The Climate Lost Big-Time in Tuesday’s Election

Climate deniers are officially in charge of Congress, and other bad news.

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Tuesday’s elections were a major defeat for those who want to take serious action against global warming. Environmentalists spent millions in an effort to defeat pro-fossil-fuel Republicans, but their efforts largely failed. Key Senate committees will now be controlled by climate deniers, and even in blue states, clean energy advocates suffered big setbacks. Here are some of last night’s most significant electoral blows in the battle against climate change—along with a couple small victories.

  1. The Senate’s environment committee will be run by the biggest climate denier in Congress. With a Republican majority in the Senate, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) will likely become chairman of the Environment and Public Works committee, which handles legislation on air pollution and the environment. Inhofe is an outspoken climate denier. Two years ago, he published a book titled, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. He’s also a big opponent of the Obama administration’s proposed rule to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, describing it as the “definitive step in the administration’s war on fossil fuels.”
     
  2. There’s new life for the Keystone pipeline. The Republican-controlled House has already voted on more than one occasion to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, but with the Senate under Democratic control, that gesture has been little more than political theater. That will likely change now that Republicans have taken over the Senate. President Barack Obama could still veto any Keystone legislation that does pass, but as Grist explains, there’s “no guarantee” that he won’t seek to strike a deal with the GOP on the issue.
     
  3. Tom Steyer’s climate super PAC largely fell flat. Could a one-issue super PAC make climate an election-deciding issue? Not this time. California billionaire Tom Steyer put millions of his own money into the NextGen Climate PAC—and raised millions more—in an effort to elect pro-climate action candidates across the country. Much of the cash went to senate races in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, and Colorado, and to gubernatorial races in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Maine. Out of those seven races, Democrats won only three.
     
  4. A Washington State carbon tax? Not so fast. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) wants to put a price on carbon. In April, Inslee formed a taskforce to propose some “market-based” ways to reduce greenhouse emissions. Their recommendations are due later this month, but Republicans, who control the state senate, are likely to stand in the way. Steyer’s super PAC threw down more than $1 million in an attempt to help climate friendly candidates legislative candidates in the state. Early returns suggest it may not have worked; as of last night the Washington senate was expected to remain in the GOP’s hands.
     
  5. Climate adaptation measures passed: The impacts of climate change are already obvious on America’s coastlines, where rising sea levels are combining with other factors to threaten human and animal habitats alike. But there was a bit of good news on Election Night. In Rhode Island, voters passed a measure to provide $3 million to communities for flood-prevention projects, like replacing pavement with vegetation that can more easily absorb storm water. Louisiana voters also passed a ballot measure that will ensure the state can’t redirect money set aside for building artificial reefs to help rebuild the Gulf’s disappearing coastline.
     
  6. Local fracking bans: Pro-fossil-fuel candidates triumphed across the country last night, but the election still presented an opportunity for some voters to take a stand against fracking in their communities. The town of Denton, Texas, which is already home to some 275 fracked wells, voted to ban the practice, becoming the first city in the state to do so. Bans also passed in Athens, Ohio, and in Mendocino and San Benito Counties in California. Four other ban proposed bans failed—three in Ohio and one in Santa Barbara County, Calif.