Posted on November 26, 2018 by Joseph Manko
Environmental protection was “federalized” in 1970 under President Nixon, with the creation of the EPA and the launch of several decades of federal statutes and regulations designed to make uniform the states’ environmental compliance requirements.
During the past almost 50 years, I have seen the politicization of environmental protection and the best and the worst of federal leaders who were trusted with protecting our environment. This politicization has grown more extreme since Donald Trump’s election in 2016. Given the federal government’s important role in protecting the environment, it’s worth examining the impact of the midterm elections on environmental protection during his next two years in office.
One way of reviewing the election results is to consider the campaign conducted by the League of Conservation Voters (“LCV”) at both the federal and state levels, and LCV’s conclusions regarding that effort. LCV publishes a National Environmental Scorecardcovering the most important environmental legislation considered and the corresponding voting records of all members of Congress, as well as a list of the “Dirty Dozen” legislators at both the federal and state levels. For the first time this year, LCV published two such lists at the federal level, one for the House and another for the Senate.
Here are the numbers:
· Was it a blue wave or a blue flood?
· Flipping the House – 39 changes, 26 targeted seats with 12 of 13 Dirty Dozen House members defeated
· Successfully defending a number of pro-environmental Senators in six targeted seats
· Defeating 10 of the 12 state Dirty Dozen in the 2017/2018 elections
· Successively supporting 10 new green governors
· Successively supporting candidates in 16 state legislatures
· Advancing clean energy initiatives at the state level (eight of 10 critical ballot measures passed)
· Positively impacting redistricting and gerrymandering in two states
· Achieving effective Blue/Green Alliance (LCV and labor unions, and environmental organizations combined))
In addition, many states have expressed their intention to enact clean energy programs (e.g., carbon tax which is a tough sell, cap and trade, and renewable energy) to replace Obama’s Clean Energy Plan which EPA intends to repeal and replace. Unlike Congress, there are essentially single-party legislatures in a number of states, with 30 Republican-controlled and 18 Democratic-controlled, and such party control could impact the scope and content of state programs. The party affiliation of the governor could also be important. There are now 26 Republican governors and 23 Democratic governors.
LCV’s analysis of the midterm elections is summarized in its post election tweet: “For our clean air, clean water and public lands, this changes everything.” However, divisive issues remain and could result in considerable controversy and debate. Here are some examples:
· Climate Change projections, as evidenced by the recent controversy about the rate of ocean warming
· Most efficacious measures for reducing CO2 emissions and preserving existing reductions, such as from non-farmed soil and trees
· Whether to exempt cross border traffic from environmental regulations
· How to address catastrophic events such as floods and fires exacerbated by Climate Change
Last week’s NY Times editorial headline is entitled “Midterm Climate Report: Partly Cloudy”. And that may be a good summary of where things stand.
At the federal level, for the next two years the Republicans will continue to control the Senate and Donald Trump will continue to live in the White House. The unresolved question therefore is what impact the Democrats controlling the House will have on unwanted legislation and regulations.
Perhaps more important, at the state level, there is little doubt that many states will fill the Trump-created vacuum as we return to pre-federalization days, with the states becoming environmental protection laboratories. That of course raises even more questions regarding the future of environmental legislation and regulations and what standards – and how many – will emerge.