Obama Wins and So Does the Planet (Mostly): 6 Key Environmental Victories From Election Night

Election '16

This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.

Super Storm Sandy gave climate change a late appearance in the election. And it has left many people wondering if a new era of dialogue and much needed action will follow in the storm’s wake. The aftermath of the election, too has reason for hope. It proved mostly heartening when it comes to green initiatives and the candidates who have come out in support of clean energy, climate change action, and good old-fashion science. There was a notable upset on a green initiative in Michigan and the defeat of GMO labeling in California, but here is some of the good news:

1. Dirty Energy Comes up Empty

A lot of money was spent trying to protect dirty energy interests and their playmakers in Washington. And for the most part — it was money down the drain. Of course the fossil fuel industry didn’t go broke in the effort — but they did shell out quite a bit of cash. Noreen Nielsen writes for Climate Progress:

In just the last two months of the campaign, outside groups linked to dirty energy sources or the promotion of a dirty energy agenda spent more than $270 million on TV ads in the presidential, House, and Senate races and industry ads promoting oil, gas, and coal interest, and more than $31 million was spent on energy-related ads, according to a Center for American Progress Action Fund analysis of data from Kantar Media’s CMAG. ...

In addition to dirty energy groups’ direct spending on specific electoral campaigns, they also pumped millions of dollars into generic “branding” campaigns promoting oil, gas, and coal interests, such as the American Petroleum Institute’s “I’m an Energy Voter” campaign. From September 1 through November 5, for example, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity and the American Petroleum Institute spent $5.5 million on these types of ads.

Writing for the NRDC, Heather Taylor-Miesle explains where industry came up short: 

Oil, gas, and coal companies spent $20 million to defeat Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), but he won anyway. He ran on his record of supporting renewable power and environmental protections and voters rewarded him for it.

They did the same thing in the New Mexico Senate race. Fossil fuel companies opened their checkbooks for Former Representative Heather Wilson, a pro-drilling, anti-climate action candidate. But voters preferred Representative Martin Heinrich and the fact that he made clean energy and climate action a central part of his campaign.

In Virginia, fossil fuel companies and other outside interests spent heavily to take a senate seat away from the Democratic Party. Voters weren’t buying it. They elected Former Governor Tim Kaine who has a long history of standing up for clean air and public health safeguards. ...

That means these Senators are free to do the right thing on clean energy and clean air. They underwent a full-throttled, deep-pocketed attack on from the right and survived. Why? Because voters did not take the side of polluters. They took the side of clean energy champions.

Overwhelmingly voters across the country told dirty energy to go back to the 19th century.

2. Barack Obama Gets Four More Years

There is no doubt that we need an energy revolution at every level of our country — not just the top seat. But the President’s role in pushing us toward a clean economy is paramount. We also need a leader on the international stage to help make amends for our failures thus far, and to actively engage with the rest of the world on climate change solutions. We know Mitt Romney wasn’t go to be that guy. Obama could be. 

The first four years came with some environment wins, but with the Keystone XL pipeline still in limbo (and construction already beginning in Texas) and Obama’s support for fracking, the president isn’t an environmentalist’s dream. But perhaps we’re starting to see a shift in the public’s consciousness that can urge Obama to treat climate change like the crisis that it is. As Scott Rosenberg wrote for Grist:

In the wake of Sandy’s coastal devastation, there’s at least a chance of reopening the national conversation about global warming. It would be great for that conversation to be led by a president who’s a real climate crusader. 

Can we make Obama into a climate crusader? Or provide him the political climate to grow into that role? It’s possible. Michael Brune at the Sierra Club has a to-do list made up for the president — let’ see if we can hold Obama to it: 

• First, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must finish the job it has begun of cleaning up dirty power plants. Working with the U.S. EPA to finalize carbon pollution standards for new power plants and to begin emphasizing efficiency and clean energy over currently operating plants will continue to be a high priority for the Sierra Club and our partners in the environmental community.

