Clean Energy and the Midterm Elections
It is an exciting time in the world of clean energy, with policy action happening across the country and significant progress expected from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). But some feared the outcomes of midterm elections earlier this month could make a difference between speeding the clean transition or derailing it. As of this article’s publication, some national races are still up in the air, and the House of Representatives still lacks a definitive party majority. Democrats won control over the Senate, which will largely bolster our ability to meet climate goals. Other key races occurred at the state level, and not only for state legislatures, governorships, and attorneys general. Corporation commissions, public service commissions, railroad commissions, and other smaller boards had seats up for grabs which could impact energy system reforms, utility climate goals, electricity pricing, and more. In this piece, we take a brief look at the state of the nation and how election outcomes may impact our energy future.
National: U.S. Senate
Heading into election day, 35 Senate seats were available and the Democrats held the majority. Clean energy proponents were watching a number of Senate races, hoping for gains that may circumvent further climate and energy slowdowns from swing voting Senators. A few key races include Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Georgia:
Incumbent Democrat Cortaz Masto and Republican Adam Laxalt are at odds over clean energy, not to mention a number of other issues. Senator Masto is a supporter of climate action and renewables. Since her election in 2016, she pushed to extend the solar investment tax credit (ITC), supported the IRA, introduced legislation supporting solar manufacturing, and has taken preventative action against new oil and gas leasing on public lands. She has voted to prioritize protecting the environment on nearly every issue.
Sen. Masto critiqued her opponent, former Nevada attorney general Adam Laxalt, for his monetary ties to big fossil fuel companies. Laxalt attacked Sen. Masto’s “green agenda” and pursuit of solar and wind, and blamed heightened energy prices on renewable energy policies. He also previously questioned the link between climate change and wildfires, and in 2016 supported an oil company’s attempt to stop an investigation about whether they lied about climate risks.
Outcome: Masto defeated Laxalt, clinching the Senate for the Democratic Party.
In Pennsylvania, Democrat John Fettermen faced Republican Mehmet Oz. Fetterman emphasized that climate change is an existential threat and encouraged a clean energy transition “as soon as possible.” Oz, on the other hand, campaigned on overturning “heavy-handed” regulations on fossil fuels. He wholeheartedly supported fracking and claimed that a full transition to domestic natural gas would be cleaner than “electrifying every U.S. car, plus putting a solar panel on every roof, plus doubling wind energy production.”
Outcome: John Fettermen won, giving Democrats a new seat in the Senate.
Incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock is a proponent of clean energy manufacturing; he previously introduced legislation that would support the American solar supply chain. He voted to secure clean energy funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and the IRA, and he campaigned for a clean energy transition that would lower costs for Georgia families. He has directly stated that “clean energy jobs are the best way to fuel our future.”
Warnock’s opponent, Herschel Walker, peddled false theories about climate and air pollution during his campaign. He blames recent increased energy prices on recently enacted clean energy policies, and he implied fossil fuel support when stating he wanted to focus on “restoring American energy independence.”
Outcome: The Georgia race was predicted to be a close call, and it was. Neither candidate hit the 50 percent threshold, with Warnock missing the cutoff by only 23,000 votes out of more than 3.9 million. Warnock and Herschel will participate in a runoff election on December 6th.
Senate Results and the Impact on U.S. Clean Energy
Nearly a week after Election Day, races in Nevada, Georgia, and Arizona held the Senate’s fate in their hands. Masto’s win in Nevada and a win from Arizona’s incumbent clean-energy proponent Mark Kelly secured a Democratic Senate. This will play a pivotal role in how the U.S. government tackles clean energy in the coming years.
National: U.S. House of Representatives
Unlike the Senate, control of the House of Representatives is still up for grabs. As of November 13th, there are 20 uncalled races. Republicans currently lead with 211 of the 218 seats required to win. Democrats stand at 204 seats.
Clean energy supporters were watching a number of key races in the House, including California, Washington, New Mexico, and Montana:
Incumbent Democrat Representative Katie Porter is facing Republican Scott Baugh in District 47. Porter is the head of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee and a fossil fuel critic. She opposes offshore drilling and is a strong voice dispelling climate misinformation. She introduced legislation this year to eliminate taxpayer subsidies for big oil companies.
Though he opposes offshore drilling, Baugh’s stance is that protecting the environment and combating climate change cannot come at an economic expense. He recently blamed climate and energy policies for heightened gas prices.
