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A Historic Vote and the Way Forward

Politics
Voters casting their ballots at a polling station at Noonday Baptist Church, Marietta, Georgia Jessica McGowan / Getty Images

By Rhea Suh

The American people stood up to President Trump on Tuesday, rejecting his reckless assault on the environment and public health. We've empowered the U.S. House of Representatives to stand up, put a check on his attacks on our children's future, and hold him to account for putting polluter profits first and putting the rest of us at risk. Now it's on leaders from both parties to step up and carry out the people's will.


Tuesday's elections were a rebuke, first and foremost, of a divisive and mendacious presidency and the ways it has shaken public confidence in the institutions that sustain our democracy. But also, across the country, voters elected candidates who ran on commonsense measures that reflect core American values about protecting our air, water, wildlife, and lands, and leaving our children a livable world.

In coastal communities nationwide, voters rallied to defend healthy oceans and all the marine life they support from the hazard and harm of offshore drilling. Voters elected a bevy of House candidates—including Florida Republicans Francis Rooney and John Rutherford and California Democrats Mike Levin and Jared Huffman—who took a stand against offshore drilling and made protecting ocean waters, marine life and coastal communities a central focus of their campaigns. Joe Cunningham became the first Democrat since 1981 to win the House seat from South Carolina's 1st District, where he campaigned against oil and gas drilling off the state's coast. And Florida voters passed a measure to ban offshore drilling in state waters.

Across the nation's heartland, voters elected new governors who vowed to clean up their states and advance the vital fight against climate change. In Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer will get the chance to make good on her promise to deal in a comprehensive way with the drinking water problems still plaguing the citizens of Flint and to improve the quality of the state's water supply. In neighboring Illinois, J.B. Pritzker has pledged to shift into high gear the state's transition toward clean, homegrown, renewable energy. And in Wisconsin, Tony Evers ran hard against an irresponsible plan to exempt the manufacturing giant Foxconn from critical state environmental regulations, a move that would have given the company's new factory outside Kenosha carte blanche to pollute the Badger State's waters and lands.

In Nevada, voters sent Steve Sisolak to the governor's mansion. Sisolak has been a strong proponent of a measure Nevada voters approved to require power companies to produce at least 50 percent of the state's electricity from wind, solar, or other renewable sources by 2030.

Voters elected staunchly pro-environment governors across the West as well: Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico; Kate Brown in Oregon; Gavin Newsom in California; and, in Colorado, Jared Polis, the first openly gay American to be elected a state governor.

One thing that didn't change on Tuesday: The fossil fuel industry is still spending big to protect its profits at the expense of our environment and health. Led by out-of-state oil companies like BP and Koch Industries, the industry spent $30 million to defeat a ballot question on whether Washington State should levy the first fees in the nation against carbon dioxide emissions. Arizona's largest power company, Arizona Public Service Co., spent nearly $22 million to beat back a ballot measure calling for that state to get at least half of its electricity from solar and other renewable sources by 2030. And big oil laid out a staggering $41 million to turn back a measure in Colorado to protect homes and schools from the hazard and harm of fracking. An initiative on the ballot there would have banned oil and gas drilling within 2,500 feet of either. With the measure's defeat, the industry remains free to drill as close as 500 feet from a home and 1,000 feet from a school.

In the U.S. Senate, where anti-environmentalists added to their majority, our fight to stand up to fossil fuel millions got harder. We won't sugarcoat that. But we'll fight harder too.

That means calling on key House committees to get to the bottom of Trump's relentless attacks on clean air and water and healthy wildlife and lands. We'll press to restore accountability and funding to agencies like the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, so they have the tools they need to do the job of protecting our environment and health. And, where we can, we'll create new alliances to help advance a cleaner, safer, and more prosperous future for our children.

The new landscape creates the opportunity for bipartisan cooperation. In a divided Congress, that's the only way for either party to make progress on issues of importance to the country. And voters from both parties support commonsense policies that protect clean air and water, safeguard our oceans and coastal communities, and fight the growing dangers of climate change. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans—59 percent—say the federal government should do more to reduce global warming, according to an Oct. 25–28 poll taken across 69 competitive congressional districts by the Washington Post and George Mason University.

High participation by women appears to have played an outsize role in Tuesday's elections, and the success of female candidates will change the face of Congress. To cite one example among dozens: Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA operative who understands the link between climate action and national security, called for initiatives to boost investment in clean, renewable power and improve air and water quality. On Tuesday, she became the first Democrat in 47 years to be sent to Congress from Virginia's 7th District.

Polls tell us that women, as a group, are more concerned about climate change than men. Similarly, 70 percent of voting-age Americans 34 or younger understand the growing dangers of climate change, compared with 56 percent of voters 56 and older. Exit polling suggests that a new generation of Americans 29 and under cast 13 percent of the votes on Tuesday, up from 11 percent in the 2014 midterm elections.

Ultimately, that's what this is all about. These voters are our future, and they're standing up to demand real change. They're standing up to Trump's reckless assault on our environment and health. They're standing up for public waters and lands. They're standing up to cut fossil fuel pollution today so our children don't inherit climate catastrophe tomorrow.

On Tuesday, the country stood up with them. We empowered the House for change. That's the House mandate, and that's the way forward, for our families, our communities and our nation.

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