After two years of the Trump alliance’s runaway gutting of environmental, health, and safety protections, this election showed signs of hope that we can still rewrite our climate future. Here are our champions.
by Mark Schlosberg
With climate change catastrophes accelerating and the Trump faction in Congress declaring war on the environment for the past two years, the midterm elections were critical for anyone who cares about their food, water, and the climate on which we all depend. While some votes are still being counted, what is clear is that there will now be a firm check on Trump and what is just the start of a new green wave of climate champions is about to enter Congress. Climate will be a bigger political issue in 2019 than ever before.
Democrats Took Control of the House — The GOP’s Gutting of Safety Measures Can Be Challenged
At the federal level, Democrats took control of the House. Turnout was significant, with 114 million ballots having been counted so far. It means that Democrats now have the power to block legislation that guts protections for clean water, safe food, or a livable climate. It also means that powerful congressional committees — bodies that have been looking the other way the last two years — can exercise oversight and hold Trump’s corrupt EPA, Interior Department, and others accountable.
Most pressingly, the latest science (laid out in the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) says we need to move off of fossil fuels as soon as possible. This means we need to pass aggressive legislation at the federal level by 2021 and crucially, voters ushered in several champions that share this vision.
Food & Water Action Rallied Bold Candidates Against Fossil Fuels
Throughout 2018, Food & Water Action has been asking candidates for Congress to pledge to support the Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act, or OFF Act — the strongest climate bill in Congress, which would start the transition immediately and require 80% renewable energy in the next decade and 100% by 2035.
Several candidates who not only signed the pledge or made similar public commitments, but boldly support it were elected, bringing a new wave of climate champions to Congress.
These new members of Congress will include Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an early signer of the OFF Act pledge who Food & Water Action endorsed and who has traveled the country talking about the need for a Green New Deal; Deb Haaland, who Food & Water Action endorsed and worked to elect one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress; Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who also become the first Muslim American women elected to the house; Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who ousted Carlos Curbelo, chair of the phony Climate Solutions Caucus; and Susan Wild, who also won her race in Pennsylvania.
Three other races are not called yet, but have our climate champions ahead at the time of publishing. These include Katie Hill, whose district includes Porter Ranch, which was the site of the 2015 Aliso Canyon gas blowout and whose campaign Food & Water Action endorsed and worked to support; Harley Rouda, who is leading climate denier Dana Rohrabacher in Orange County; and Kim Schrier in Washington.
There Are More Climate Champions Now In Other Seats Nationwide, Too
At the state level, huge gains were also made nationally that provide significant opportunities. A few that have significance for climate include:
- Jen Metzger won her State Senate race in New York. Food & Water Action endorsed her and did significant organizing work in support of her election. Several other progressive senators that we endorsed there won as well, giving the Democrats a majority in the New York State Senate for the first time in years and a block of champions who support moving to 100% renewable energy by 2035 and oppose new fossil fuel infrastructure.
- In Pennsylvania, Food & Water Action PAC helped elect a slate of progressive state representatives including Danielle Friel Otten. Friel Otten lives 40 feet from the Mariner East 2 pipeline and has worked with Food & Water Action organizers for the past year and a half fighting the project. Food & Water Action PAC staff played a key role in her voter mobilization effort.
- Gretchen Whitmer won the race for Michigan Governor. She has pledged to shut down Enbridge’s Line Five (the pipeline running through the Great Lakes) and we will ramp up a campaign to hold her to it and win the multi-year effort to protect the region from this ticking time bomb.
- In California, Food & Water Action helped elect Robert Rivas to state Assembly. Rivas, who worked with Food & Water Watch on successive campaigns to ban fracking in San Benito and Monterey counties, has pledged to aggressively take on the oil industry in Sacramento.
- In Florida, both gubernatorial candidates pledged to ban fracking. Andrew Gillum ran on a strong environmental platform including moving off of fossil fuels and banning fracking. Ron DeSantis, who is currently (at the time of publication) leading by a narrow margin, made banning fracking a core principle of his environmental policy. A fracking ban bill has been championed by a bipartisan group of leaders there in the past few legislative sessions. Regardless of who wins, we will hold the new governor accountable to his commitment to ban fracking in the coming year. We will also push to make sure the new governor does more to push renewable energy in the state.
- In Connecticut, where Food & Water Watch has worked with over 50 communities to ban fracking waste, Ned Lamont who was elected governor has committed to banning fracking waste throughout the state. We look forward to working with him to make this a reality.
- Voters stood against the harms of water privatization from coast to coast, with Baltimore voters outright banning water privatization in a campaign spearheaded by Food & Water Watch, and Monterey, CA voters advancing a measure to start the process of taking over the private water system.
Important Measures In Colorado and California Were Derailed, But We’ll Regroup For The Next Fights Ahead
Proposition 112, a Colorado measure that would have protected citizens from the risks that fracking poses to their health and safety, was foiled by over $40 million in misleading advertising from the oil and gas industry. Likewise, industry spent massively against a local measure in San Luis Obispo County in California: Measure G, which would have banned fracking — a necessary step toward a livable climate for our future. Sadly, this crucial initiative to protect the public was also defeated.
Food & Water Action takes on fights because they are the right thing to do to protect the people, and we don’t shy away from the battles that we could sometimes lose. Each election expands our reach, educates voters over time, and positions us to be stronger for future initiatives. We’re proud of the work our team and allies did in these hard-fought ballot campaigns and know that even in these losses, the movement will be better positioned to advance protections for people and the environment in the years to come.
We Helped Get These Champions In the Door — Now the Next Phase Of Work Begins
The majority of this is great news, but it is just the beginning. It shows that when we mobilize people to demand a fair and livable future, we can win, but those wins are by no means guaranteed. We have a ton of work to do — to hold officials accountable to their promises, to support elected champions in their efforts, and to grow and broaden the movement. And make no mistake, there were significant losses yesterday as well — and many of these losses are the product of politically gerrymandered districts and voter suppression tactics that we must fight at every turn.
Despite those obstacles, the 2018 election shows that together we can achieve big things: we can block the worst of Trump’s environmental agenda in Congress, we now have leaders in place that can advance measures at the state level to move off fossil fuels and onto 100% renewable energy, and we are one giant stride closer to moving a massive federal program to get off fossil fuels and onto 100% renewable energy immediately.
But these things will only happen if we redouble our efforts; we need to build stronger and broader coalitions, we need to engage even more people in the political process, and we need to build on these wins as we continue to fight for our food, water, and future of our planet. We need you with us.