the Democratic majorities in Michigan and Minnesota are. Staffing up to actually put laws in the practice matters too. New Mexico, as I’ve covered before, is in a boom cycle of revenues from oil and gas doing well in the state. But it’s also home to some of the most polluting drillers in the country. Re-elected Gov Michelle Lujan Grisham and the legislature have improved rules to try to cut emissions from production, but the agencies tasked with enforcing them haven’t been fully funded, Capitol & Main reports.
Will committee members in charge of directing the state’s budget put more money behind those regulators, even if all but one have received campaign donations from fossil fuel companies?
Texas’ go-it-alone-star grid was the subject of an actually-contested and suddenly social-media heavy race for the state Railroad Commission (which confusingly, regulates the oil and gas industry) between incumbent and chair of the commission, Wayne Christian, and former state Democracy party staffer Luke Warford. (NB: Your newsletter author has spent time with Warford socially as he used to be part of my spouse’s running group in DC, but I literally didn’t realize it until a day before the election.)
Warford lost, trailing a bit behind the Democratic candidate for governor (if you guessed there was an undercount, you’re right, but it wasn’t as notable or election-changing as Arizona’s. Climate friendly state-wide office holders aren’t happening in Texas, but there are some local ones:
Throughout the campaign, the race for Harris County Judge — a position that acts like the CEO of the area — was a nail-biter between incumbent Democrat Lina Hidalgo and Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer. On Wednesday morning, Mealer conceded her loss to Hidalgo. Harris County encompasses Houston, and is home to sprawling oil and petrochemical industrial operations. Hidalgo’s first term as county judge saw her emphasize environmental priorities — including incorporating climate flood maps into city planning and hiring environmental prosecutors. Hidalgo’s expansion of the county’s pollution budget and air monitors has earned her a strong reputation among climate advocates.
Overall, climate action in the 2022 midterms looks a bit like the overall result: very close races, some direct voter support for climate funding, retrenchment and narrow winning margins, as well as spots of big possibilities but unclear outcomes.
But local climate action certainly doesn’t stop at voting: Here’s whats happening in just one week in New York, courtesy of the NY and NJ focused Politico energy newsletter: A report on New York City’s electrification law on older buildings, a discussion with the city’s chief climate officer, a rally to press Gov. Hochul to sign a moratorium on fossil-powered cryptocurrency mining and a meeting of the state’s Climate Action Council.
More local climate stories:
- DC councilmember introduces bill to remove gas appliances from 30,000 low-income homes and replace them with efficient electric appliances
- Another round of hearings in Georgia Power’s rate case concluded Thursday with the final day dominated by a debate over whether the utility should expand its popular rooftop solar program.
- Add New Jersey to the list of states suing oil companies for their “failure to warn” about the effects of burning fossil fuels
- California tries again to update their highly contested solar net metering rules
- Another entry in the farm-solar industry.
- Can Cities Combat ‘Green Gentrification’? (Side note: Bloomberg has dropped their quite expensive paywall for COP on all Bloomberg Green stories - read quickly!)
- Alabama gets a $1 billion solar panel factory