A roundup of the high-stakes climate races

For the climate-interested voter, these are the Western races to watch on Tuesday.

 

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and has been edited to include only Western states. It is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. 

The climate didn’t get much attention in this year’s debates, but Tuesday’s election will still have a major consequences for the fight against global warming. Donald Trump thinks climate change is a hoax; he’s pledged to withdraw from the historic Paris climate accord and to repeal President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which is intended to cut greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants. Hillary Clinton has said she will continue Obama’s climate legacy and has called for installing half-a-billion solar panels by the end of her first term.

A campaign sign is submerged under flood water.
Sean Rayford/Getty

The debate isn’t restricted to the top of the ticket; there are a number of state races that will play a key role in determining US climate policy, along with a handful of ballot initiatives covering everything thing from rooftop solar to a proposed carbon tax. The situation in each state is unique. Some races—New Hampshire’s Senate contest, for instance—feature two candidates who want to act on climate change. Others, such as West Virginia’s gubernatorial election, feature two candidates who are champions of the coal industry. The impacts of climate change also vary from state to state: Alaska faces wildfires and melting permafrost; Florida is confronting rising seas; Iowa could be hit with falling corn yields. And of course, the voters in each state are different, too. Coloradans overwhelmingly acknowledge that humans are warming the planet. Their neighbors in Utah: not so much.

Below, we’ve listed every state with a competitive presidential, Senate, or gubernatorial race—as well as ones that are voting on climate-related initiatives. And we’ve included a few key facts: namely, where the candidates stand on climate; the specific consequences of warming in each state; and the percentage of each state’s residents who are climate science deniers (according to research from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication). One final note: For the sake of consistency, we included every Senate and gubernatorial race that the Cook Political Report rates as “toss up,” “lean,” or “likely.” Many of these elections will probably be close, but a few (see: Alaska’s Senate race) almost certainly won’t be.

Alaska

Impacts of climate change: “Alaska has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the nation, bringing widespread impacts. Sea ice is rapidly receding and glaciers are shrinking. Thawing permafrost is leading to more wildfire, and affecting infrastructure and wildlife habitat. Rising ocean temperatures and acidification will alter valuable marine fisheries.” [National Climate Assessment, 2014]

Percentage of residents who are climate deniers: 47%

Presidential battleground? No.

Senate race:

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R): “I do believe that our climate is changing. I don’t agree that all the changes are necessarily due solely to human activity.” [Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee session, 1/8/15]

Joe Miller (L): “We haven’t heard there’s man-made global warming.” [Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, 8/22/10]

Ray Metcalfe (D): “Every [Alaskan] has witnessed climate change over the past fifty years. Our winters are warmer, our summers are longer, and our Arctic Village shores, once protected by sea ice are eroding. Bold clean energy action is needed to stave off a climate hostile to human life. Unfortunately, Congress is protecting the profits of those opposed to protecting the planet.” [Metcalfe Facebook post, 8/2/16]

Arizona

Impacts of climate change: “Annual precipitation has decreased in Arizona during the last century, and it may continue to decrease. So soils are likely to be drier, and periods without rain are likely to become longer, making droughts more severe…Increasing droughts and higher temperatures are likely to affect Arizona’s top agricultural products: cattle, dairy, and vegetables.” [EPA, Aug. 2016]

Percentage of residents who are climate deniers: 43%

Presidential battleground? Maybe.

Senate race:

Sen. John McCain (R): “I think we need to address greenhouse gas emissions. But I try to get involved in issues where I see a legislative result…So I just leave the issue alone because I don’t see a way through it, and there are certain fundamentals, for example nuke power, that people on the left will never agree with me on. So why should I waste my time when I know the people on the left are going to reject nuclear power?” [Time, 3/2/14]

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D): “The EPA’s [Clean Power Plan] is another example of Washington’s lack of understanding when it comes to rural and Western energy issues. I oppose this new rule because it hurts my district, which has four coal-fired plants that power Arizona’s big cities, small towns, businesses and residences. These plants also provide good-paying jobs in our tribal and rural regions. The Navajo Generating Station in Page, for example, employs hundreds of people, mostly Native Americans, and provides nearly all of the power for the Central Arizona Project. That means our entire state has a big stake in the energy production and economic stability of these plants. We need to find a balance between protecting our local economies while pursuing the longer-term goal of producing clean, affordable and reliable power. I will not support efforts that kill jobs in my district and lack provisions for responsibly transitioning us toward a clean-energy economy.” [Kirkpatrick press release, 6/2/14]

