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Today’s Politics Are Tomorrow’s Climate Policy (part 3)

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By Joel B. Stronberg

· 11 min read

The state of federal climate policy is a good news, bad news story. The bad news will likely come in on the developing red tide that looks to flip one or both chambers of Congress to Republican control.

Although a Republican Congress would be hard-pressed to rescind the recently passed infrastructure and inflation reduction acts, it could force reductions in funding levels, delay implementation, and loosen rules on how the funds can be used to a point where the promised reductions in harmful emissions are never realized.

At a minimum, the next Congress will be plagued by a lot of shoe banging over Biden's motives to bring down the cost of gasoline and rehashing the scientific basis of Democratic efforts to speed the transition to a low-carbon economy. Much of the climate-related work of a Republican House and possibly Senate will be in the form of oversight hearings to rehash the urgency of responding to the climate crisis and the need to amp up fossil fuel production.

The good news is Congress, and the White House were able to pass three historic pieces of legislation—the IIJA, IRA, and the CHIPS and Science Act before the elections. The bills take direct aim at combating climate change through funded policies and programs.

The legislation marks the first time in US history that anything approximating an integrated national energy and environment strategy has been put into place. The question now is: how will they be put into practice? More pointedly, will the hyperpartisanship that has marred decades of climate policymaking carry down to the state and local levels?

To the winners go the spoils

A trifecta state is one in which a single party controls the governor's mansion, the legislature, and the office of attorney general. There are currently 37 trifecta states—14 Democratic and 23 Republican. (Figure 1). According to Ballotpedia, elections for one or more trifecta offices are taking place in:

  • 22 of the 23 states with Republican trifectas,
  • 13 of the 14 states with Democratic trifectas, and
  • 11 of the 13 states with divided government.

Ballotpedia is predicting the following outcomes in key trifecta states.

  1. The Democratic trifecta in Delaware is highly vulnerable.
  1. Democratic trifectas in ColoradoMaine, and Nevada are moderately vulnerable.
  1. Three Democratic trifectas—IllinoisOregon, and Washington—are considered somewhat vulnerable.
  1. Arizona is the only highly vulnerable Republican trifecta this year.
  1. The governor's race is rated as a Tossup, and Republicans have a one-seat majority in the state House and Senate.
  1. Three Republican trifectas in GeorgiaNew Hampshire, and Texas are classified as moderately vulnerable.
  1. The Republican trifectas in Florida and Iowa are somewhat vulnerable.

Gubernatorial elections – selected states

Not a single congressional Republican voted in support of the IRA. The infrastructure bill received 19 GOP votes in the Senate and just 13 in the House. All of the Republicans voting for the bill have incurred the wrath of former President Trump. The IRA was passed with no Republican votes.

There are reasons to believe that politics will play nearly as big a part in how the legislation is implemented as they played in how they were passed.

Texas leads the nation in energy production and consumption. In 2021, Texas produced almost 12 percent of the nation's total net energy generation.

Notwithstanding the significant economic, energy, and environmental contributions of wind and solar energy sources in Texas, Republican Lone Star state politicians like Governor Greg Abbott, Senator Ted Cruz, and Congressmen Dan Crenshaw and Rony Jackson have little good to say about them. Most concerning is their willingness to lie.

Abbott erroneously blamed the state's 2021 power outage on the feet of wind turbines and solar panels. In an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, Abbott said this:

"This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America."

The same year, Jackson tweeted that Texas electricity problems were what "the Biden/Harris plan for our energy sector gets us. Corrupt 'green' policies that leave us in the dark." (Emphasis added)

Cruz has "mocked California's advisories calling for consumer-led energy conservation by tweeting, 'Hope you don't like air conditioning!'" However, the truth is otherwise. According to others, Texas air conditioners would have been silenced if it weren't for solar and wind.

The most visceral claims about wind have come from Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

"Those ugly wind turbines out there are among the main reasons we are experiencing electricity blackouts... So much for the unsightly and unproductive, energy-robbing Obama Monuments. At least they show us where idiots live." (Emphasis added)

Texas Republicans are hardly the only ones who dismiss the critical importance of the nation's transition to a clean energy economy. Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis (R), has said that Biden's climate agenda has "kneecapped American energy production."

DeSantis has put forward a three-year plan for addressing some of the major problems resulting from weather-related events like coastal erosion. At the press conference in which he introduced his proposal, DeSantis made clear where he stands on the Democratic response to Earth's warming.

"What I've found is when people start talking about things like global warming, they typically use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things that they would want to do anyways. And so, we're not doing any left-wing stuff." (Emphasis added)

Abbott and DeSantis reflect the character of the ongoing culture war between Republicans and Democrats. Conflicts that the former president is continuously stoking. Starting November 9th, everything will be done in anticipation of the 2024 elections.

Just days before the election, governor races in New York and Arizona show a surge in support for the Republican candidates. Governor Hochul (D) is losing ground to a Long Island conservative—Lee Zeldin—who is currently serving in the US House. Hochul looks to continue the implementation of New York's sweeping shift to renewable energy and advance many policies related to environmental protection.

Zeldin has followed the Republican line of increasing US fossil fuel production, including through fracking. Although he's said little about renewable energy sources like wind and solar, it's a fair bet he'll adopt Trump's attitudes toward the resources. He owes a lot to Trump, as the former president has been vocal in his support.

In Arizona, the ultra-conservative Kari Lake leads her Democratic opponent Kati Hobbs in her bid for the governor's mansion. Hobbs, the current Secretary of State, by a few percentage points. Hobbs has been accused of running a lackluster campaign, while Lake has pulled generous contributions from Republican contributors and has Trump on her side.

Although Lake has said little about climate change, she will, in all probability, follow Trump's lead on the issue.

