The results of Tuesday’s elections are a mixed bag for environmentalists. While a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is a big win for anti-carbon activists, a bigger GOP majority in the Senate means an easier path for the Trump administration appointments to important regulatory posts. And several ambitious state-level ballot initiatives, such as a carbon tax in Washington and fracking restrictions in Colorado, failed at the local ballot box.
Environmentalist groups are greeting the results with a renewed pledge to go after the fossil fuel industry with help from their newly-elected Democratic allies. While they didn’t specify any specific policy goals, their target was still clear.
“The task ahead of [Democrats] and us is clear: fighting the fossil fuel industry. The same oil and gas companies that have been sowing doubt about climate change for decades are infiltrating our democracy at every turn, from the ballot box to Capitol Hill,” said 350.org Executive Director May Boeve. “As we saw in Washington and Colorado, where we lost key climate initiatives, Big Oil and their allies will spend whatever it takes to protect their profits.”
The Sierra Club agreed: “The American people sent a message to Donald Trump and to Congress that it’s time to take serious action to address the climate crisis, protect our clean air and water as well as the EPA which ensures them, and aggressively accelerate a national transition to a 100% clean, renewable energy future,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.
Meanwhile, the energy industry is breathing a cautious sigh of relief. In Colorado, Proposition 112, which would have required new oil and gas wells to be set back from roads, schools, and houses by 2,500 feet, failed. Industry groups spent more than $30 million to defeat the proposal. Even so, more than 40 percent of voters supported the proposal.
“Proposition 112 would have hurt more than just the natural gas and oil industry, as seventy-seven percent of the 43,000 jobs it would have eliminated in year one would have come from outside the energy sector,” said Colorado Petroleum Council Executive Director Tracee Bentley. “Colorado’s businesses, both small and large, are increasingly co-dependent: hurt one, and you hurt all. It is heartening to see voters from across the state stand up in defense of the dignity of their friends’, families’ and neighbors’ work.”
Proposition 112’s defeat makes up slightly for the election of Democrat Jared Polis, who campaigned on a promise to move the state to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. Even so, the American Energy Alliance (AEA) fears that the administration will try to add new hurdles to energy development in Colorado.
“We should celebrate the defeat of Proposition 112 in Colorado, but the broader political trends in the state are concerning. The election of Rep. Jared Polis to the governor’s office is a setback for the state as he has characterized America’s use of affordable energy as an “addiction” to fossil fuels,” wrote the AEA in a post-election report. “Democrats also won control over the state Senate, giving them complete control over the state’s governor’s office and legislature. This shift means we have not seen the end of the Keep it in the Ground movement in Colorado, and proponents of free market energy policies should be prepared to battle proposals like 112 in the state legislature.”
In the Senate, however, support for energy development may actually be stronger after Republican gains in the U.S. Senate. And two of the departing Republicans—defeated Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.) and retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (AZ)—were lukewarm on energy development issues. And a larger GOP majority also improves the ability of President Trump to get supporters of his energy policy appointed to key positions in regulatory agencies.
“Fueled by the environmental left, today’s Democratic Party has unambiguously turned its back on abundant, affordable and reliable energy. The Democrat- controlled House will do whatever it takes to thwart the president’s progress towards unleashing our energy potential and deny American families the economic benefits that come from affordable and reliable domestic energy,” the report continued.
Each new election redraws the committee lines in Congress. This year, the results have also solidified where environmentalists and the energy industry stand in respect to the two parties. Democrats are recommitting themselves to ambitious action to stop climate change, while Republicans remain advocates of consumer choice and business.