Colorado

Impacts of climate change: “Rising temperatures have and will continue to impact the state’s resources in a variety of ways, including more rapid snowmelt, longer and more severe droughts, and longer growing seasons…Moreover, Colorado experiences numerous climate-related disasters, such as [tornadoes], hailstorms, and wildfires, that will continue to occur and may be exacerbated by climate change.” [University of Colorado and Colorado State University, Jan. 2015]

Percentage of residents who are climate deniers: 41%

Presidential battleground? Yep

Sen. Michael Bennet (D): “Colorado’s economy is already being threatened by unchecked climate change…[The Clean Power Plan] is an important step toward curbing carbon pollution and addressing climate change.” [Bennet press release, 8/3/15]

Daryl Glenn, El Paso County commissioner (R):

Ryan Warner, Colorado Public Radio: To get you on the record, you do not agree with the majority of scientists who say climate change has human causes. Is that correct?

Glenn: Well that’s your assumption. You’re bringing an assumption to the table and the premise to your question has me to basically adopt your position and I can’t do that without verifiable data.

Warner: Oh it’s not my position. It’s that the majority of scientists believe that climate change has a human caused component. Do you concur with them?

Glenn: Again, you are bringing facts to the particular issue that I don’t have, been presented to me. You’re saying that the majority of scientists are saying that. That’s your statement.

Warner: Right. Well, that’s a fact. Is it a fact that you agree with?

Glenn: Well that’s the fact that you’re representing and I don’t accept your premise of that question.

Warner: Do you believe that climate change has human causes? 

Glenn: Well again, I would, I am a data guy, I would want to see the, a verifiable information of that. 

Warner: There’s a lot out there. Have you looked at it?

Glenn: We’ve looked at a lot of things. We’ve also looked at that and we’ve also looked at the economic impact of this policy and how they are disproportionately hurting people when it comes to their livelihood. So that’s really where the focus is. We need to make sure we’re looking at policies like that that we’re looking at both sides of the equation instead of just one. [Colorado Public Radio, 7/29/16]

Montana

Impacts of climate change: “Since the 1950s, the snowpack in Montana has been decreasing. Diminishing snowpack can shorten the season for skiing and other forms of winter tourism and recreation…More than one thousand glaciers cover about 26 square miles of mountains in Montana, but that area is decreasing in response to rising temperatures. Glacier National Park’s glaciers receded rapidly during the last century.” [EPA, Aug. 2016]

Percentage of residents who are climate deniers: 46%

Presidential battleground? No.

Gubernatorial race:

Gov. Steve Bullock (D): “Steve believes Montanans should control our own energy future. He introduced a balanced and responsible plan that builds upon Montana’s traditional base of energy generation, like coal in Colstrip, while sparking a new generation of clean technology development, investing in renewables like wind and solar and encouraging innovation, savings, and energy efficiency for homes and businesses.” [Bullock campaign website, accessed 10/31/16]

Greg Gianforte (R): “This [the Supreme Court’s decision to halt the Clean Power Plan] is great news for Montana, but the fight isn’t over. We cannot rest. We must keep up the pressure and work to defeat this “costly power plan” once and for all.” [Gianfote press release, 2/9/16]

Nevada

Impacts of climate change: “Much of Nevada’s tourist income comes from attractions that will be vulnerable to climate impacts. For instance, Las Vegas’s 45 golf courses, which are used by one-third of all visitors, could see a sharp decline in golfers due to rising temperatures and decreased water supplies…Lower water levels in Lake Mead significantly reduced recreational visitors, especially boaters, as marinas and docks were left high and dry.” [Demos, 4/19/12] 

Percentage of residents who are climate deniers: 41%

Presidential battleground? Yes. 

