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Midterm Preview: Races With Climate/Energy/Environmental Implications

There are a lot of these sort of lists floating around today, but I couldn’t help chiming in. So, without further ado, here’s my list of the races with the biggest climate/energy/environment implications:


Alaska: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is facing off against Republican Joe Miller, a Tea Party favorite, and Democrat Scott McAdams. The Associated Press reports that all the candidates engaged yesterday in a last-minute push to gain votes. Even Bill Clinton got in on the action, doing a robocall for McAdams. This race is hugely important on the energy front because Murkowski is the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Despite her opposition to recent cap-and-trade proposals, she has worked closely over the years with committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), most notably on their comprehensive energy bill, which received bipartisan support in committee, but never made it to a floor vote (much to Bingaman and Murkowski’s chagrin). If Murkowski loses, Alaska loses a senator with seniority on energy issues, and that’s exactly the message Murkowski has been sending in campaign speeches.

California: Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is in a tight race with her Republican opponent Carly Fiorina. Boxer is the head of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and has been a key player in drafting climate change legislation (remember the Kerry-Boxer bill?). But amid accusations that she is too partisan, Boxer played a largely behind-the-scenes role in the most recent Senate run at climate change legislation. Instead, a bipartisan trio of lawmakers — Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and, for a while a least, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — took the lead. Fiorina, for her part, has raised questions about climate science.

Colorado: This race is mostly important because of the extent to which environmentalists don’t want Sen. Michael Bennet’s (D-Colo.) opponent, Ken Buck, to win. The League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club have trashed Buck in ads, highlighting his comments questioning whether climate change is man-made. Environmentalists have made Buck the poster child of Republican climate skeptics running this cycle. For his part, Buck’s spokesman said his official position is this: “Ken believes climate change is occurring, but that it’s natural more than man-made.” Bennet, for his part, has said he does not support the House version of cap-and-trade, but his campaign said recently that he would support a “well-thought-out, market-based bill.” Buck’s campaign jumped on the comments, saying Bennet’s position on the issue is unclear.

Nevada: Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) re-election bid has to make pretty much every one of these lists because, well, he’s the Senate majority leader. His opponent, Tea Party darling Sharron Angle, is slightly ahead in polls. While Reid has faced some criticism from environmentalists, often not in public, for being too hesitant to move forward on climate and energy legislation, most fear the implications of a loss by Reid. Though prospects for a comprehensive climate bill are next to non-existent in the next two years, environmentalists are hoping to pass a number of energy/environment bills next year, including proposals to incentivize electric vehicles, weatherize homes, respond to the oil spill and require that a certain portion of the country’s electricity come from renewable sources like wind and solar.


VA-5: Freshman Rep. Tom Perriello is in a tight race against state Sen. Robert Hurt (R). The Perriello race is seen by many Republicans as a referendum on President Obama’s policies. Perriello, from a conservative Southern Virginia district, voted for both cap-and-trade and the health care bill and has been taking flack at home for it. In an attempt to come to Perriello’s rescue, environmentalists have run ads criticizing Hurt as a friend of big oil. Even President Obama got in on the action, campaigning for Perriello late last week.

MN-8: Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.), who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is in a nail biter against his Republican challenger, Chip Cravaack. The latest polls show the race incredibly tight. Oberstar, as head of the transportation panel, is one of the key lawmakers charged with reviewing pipeline safety in the aftermath of a massive oil pipeline spill in Michigan and a natural gas pipeline explosion in California.

Proposition 23:

While the latest polling says that Prop 23, which would essentially overturn California’s landmark climate change law, will fail, it’s still on our radar.

Proposition 26:

The lesser-known California ballot initiative, Prop 26 would require a two-thirds majority vote for the state legislature to impose any new fee on industry. If it passes, it could also impact the state’s climate law because it would make it difficult to enforce through the legislature, the Los Angeles Times notes.

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