Key Congressional Races That Could Affect Future Climate Change Legislation

6:07 minutes

In addition to the presidential race, there were hundreds of local congressional elections that may be important in determining what type of climate change legislation will be passed in the next few years. Reporter Scott Waldman from E&E News/Climatewire talks about some of these races in areas affected by climate change.

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Segment Guests

Scott Waldman

Scott Waldman is the White House reporter for E&E News/Climatewire, based in Washington, DC.

Segment Transcript

IRA FLATOW: Often lost in the noise of the presidential race are the hundreds of local congressional elections where a key Congress people are being elected or ejected. And some of these races may be important in determining what type of climate change legislation will be occurring. My next guest is here to fill us in on it. Scott Waldman is the White House reporter for E&E News Climate Wire. He’s based out of DC. Welcome to Science Friday.

SCOTT WALDMAN: Thank you for having me.

IRA FLATOW: Let’s talk about some of these races that were happening in areas that are feeling the effects of climate change like flooding and wildfires. Were there noticeable outcomes there?

SCOTT WALDMAN: Arizona, arguably, is one of the places where they’re feeling climate more than almost anywhere else in the country. And the reason I say that is because of the extreme temperatures they’ve had.

I think a lot of times climate reporters including myself think of the folks in the country who are feeling climate effects in terms of those who are facing hurricanes, facing sea level rise, facing wildfires. But in this occasion, I think Maricopa County in particular has seen just intense heat waves in the last few summers. And we’re talking many days over 110 degrees. I think if you want to put climate change in front of people and have them realize that it’s happening to them now, I think extreme temperatures are the way that people just can experience it firsthand and recognize the severity of the problem.

On another note we saw in Miami Dade County, which is again, another area because of sea level rise, because of its vulnerability to hurricanes, is a place where that actually didn’t pan out. That area certainly has had some of the worst effects of climate change in the country.

It had a Republican Congressman, Carlos Curbelo, that represented for years who was one of the more aggressive climate advocates in his party. And he lost his election last time to a Democrat. That seat flipped back to Republican hands. And it’s unclear, though, I imagine issues related to the president’s criticisms about socialism. It certainly appealed to the Cubans and Venezuelans voters in that area. And climate played less of a role in powering Trump’s win there.

IRA FLATOW: Let’s go to John Hickenlooper of Colorado who won his race for Senate. He has an interesting climate change track record, doesn’t he?

SCOTT WALDMAN: That’s right. I mean, as governor he was certainly a proponent and defender of the oil and gas industry. And I don’t think he is at all who your average environmentalist would choose to represent them in the Senate. However, he beat Cory Gardner, a Republican, and helps certainly bring the Senate numbers a little bit closer. Though it looks like Mitch McConnell will keep the Senate at least until we find out the results of the Georgia special election in January.

But Hickenlooper has changed his tune in recent years. He’s sort of pledged to be more aggressive about climate change. I think he represents an older sort of Democratic approach to climate. We saw this during the Obama administration. They consider climate– or excuse me they consider natural gas a bridge fuel and a central part of their climate plan.

I think a lot of young voters and climate voters are sort of fed up with that messaging, and they want to hear about your renewable plan and how you going to transition off of fossil fuels including natural gas as quickly as possible. So Hickenlooper is definitely going to face pressure to up his climate game as soon as he gets to Washington in a couple of months.

IRA FLATOW: That brings up my next question about the Senate. Because I’m glad you went there about feeling pressure. Is the climate change issue public and visible enough that we may see some Republican senators crossing the aisle perhaps to vote with Democrats on climate issues?

SCOTT WALDMAN: I do think so. I think that President Trump is going to be the last candidate we’ve seen who has just a climate denier platform, reacts like the problem doesn’t exist. And then he goes in the other direction and rolling back climate regulations.

I think the young people in the Republican Party– And there are people like Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority leader, who has specifically said the party needs to do more on climate. We haven’t seen any plans yet that would meaningfully address that, but these kind of sea changes don’t happen overnight.

I think that McConnell will face some pressure to do something on climate. Now I’m not saying he’s going to do anything that’s tremendously meaningful. I do think some of the members there will pressure the party, the Republican Party to get a climate stance that moves beyond the denier stage into something that actually addresses the issue.

IRA FLATOW: Yes, this is politics. One last question for you. Anything that surprised you? Any outcomes that surprised you?

SCOTT WALDMAN: I think what surprised me actually is the Democratic reaction in the last few days where they’re sort of focusing on what clearly was a dominant night in some ways for Republicans. And they’re ignoring what was literally the most aggressive climate platform in presidential history gaining a record share of the vote.

I believe Joe Biden has had more than 70 million people vote for him, which is more than any other presidential candidate in history. He set the stage for what’s going to be a new presidential platform. No other president, running at least on the Democratic ticket, is going to be able to have something that’s less than his $2 trillion plan to deal with climate change.

So I think their victory has not set in for Democrats. I’ve sort of been just surprised at the level of defeat. I was on a conference call with a bunch of environmental groups this morning who were talking about how they can’t do this and that in the Senate. But once they realized this sort of climate mandate they’ve been given, I think they’re going to have a little bit more confidence in crafting policy going forward.

This is something that transcends age. It transcends that a bunch of different ethnic groups. And I think it’s really starting to transcend even party divisions. So I think that there was a sea changing climate that happened on Tuesday. And it’s just now playing out and just now becoming apparent to people.

IRA FLATOW: Scott Waldman, thank you very much for taking time to be with us today. Scott is the White House reporter for the E&E News Climate Wire based out of DC.

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