Senate race:

Former Nevada Attorney Gen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D): “The Clean Power Plan is a bold step not just in lowering carbon emissions, but also in creating the clean energy jobs of the future.  With our abundance of wind, solar, and geothermal energy, Nevada has been a leader in moving away from carbon emissions and embracing a clean energy economy that has created good-paying jobs in our state that can’t be shipped overseas.” [Cortez Masto campaign press release, 8/3/15]

Rep. Joe Heck (R): “To maintain our economic and national security, we must maximize all of our nation’s energy resources, including renewable sources, alternative fuels, and fossil fuels, all in a way that balances economic development and protecting our environment. Nevada is poised to lead our nation in renewable development and we must harness those resources. However, we shouldn’t penalize those that depend on fossil fuels for energy and the jobs they provide. [The Clean Power Plan] is not the all-of-the-above energy strategy needed to boost job creation and reduce energy prices for families.” [Heck press release, 8/3/15]

On the ballot:

Electricity Deregulation (Question 3): Nevadans will be voting on a state constitutional amendment that would dismantle the monopoly held by NV Energy, the state’s biggest utility. If Question 3 passes—and then passes again in 2018—consumers will be able to purchase power from any electricity retailer willing to sell it. The measure is backed by a number of large, energy-intensive businesses in the state, including Tesla and Sheldon Adelson’s Sands casinos. Proponents argue that deregulation will allow them to purchase cheaper renewable energy. According to the Wall Street Journal, one of Questions 3’s supporters, a Nevada data-storage company called Switch, “estimates it is currently paying NV Energy as much as 80% more for green power than it would pay a competitive supplier.” Opponents, including the state’s AFL-CIO chapter, counter that the measure could harm consumers and cost jobs, according to the Journal. (For more on the problems surrounding energy deregulation, read our investigation.)

Oregon

Impacts of climate change: “Reduced snowpacks, less water for irrigation, drought-related wildfires, rising sea levels and insect-infested timber. Those are just a few of the impacts of climate disruption that could affect Oregonians, two environmental groups warned Tuesday.” [The Oregonian, 5/6/14]

Percentage of residents who are climate deniers: 40%

Presidential battleground? No.

Gubernatorial race:

Gov. Kate Brown (D): “This year, Oregon became the first state to envision a future without coal-powered electricity when Kate signed the nation’s first ‘coal-to-clean’ law, which will completely phase out dirty coal power by 2030 and double Oregon’s reliance on renewable energy by 2040. In 2015, she stood up to Big Oil and signed a law that bolsters the use of cleaner-burning vehicle fuels in Oregon. Kate will continue the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support innovation that reduces Oregon’s reliance on fossil fuels.” [Brown campaign website, accessed 11/1/16]

Bud Pierce (R): “Repeal the Low-Carbon Fuel Standard Law so ordinary Oregonians will not have to spend an extra 19 cents to a dollar per gallon of gasoline in a hidden gas tax whose proceeds will go to state-favored, out-of-state green energy companies.” [Pierce campaign website, accessed 11/1/16]

Utah 

Impacts of climate change: “[Utah] has warmed about two degrees (F) in the last century. Throughout the western United States, heat waves are becoming more common, and snow is melting earlier in spring. In the coming decades, the changing climate is likely to decrease the flow of water in Utah’s rivers, increase the frequency and intensity of wildfires, and decrease the productivity of ranches and farms.” [EPA, Aug. 2016]

Percentage of residents who are climate deniers: 48%

Presidential battleground? Supposedly.

Washington

Impacts of climate change: “In Washington and Oregon, more than 140,000 acres of coastal lands lie within 3.3 feet in elevation of high tide. As sea levels continue to rise, these areas will be inundated more frequently…Ocean acidification threatens culturally and commercially significant marine species directly affected by changes in ocean chemistry (such as oysters) and those affected by changes in the marine food web (such as Pacific salmon)...Warmer water in regional estuaries (such as Puget Sound) may contribute to a higher incidence of harmful blooms of algae linked to paralytic shellfish poisoning.” [National Climate Assessment, 2014]

Percentage of residents who are climate deniers: 40%

Presidential battleground? No.

On the ballot: 

Carbon Tax (I-732): Washington voters will decide whether to adopt a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Revenue from the tax would be offset through a sales tax reduction, as well as through tax rebates and credits to individuals and businesses. A number of environmentalists support I-732, but other environmentalists oppose it; they argue that it won’t do enough to support clean energy, that it will disproportionately hurt low-income residents, and that communities of color didn’t have enough input in developing the proposal.