•  The president should take a hard look at what burning toxic tar-sands oil would mean for our climate future—and reject Canada’s plan to pump dirty tar sands through our farmlands and water sources.

• Make conservation and public recreation the top priority for our public lands and use the Antiquities Act to establish national monuments that will protect entire landscapes for this and future generations to enjoy.

• Last, but not least, President Obama must boldly elevate the issue of climate disruption and climate solutions. The American people understand and accept that the climate crisis is upon us. They also know that—with Iowa and South Dakota generating more than 20 percent of their power from wind and with solar-industry jobs growing at more than 10 percent annually—a clean-energy future is already here. We need strong leadership and action to address our climate challenge directly and to build on this clean-energy growth.

3. Goodbye Flat-Earthers 

There is no room for science deniers leading our country. Douglas Fischer reports for Daily Climate:

Three of the "Flat Earth Five" – Republican House members identified by the League of Conservation Voters for their anti-science stance on climate change – lost their races Tuesday, with the remaining two too close to call Wednesday afternoon.

And nine of the League's "dirty dozen" candidates – targeted for "consistently voti[ing] against clean energy and conservation" – lost their bids for public office. ...

Of the five,  Republican Reps. Ann Marie Buerkle of New York, Francisco Canesco of Texas and Joe Walsh of Illinois lost their seats. In Michigan, the race between incumbent Republican Rep. Dan Benishek and Democratic challenger Gary McDowell was separated by 100 votes with 71 percent of the precincts reporting on Wednesday.

The fifth "Flat Earther," California Republican Rep. Dan Lungren, trailed his challenger, Democrat Ami Bera, by fewer than 200 votes with 100 percent of the precincts reporting Wednesday. 

It turns out the Earth is in fact round, and increasingly warming.

4. Optimistic in Washington

If Jay Inslee hangs on to his narrow lead for governor in Washington (still too close to call), it will be a huge win for the environment. TakePart described his credentials before the election, mentioning that some were hopeful he would be the greenest governor in the country: 

During his time in Congress, Inslee cochaired the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition and served on the Energy and Commerce Committee and Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

In 2007, Inslee published "Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy," calling for massive public investment in renewable energy industries. Much of his campaign is centered around reinvigorating Washington's economy by transforming the state into a national green tech hub.

In October, the League of Conservation Voters, which has steered clear of state races for more than 30 years, came out in strong support for Inslee's campaign.

5. Fracking Gets Shot Down in Colorado

The fight against fracking doesn’t have a lot of wins at the state and federal level, but it is racking them up at the local level. As Lisa Hymas reports at Grist:

The city of Longmont, Colo., north of Denver, defied state leaders and drilling companies alike by banning hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” as well as the storage of fracking waste, within city limits. “The oil and gas industry fought the ban hard, giving $507,500″ to the opposition, the Boulder Daily Camera reports, but anti-fracking activists won the day.

So far much of the local wins on fracking have been contested and usually lost in the courts, but a growing community movement against fracking is always a good thing — especially in a state like Colorado.

6. Green Energy Win in California

After a disappointing loss on Proposal 3 in Michigan, which would have increased renewable energy standards, and bring the state to 25 percent renewable energy by 2025, there was some celebrating in California with the passage of Prop 39. 

Prop 39 will close a corporate tax loophole and funnel some of the savings to green jobs. 

As Philip Bump explains on Grist: 

The state will create the “Clean Energy Job Creation Fund.” As described in the proposition’s ballot language, money from the fund will be used to “create jobs in California improving energy efficiency and expanding clean energy generation” by focusing on retrofits to schools and other public buildings. Additional funds will go to job training programs and Property Assessed Clean Energy programs in public-private partnerships.

California’s direct-democracy proposition format is an often clunky, always piecemeal way of addressing problems. But in this case, at least, the system worked effectively: curbing a widely criticized loophole for the benefit of the state and dedicated investment in the sorts of green improvements that will continue to pay off for the state over the long run

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