What the Midterm Results Mean for U.S. Climate Action
When it comes to control of the House and the Senate, the outcome of the 2022 U.S. midterm elections is still unclear. Yet the election sent many positive signals about the importance of climate action for U.S. voters.
A historic environmental bond passed in New York, Senators and House members won races campaigning on their support for the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Democrats won the governorship and both houses in four key states that could be poised to pass climate and renewable energy legislation.
“It’s fair to say… there was a green wave in the states across the country, a big green wave,” League of Conservation Voters president Gene Karpinski said in a press conference reported by Inside Climate News.
Overall, the question of which party controls the House and Senate is a concern when it comes to whether or not the government will build on the IRA’s historic investment in climate action and renewable energy. Republicans as a rule oppose President Joe Biden’s push for climate action, and there was concern ahead of the COP27 UN climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, that a switch in party control would undermine the country’s climate leadership.
“If the results go against the Democrats we are unlikely to see more climate legislation and there will be more legal challenges to actions taken by the Biden administration,” Council on Foreign Relations climate expert Alice Hill told The Guardian ahead of the election. “There will be question marks over how much the U.S. can follow through on climate.”
The make-up of both bodies of Congress remains uncertain, according to CNN. However, a predicted red wave did not materialize, which offers hope for continued federal action. Biden noted in a post-election news conference that the Democrats lost fewer seats in the House than during any midterm election during a Democratic president’s first term in the last four decades and that the party had its best midterm for governors since 1986.
“[T]he overwhelming majority of the American people support the elements of my economic agenda, from rebuilding America’s roads and bridges, to lowering prescription drug costs, to a historic investment in tackling the climate crisis; to making sure that large corporations begin to pay their fair share in taxes,” he said.
The results that have materialized for climate action are mixed, but overall “better than we thought,” David Shepheard of consulting firm Baringa Partners told New Scientist.
Propositions: There were several climate-related propositions on the ballot. The biggest win was New York state’s passage of a $4.2 billion environmental bond act and the biggest loss was California’s rejection of a measure to tax the wealthy to fund incentives for electric vehicles. Other notable initiatives were a Rhode Island measure to increase flood resilience, which passed, and a Florida measure to make it cheaper to flood-proof homes, which failed, according to New Scientist. Washington state voters also said they disapproved of a new tax on airplane fuel, but this was a purely advisory vote, according to Ballotpedia.
House and Senate: In several key House and Senate races, candidates who ran on climate were rewarded by voters, advocacy group Climate Power noted in an email to EcoWatch. Colorado Senator Michael Bennet won reelection after championing clean energy and conservation, while Democrat John Fetterman flipped Pennsylvania’s Senate seat after criticizing the oil and gas industry for price gouging amidst the energy crisis and arguing these companies should be held accountable.
In terms of House races, Democratic Representatives Abigail Spanberger (VA-7), Sharice Davids (KS-3) and Chris Pappas (NH-1) all won reelection in tight races after championing their support for the IRA.
State Level: At the state level, Democrats gained control of the governor’s mansion and both houses in Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota, which will make it easier for these states to pass environmental legislation that had previously been blocked by Republicans. Minnesota could pass a law ensuring 20 percent of vehicles are electric by 2030, according to Vox, while Michigan could see success in shutting down the aging Line 5 pipeline. In Massachusetts and Maryland, the election of Democratic governors will make it easier to pass climate legislation, Inside Climate News reported.
In general, Democrats have been able to make big gains on climate when they control states, as happened in Colorado, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, Nevada and New York following the 2018 election.
“I think there’s a really enormous opportunity,” Environmental Law & Policy Center President and Executive Director Howard Learner said, as Inside Climate News reported.