Democrats are justifiably worried about holding onto control of the United States Senate in the midterm elections Nov. 4. Most forecasts have Republicans winning seven seats for a 52-48 advantage, which would almost certainly spell doom for any action on climate change. But here’s the real catch: Even if Democrats win the Senate by a slim margin, climate action could still be foiled for the next few years by members of their own party.
In several critical races, particularly in energy-producing states, Democratic candidates’ stated climate change beliefs somewhat echo their Republican opponents’. Most toe the party line and accept the idea that the world is warming, but resist action that could theoretically harm their home-state economies, such as cutting fossil fuels.
“In races like these, climate advocates don’t have a candidate to root for,” said RL Miller, chair of the California Democratic party’s environment caucus and founder of Climate Hawks Vote, a superPAC helping to elect climate-conscious candidates. “They are lose-lose scenarios for us. Sadly, there are more of these races than there should be at this point in the climate fight.”
In Kentucky’s senate faceoff, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and Republican Mitch McConnell have fought over who is the biggest supporter of the coal industry, despite its accounting for only 0.6 percent of employment within the state. Grimes has said she accepts that climate change is happening, but calls President Obama’s attempts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions “overreaching.” Such an agenda, she adds, “adversely impacts jobs and middle-class families.”
Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, an 18-year veteran of the Senate who serves as chair of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, strongly supports offshore drilling and natural gas extraction. Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska frequently seeks federal funds to protect his state against climate impacts while fighting for permission to drill in the Arctic Ocean. Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas voted to prevent federal agencies from regulating greenhouse gases and to limit Congress’s ability to set up a federal tax or fee on carbon. Senate candidate Michelle Nunn of Georgia says on her website, “We must continue to decrease our reliance on foreign oil and confront the challenges of climate change,” and yet she is a vocal supporter of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which would deepen U.S. dependence on a form of oil that produces more greenhouse gas emissions.