Outcome: Porter and Baugh’s district was recently redrawn, and the area is a swing district often looked to as a “bellwether for national politics.” As of this writing, the race is yet to be called, with Porter and Baugh neck and neck. Flipping this district from Democrat to Republican could secure the House for the Republican Party.
In Washington, incumbent Democratic Representative Kim Schrier is a climate advocate; she says that climate change “is one of the most important challenges facing…the entire world.” She has called for a 100 percent clean energy transition and she supports redirecting oil and gas subsidies to renewables. Her opponent, Republican Matt Larkin, supports bettering the environment but says that climate change is not a priority. In a debate, he noted supporting clean energy incentives but also advocated for heightened oil production, saying “I don’t think we’ll ever get to solely clean energy.”
Outcome: Schrier defeated Larkin.
New Mexico is one of the top oil and gas states in the country, and incumbent Republican Representative Yvette Herrell ran her campaign on supporting fossil fuels. Her challenger, Democrat Gabriel Vasquez, campaigned for a clean energy transition, conservation, and defending public lands against fossil fuel development.
Outcome: Vasquez won and flipped the seat for Democrats.
In Montana, Republican former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke faced off against Democrat Monica Tranel in a newly-drawn second House district (since 1990, Montana has only had a single district). Tranel is a clean energy attorney who campaigned on accelerating the clean energy transition. Zinke supports fossil fuel production alongside clean energy developments, and he has been called out for relationships with fossil fuel companies. As the Secretary of the Interior under President Donald Trump, Zinke encouraged oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters.
Outcome: Zinke defeated Tranel and became the first person representing Montana’s new western House district.
State and Local Elections
Though national elections are in the spotlight, local elections also impact the future of the U.S. clean energy landscape.
Governors and Attorneys General
Of the 36 gubernatorial elections this year, a few stood poised for particular influence.
New Mexico’s new Democratic governor Michelle Lujan Grisham defeated Republican Mark Ronchetti. Grisham has upheld good climate policy and enacted regulations against methane flaring from drilling operations. Ronchetti campaigned on cutting such regulations and encouraging heightened oil production.
Michigan incumbent Governor Gretchen Whitmer successfully defended her position against Republican Tudor Dixon. Whitmer is a member of the U.S. Climate Alliance and she has voiced strong support for electric vehicle (EV) investments, while her opponent denounced EVs as impractical. Dixon also supports fossil infrastructure such as Michigan’s Line 5 Pipeline.
In Massachusetts, the Democratic state Attorney General Maura Healey won the formerly-Republican Governor’s seat – the first woman to ever do so. Her opponent, Geoff Diehl, called for a “greater commitment to renewable energy” in his campaign statements but also opposed joining a program aimed to combat climate change through transportation emissions reduction. Healey released a climate plan calling for 100 percent clean electricity in Massachusetts by 2030, as well as ending sales of new gas-powered cars by 2035.
Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was reelected to a third term, cementing his stance against federal clean energy policy and trailing a history of anti-climate and anti-clean power lawsuits.
In North Carolina, clean energy proponents worried that a Republican supermajority in both the state House and Senate would hinder Democratic Governor Roy Cooper’s clean energy and climate goals. Though Republicans maintained a supermajority in the Senate, and gained majority in the state Supreme Court, they were one seat short of supermajority in the House. The North Carolina Supreme Court also gained a Republican majority.
Minnesota, on the other hand, saw Democrats flip the Senate while maintaining control of the House. Tim Walz, the Democratic governor, has an aggressive climate plan, though many of its priorities require legislation to enact. With a political trifecta, the state is poised to freely pursue a clean energy transition.
Commissions hold sway over land use, electricity costs, grid resilience, renewable and gas mandates, and other clean energy standards. For the yet-undecided Arizona Corporation Commission election, for example, the winners of two available seats could either revive or indefinitely scrap previously downvoted rules requiring utilities to achieve clean energy targets.
Results for the Louisiana Public Service Commission are pending a runoff election, which may determine how Louisiana acts on climate and prepares its energy grid for extreme weather.
The Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees oil and gas production and pipelines, had a single seat for grabs which was re-acquired by Republican Wayne Christian. His Democratic opponent Luke Warford had hoped to help reform the state’s energy system, but Christian has ties to the fossil industry and will preserve the status quo.
Clean energy policy is made at the federal, state, and local level. Achieving climate and energy goals will require supportive politicians across the board. We at Leyline are hopeful that all incoming elected officials will consider the imperative for a clean energy transition and allow for continued progress toward a greener, more resilient world.