As the dust settles on the 2022 midterm elections, one thing becomes clear: The projected “red wave” of Republican victories failed to materialize.
But while control of the House and Senate — and therefore the fate of President Biden’s agenda — remains unsettled, a closer look at less publicized political races around the country reveals what may be a “green wave” of growing climate action.
Pundits will point out that inflation, abortion and threats to democracy drove much of this year’s voting, but at the same time many people — especially younger voters — turned out with climate on their minds.
The results were far from a green tsunami, and regressive politicians and their supporters maintain a strong riptide that threatens to drown progress on many fronts. But looking past the tumultuous surface, we can see ripples of progress.
Climate Governors for the Win (Mostly)
Governors’ races don’t generate much national attention, which is a shame since these offices have enormous roles in state climate policies — and through them, on national decarbonization efforts.
That doesn’t go unnoticed on the local level. This year voters in three western states — California, New Mexico and Colorado — reelected Democratic governors Gavin Newsom, Michelle Lujan Grisham and Jared Polis. Each has shown support for reining in the fossil fuel industry and boosting renewables in states that play oversized roles in the national energy picture.
Meanwhile Oregon media have called the state’s governor’s race for Democrat Tina Kotek, which would help ensure the future of Oregon’s Climate Action Plan and other efforts to promote clean energy. Democrats’ usual stranglehold on the office was in jeopardy this year after Nike cofounder Phil Knight poured millions into the election to support Republican Christine Drazan and unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson.
On the east coast, Josh Shapiro won Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race after running on a platform that included ambitious clean-energy objectives (as well as “responsible fracking”). He beat election denier and Christian nationalist Doug Mastriano, who “unabashedly and loudly called for deregulation of the state’s fossil fuel industries,” according to Spotlight PA. Maine reelected Democrat Janet Mills, who won against Republican Paul LePage, the state’s previous governor from 2011-2019. Solar energy production in Maine has quadrupled since Mills took office, while LePage has a long history of misrepresenting climate science (and just about everything else). And New York elected Democrat Kathy Hochul to her first full term, winning out over her opponent (and fracking proponent) Lee Zeldin.
Michigan, meanwhile, reelected Democrat Gretchen Whitmer over Republican election denier Tudor Dixon, whose environmental policies could be summed up, at best, as pro-business. And in Wisconsin, incumbent Democrat Tony Evers narrowly squeaked into his reelection victory with his full legislative power seemingly intact, despite statewide gerrymandering that threatened to grant Republicans a vetoproof supermajority.
On the other hand, Arkansas elected climate denier Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Georgia incumbent Brian Kemp won handily over Democrat Stacey Abrams, who had promised a more aggressive climate policy for the state. And Beto O’Rourke lost in Texas to incumbent Greg Abbott, who infamously (and incorrectly) blamed wind turbines for his state’s deadly winter power outages. As of press time, the Arizona governor’s race remains too close to call, with election denier and border-wall hawk Kari Lake running neck-and-neck against Democrat Katie Hobbs. The state’s clean-energy future hangs in the balance.
And then there’s Ron DeSantis, who won in Florida despite a long record of anti-climate policies. His reelection puts him on a clear path to run for president in 2024.
Ballot Measures Deliver Wins and Losses
Voters in just a few states faced ballot measures directly related to environmental issues.
New Yorkers overwhelmingly backed the $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Energy, Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act that would “preserve, enhance, and restore New York’s natural resources and reduce the impact of climate change.”
Money to fund the measure has already been approved by the state’s legislature. An estimated $1.5 billion would go to climate change mitigation, $1.1 billion to restoration and flood risk reduction, $650 million to open space conservation and recreation, and $650 million to water quality in resiliency infrastructure.
“We’re really excited about helping to jumpstart this transition to protect our communities and make sure our infrastructure is in good shape,” Julie Tighe, president of New York League of Conservation Voters, told The Revelator in October.
A much smaller $50 million “green” bond to fund open spaces, climate resilience and other environmental measures also went before Rhode Island voters. It looks to be headed for a win.
At the local level, voters in Boulder, Colorado, look to have approved measures that would use tax revenue to help fund wildfire prevention and climate resilience, increase energy efficiency, and help lower income residents pay energy bills.
In nearby Denver, residents voted in favor of using excess tax revenue to fund climate projects.
It was a different story in California, where projections suggest that Proposition 30 — the Tax on Income Above $2 Million for Zero-Emissions Vehicles and Wildfire Prevention Initiative — will fail.
The measure would have increased taxes on wealthy residents to fund clean cars and related infrastructure. It was supported by a range of Democratic groups and environmental organizations but opposed by clean-car advocate Gov. Gavin Newsom. He branded it as a giveaway to rideshare companies that are required by state law to boost the number of zero emissions vehicles in their service.
Key State Races
Democrats in Michigan appear to have gained control over both state houses, which could be good news for water protections. E&E News reports that “the state could take more aggressive action to tackle ‘forever chemicals’ that have plagued Michigan waterways, as well as lead service lines.”
It could also give the state an opportunity to take needed action on climate change.
Democrats also appear to have taken control of the state legislature and governor’s office in Minnesota, Maryland and Massachusetts. “The wins finally give those states an upper hand to push through new climate goals,” Vox reports.
While it may not feel like a lot to cheer about, Republicans’ hope for a supermajority in the state legislatures of Wisconsin, Montana and North Carolina fell short.
Let’s not forget about state attorneys general, who are the top enforcers of state environmental laws. They can use their weight to sue oil and gas companies or other polluters — or seek to dismantle the Biden administration’s environmental regulations.
In some of the most-watched AG races, Republicans picked up wins in Georgia and Texas, as did Democrats in Wisconsin and Michigan. Arizona and Nevada remain too close to call.
The win by Attorney General Dana Nessel in Michigan, along with the reelection of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, could help lead to the shutdown of Enbridge’s spill-prone Line 5 pipeline.
Democrats also appear to have chalked up a few victories in secretaries of state races around the country — a particular target of election deniers, who promised to throw future elections into chaos. But extremist candidates still won four races to date, with the key states of Arizona and Nevada still up for grabs.
Finally, in Texas, Harris County judge Linda Hidalgo won a tough reelection battle in her petrochemical-heavy region. “Hidalgo’s first term … saw her emphasize environmental priorities — including incorporating climate flood maps into city planning and hiring environmental prosecutors,” according to Vox.
Other important races took place across the country, up and down every ballot. What were the climate victories or losses in your local elections? Let us know.