Republican victories in Tuesday night’s election and a still-tight race between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden cast doubt over the chances of the United States enacting significant measures to curb planet-heating emissions in the near-term.
States were still tallying results on Wednesday as the Trump administration officially withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, making the U.S. the only country to exit the nonbinding global pact to cut climate-changing carbon emissions.
But in places like Montana and Texas, candidates who deny the mountains of scientific research showing emissions from burning fossil fuels are causing severe changes in weather patterns and sea levels cruised to victory. Republicans looked likely to gain several House seats, though not the majority. And by midday Wednesday, Democrats’ hopes of flipping the Senate had all but vanished as Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), once seen as one of the most vulnerable Republicans, claimed victory.
“While I’m trying not to be too alarmed, if Democrats don’t win the Senate, the climate is very fucked ― even if Biden wins the White House,” Julian Brave NoiseCat, a Green New Deal policy expert at the left-leaning think tank Data for Progress, wrote in tweet late Tuesday. (NoiseCat is a former HuffPost fellow.)
In Alabama, Republican Tommy Tuberville, the former head football coach at Auburn University, handily defeated incumbent Sen. Doug Jones (D). Jones acknowledged the climate threat and stressed the urgent need to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, but Tuberville outright denies climate science.
“There is one person that changes this climate in this country, and that is God, OK?” he said during an interview last year, adding that climate change is “a talking point on the left that gives them an opportunity to scream and yell that this country is not going to last for 12 more years.”
Montana Sen. Steve Daines (R), a fierce ally of Trump’s pro-fossil fuel “energy dominance” agenda who was considered one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans this year, survived a challenge from Montana’s Democratic governor and former 2020 presidential candidate Steve Bullock. Like Trump, Daines has dismissed the role climate change has played in driving extreme wildfires out West, instead blaming “environmental extremists” for interfering with tree thinning and other forest management techniques that could reduce the risk of catastrophic infernos.
Republicans also are poised to prevail in the two House races considered most likely to bring progressives running on the Green New Deal, a jobs-focused populist vision for transitioning away from fossil fuels, into the chamber. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) led Green New Dealer Mike Siegel by nearly 30,000 votes as of Wednesday morning. Rep. Donald Bacon (R-Neb.) beat back Kara Eastman by a slightly smaller margin, despite a progressive spending blitz in Omaha in the closing week of the campaign.
In South Carolina, freshman Rep. Joe Cunningham (D), a member of the House Natural Resources Committee and vocal opponent of offshore drilling, was unseated by Nancy Mace (R). During a September interview on the campaign trial, Mace rolled out several climate denier talking points.
“I’m kind of mixed on this,” she said. “I’m not a scientist. To me, it’s not clear-cut.” She later added that “there’s data on both sides of the issue” and that “when you look at the history of Earth, we’ve had climate changes many times.”
Her comments completely ignore the current rate of global warming. Science clearly shows human greenhouse gas emissions are driving devastating changes.
Down-ballot races offered a mixed bag.
In what was considered the most important state contest on climate — the race to be the third member of the Texas Railroad Commission, the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry — Jim Wright, a hard-line climate denier whose own company faced fines from the commission, easily beat Chrysta Castañeda, an engineer and energy attorney who had been favored to win. Republicans were also projected to win in several open public utility commission races, including in Georgia and Montana. But Nevada voters were projected to approve a ballot measure mandating the state generate 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2030.
Although a number of Senate and House races remain undecided, there were two bright spots for climate advocates and environmentalists.
Democrat Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and retired Navy captain, pulled out a victory over Arizona Republican Sen. Martha McSally. Kelly made tackling climate change and banning uranium mining near the Grand Canyon key parts of his platform.
And in Colorado, former governor and 2020 presidential contender John Hickenlooper ousted Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who was widely seen as the most vulnerable Republican in the Senate. Gardner touted himself as a “national leader” on climate issues — however, as HuffPost previously reported, he has peddled a conspiracy theory claiming that efforts to combat the crisis are part of a coordinated plan to control the economy.
If Biden wins the White House, regulations on the financial sector could play a critical role in orchestrating a shift away from fossil fuels. The top three candidates he is reportedly considering for treasury secretary have all pitched ways to use financial regulation to curb emissions. But reports indicate he’s leaning toward Lael Brainard, the Federal Reserve governor whose record climate activists see as less ambitious than that of former deputy treasury secretary Sarah Bloom Raskin or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
A Republican Senate, moreover, would wield veto power over Cabinet nominees.