Attorneys General elections

Fourteen Republican and 16 Democratic AGs are up for election in November. In Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Wyoming, the governor appoints the attorney general. In each of those states, "governor" is on this year's ballot. The Tennessee supreme court appoints its AG; in Maine, the AG is elected by the state legislature for a two-year term.

Environmental defenders need to pay particular attention to the outcome of the state attorneys general (AG) elections. According to Lori Kalani at the firm Cozen O'Connor, "Energy and environmental regulation [is] one of the areas where AGs are most divided down partisan lines."

Kalani explains, "Attorneys General have a wide range of tools to address pollution and climate change. They are the chief enforcers of state environmental laws."

For nearly a quarter century, the pattern has been red state AGs suing blue administrations and blue state AGs returning the favor when red administrations are in control.

Hot climate topics for state attorneys general include the legal battles that will be mounted in the wake of the Biden administration's issuing its replacement for the Obama Clean Power Plan, water regulations, and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) requirements, e.g., corporate disclosure rules and unfair trade practices.

According to Reuters, a "group of state attorneys general are currently investigating the ESG practices of the country's six biggest banks. The participating AG offices are all alleging the environmental, social, and governance-related (ESG) practices hurt the American energy industry." by which they mean fossil fuel companies and contributors.

Blue-state AGs are as active as their red-state counterparts. The Democrats, for example, are suing oil and gas companies seeking damages based on the company's knowing the dangers of burning fossil fuels and choosing to stay mum.

The legal theories put forward in these cases are similar to those used successfully in the tobacco cases of the late 90s. It's all about what did they know, when did they know it, and why didn't they do something about it?

As reported by Fast Company, Texas implemented a ban on municipalities doing business with financial firms that won't do business with fossil fuel companies. In August 2022, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis approved a resolution barring his state's $186 billion pension fund from considering ESG factors in making investment decisions, ordering them to "maximize' financial return over and above other considerations."

Arizona, Idaho, Kentucky, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Wyoming have all enacted similar legislation, and several other states are working on it. When the Utah legislature reconvenes next January (2023), it will have at least four anti-ESG bills to consider.

With the new legislation will come new regulations. Between now and the 2024 presidential elections, the Biden administration will be issuing a raft of proposed rules as required by the IIJA and IRA.

With new regulations will come new litigation. State attorneys general will lead the charge up the US Supreme Court's steps. And, the red/blue, blue/red cycle begins anew.

Selected AG Races of particular interest include:

  • Arizona, which is considered a tossup. The Republican is Abe Hamadeh. The Democrat is Kris Mayes. Former President Trump supports Hamadeh.
  • Kansas, which is rated a tossup. According to NBC, Republican Kris Kobach, the former secretary of state, is his party's nominee. He's long been a controversial figure in his own party, a hard-liner on immigration and voting laws who was the de-facto chair of Trump's Election Integrity Commission. He lost his 2018 bid for governor, as well as a 2020 primary bid for Senate. He faces Democratic prosecutor and former police officer, Chris Mann.
  • Michigan, which leans Democratic. The Democratic candidate is Dana Nessel. With the auto companies so heavily invested in electric vehicles, Michigan stands to gain from a Democratic victory at all levels of government. The Republican candidate is Trump-endorsed Mathew DePerno. Trump has spent considerable political capital on Michigan Republicans.
  • Minnesota, which is considered a tossup. The Democratic candidate is Keith Ellison, who's running for re-election. He's a progressive in a state that could be turning more conservative largely over crime. The Republican nominee is Jim Schultz.
  • Nevada, which is considered a tossup. The Democratic candidate is Aaron Ford, who is up for re-election. According to NBC: Attorney Sigal Chattah is the GOP nominee facing Ford. She drew notice for suing the state over Covid restrictions during the height of the pandemic. Republican officials, including former state Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson and former GOP Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian, have endorsed Ford over Chatta.
  • Texas leans Republican. The current Texas AG is Ken Paxton. He has joined other fossil fuel states in suing Democratic administrations over their environmental and clean energy regulations. The Democratic nominee is Rochelle Garza.

Ballot measures

Another bellwether climate champions should consider are the few climate-related measures on the ballot in November at both the state and local levels. New Yorkers will have a chance to vote on Proposition 1, which permits the state to issue $4.2 billion in bonds to advance environmental and infrastructure projects.

Industrial-scale wind and solar projects suffer from the NIMBY syndrome. In 2021, the Ohio legislature passed SB 52, allowing counties to block the development of large solar and wind installations. On November 8th, residents of Crawford County will have the chance to exercise their vote on a proposed wind project.

Opposition to the project is fierce, and its opponents are spouting many of the same alternative facts as those used by former President Trump, Governor Abbott, and Senator Cruz. Elections matter.

Although there are too few climate-related measures on the 2022 ballots to identify a pattern, successful NIMBY campaigns this time around could be used as models in future elections.

What now?

The bleak outlook for Democrats in the 2022 elections is very likely to implement the IIJA, IRA, and CHIPS Acts as they were intended. Climate is once again outranked on the list of voter priorities, with the economy at the top of the list—followed by inflation and crime.

I'll leave readers with this parting thought by Jack Ewing of the New York Times:

"Ideology has not prevented red-state politicians from trumpeting green investments in their districts."

No matter the outcome on November 8th, climate champions would do well to emphasize community adaptation and resilience in their messaging into the 2024 presidential elections. It's never too early to get ready for the next election.

Author's note to readers: This is the first in the series Today’s Politics Are Tomorrow’s Climate Policies. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Joel B. Stronberg is a senior executive and attorney and the founder and principal of The JBS Group, a Washington, DC consulting firm. Joel is currently advising the Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization project at Columbia University’s Sabin Center along with his other clients.

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