Nov. 16, 2018
The overall outcome of the 2018 midterm promises new momentum for environmental progress.
Come January, a new crop of environmental and climate champions are headed to Capitol Hill to join a Democratic-led House. As Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen said on the evening of Election Day, “Climate change is no longer a hoax in the House of Representatives.”
At the same time, a green wave of gubernatorial candidates and state legislators who ran on clean energy and environmental platforms are headed to state capitals to pursue an agenda that prioritizes strengthening public health, protecting communities, and safeguarding biodiversity.
With Democrats taking over control of the House, environmental champions will be leading House committees. They’re going to hold the Trump administration accountable in a very public way, and in a way that Republicans have refused to do. As far as leadership positions, all of the committees in the House are going to be in much better hands than they were under anti-environmental Republican chairs.
The Democrats will be using their new power in the House to go after corruption and to provide a critical check on the Trump administration.
Expect to see a lot of inquiry from new leadership in the environment-related committees like the Natural Resources Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee about what’s happening behind the scenes under President Trump.
For example, the Trump administration is in the process of undoing major environmental and public safeguards that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies adopted to reduce air pollution and make progress on climate change, such as the Clean Power Plan, Clean Cars Rule, and the EPA’s methane rule. These actions overwhelmingly benefit the oil, gas, and coal industries at the expense of public health and the environment.
We also anticipate oversight on plans by the Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to give an unjustified bailout to the coal industry. The Department of Energy has signaled that it is considering deploying a pair of archaic, World War II- and Cold War-era laws to shelter certain power plants from competition in the free market.
The oversight piece can’t be overstated. We’re going to finally see the Trump administration’s dirty dealings when it comes to putting profits over the people. Deep-pocketed dirty industry special interests and their armies of well-paid lobbyists will no longer be able to set the agenda with impunity.
The likelihood that Congress will pass comprehensive new climate legislation in 2019 is slim, given Republican control of the Senate. However, there are lots of climate-related bills that can and will move, such as measures in the House designed to remove barriers to clean energy, to improve energy efficiency, etc.
The House leadership’s expected infrastructure legislation can also help speed the transition to clean energy and transportation, as well help make our communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
In addition, we will not see House appropriations bills loaded up with a slew of anti-environmental “riders” day in and day out. And provided the Senate continues not to add new riders to its bills as they did this year, our anti-environmental rider threats will have largely gone away. What are “riders”? Provisions added to a bill or other measure under the consideration by Congress, often having little or no connection to the subject matter of the bill. Riders are most often attached to large, must-pass legislation such as appropriations bills and are often used as a tactic to enact controversial legislation that would not pass as a standalone bill.
Going forward, instead of spending so much time pushing back on bad riders, we’ll be pushing forward proactive environmental legislation in the House.
Over the past two years, Earthjustice supporters have done a great job pushing back on anti-environmental bills. Let’s keep it up because it still matters.
It’s important to continue to make your voice heard, and to let your House members know you want them to hold the Trump administration accountable for its attacks on air, water, lands, and wildlife. At the same time, we want our representatives to make forward progress on combatting climate change, protecting clean air and water, and other important environmental and public health issues.
It signals a ton of new opportunities. In addition to governor’s races, more than 300 state legislative seats flipped from red to blue.
We’ve already seen states taking a leading role in pushing through our Paris Agreement climate goals and increasing clean energy. Just this year, New Jersey passed a community solar bill that will expand access to clean energy to all residents.
State houses will continue to fill the void of leadership on energy and environmental policy left by the Trump administration.
In fact, in gubernatorial races across the country, multiple governors-elect ran on platforms that included pathways to 100 percent clean energy. Many of these candidates, as well as candidates for state houses, included environmental issues in their platforms. Expect to continue to see a lot of action at the state level on these issues.
Fighting off anti-environmental judicial nominations was already an uphill battle, and the hill just got steeper.
That said, Earthjustice will continue to focus on slowing or stopping problematic judicial and agency-level nominations.
It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that before Nov. 6, there were no legislative checks on the Trump administration. Now there are. In addition, legislative bodies in six states flipped to Democratic control, and in five of those states, Democrats now control the legislative and executive branches of government.
This means more state leaders who are not only willing to say that climate change is a man-made problem, they’re pushing to do something about it.
And despite widespread voter suppression, gerrymandering, and outright racist attacks against candidates, voters made history in several inspiring and significant ways. There are now more people headed to Congress next year that look like the people who make up America today than ever before. And the House is going to have more than 100 women serving in it for the first time in history.
Congress still has a long way to go when it comes to equitable representation, but with this election, a huge number of voters showed up, and that’s a win for democracy.