Democrats took control of the House in the wake of Wednesday's midterms, and with that the climate landscape has shifted. Any hope of bipartisan climate legislation is dead, but the opportunity is there for Democrats to lean into bolder climate policies.
These realities are exemplified by two groups whose fortunes shifted on Tuesday night. The bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, known for doing basically nothing but holding meetings, saw its Republican members get decimated. Of the 43 Republicans with voting power, 16 lost their bids for re-election or are in races that haven’t been called but lean Democrat. A number have been replaced by scientists who intimately understand climate change while elsewhere, Democrats with big climate ideas won.
“Overall, I believe the better path to climate policy is by putting more climate hawks into office than by compromising with peacocks,” RL Miller, head of Climate Hawks Vote Political Action Committee, told Earther.
That’s about to get put to the test. While Democrats already in Congress have announced a plan to do basically bupkis legislatively on climate change, they’re about to face a class of incoming representatives who may have some different ideas.
The Climate Solutions Caucus was designed Noah’s Ark style with Republican and Democrat members admitted one-by-one so their numbers are equal. The losses on the Republican side includes Representative Carlos Curbelo, the founder of the caucus. Along with the 16 who lost re-election another seven retired and one lost his primary, cutting their delegation by more than half. Earther has reached out to Citizens Climate Lobby, a group that supports the caucus, to get details on what comes next for the caucus.
But whether the caucus even matters as a legislative group is up for debate. It includes Florida Representative Matt Gaetz who’s biggest splash since being elected Congress in 2016 aside from spreading conspiracy theories on Twitter is introducing a bill to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency. Then there’s California’s Darrell Issa, who has previously denied climate change but joined up when it became clear he could lose his seat (which is what happened anyways).
Curbelo did introduce a carbon tax earlier this year that received fairly widespread praise from economists. But the legislation was DOA. In fact, 39 of the caucus members voted in favour of a resolution explicitly rebuking carbon taxes ahead of Curbelo introducing it.
While it would be naive to think the fact that caucus did next to nothing is the reason so many Republicans on its rolls were wiped out, it’s pretty clear the group didn’t offer much cover for vulnerable Republicans in swing districts.
On the flip side of these losses, a number of climate hawk Democrats are now entering Congress, including some who support the Green New Deal, a plan to overhaul our fossil fuel economy and turn it into one that runs on renewables while also making it more equitable. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar are a handful of new-elected members of Congress who back the approach.
A number of scientists also won by running on their bonafides and plans to push back on the Trump administration’s deregulatory frenzy. Joe Cunningham, an ocean engineer who made his race in South Carolina a referendum on offshore drilling, pulled off an upset victory according in a district a Democrat hasn’t held since 1981. Eight other candidates endorsed by 314 Action, a political action committee that backed Democrats with science and engineering backgrounds, also pulled off victories.
“We’re feeling pretty good,” Shaughnessy Naughton, 314 Action’s president, told Earther. “It vindicated our hypothesis that STEM issues can win, [and showed] the general public does trust and admire scientists. It sees them as arbiters or truth.”
And the truth is the U.S. along with the world really has to do something on climate change soon. While Democrats already in Congress have said they’re not interested in pushing climate legislation, the fresh faces could lead to an intra-party battle. Or, the next Congress could wind up looking much like the last Congress in terms of climate ambition.
Any climate legislation the new Congress introduces would also have to get through the red Senate and approved by the White House, a tall task. And while a number of Democrats won on unabashedly pro-climate solutions platforms and Americans have expressed approval for progressive climate solutions in polling, the results of state ballot measures focused climate and clean energy didn’t turn out so hot.
One area that could prove more fruitful is checking the Trump administration’s anti-science policies. As Democrats assume control of powerful oversight committees, there should be no shortage of opportunities.