From an environmental policy standpoint, it's tough to find many positive angles in the outcomes of yesterday's midterm elections.
As has been predicted for several months, Democrats were soundly beaten across the country, giving up control of the House of Representatives, while barely holding on to a majority in the Senate.
In addtion, at least 10 states switched from Demcratic governors to Republican governors. This is perhaps more troubling for U.S. policy on energy and climate change--because federal attempts to address the issues already failed in a Democratic-controlled Congress, and state and regional efforts are in many ways the only hope for policy advancements in the near-term.
Roughly 28 states already have renewable portfolio standards, requiring the production of at least a small percentage of renewable power. But that number is unlikely to grow much and the percentages are likely to stay low in Republican-controlled states. Likewise, regional cap-and-trade programs in the Northeast, West and Midwest stand to lose member states if new Republican governors follow the lead of Arizona's Jan Brewer and Utah's Gary Herber, both of whom backed their state's out of participation in the Western Climate Initiative's (WCI) planned cap-and-trade program.
In the Midwest, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin all switched to a Republican Executive. Races in Connecticut and Maine (both members fo the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) are still to tight to call, as are races in Oregon (WCI state) and Minnesota (Midwestern GHG Accord).
New Mexico, one of only two states prepared to move forward with the 2012 start date for the WCI cap-and-trade program, also flipped to a Republican governor in Susana Martinez, putting that state's participation in doubt.
On the upside, California (the other WCI state) is likely to maintain its nation-leading efforts on clean energy and climate initiatives under Democrat Jerry Brown. Likewise, Massachusetts retained incumbent Deval Patrick, who has been a staunch supporter of clean energy policy.
The other major environmental issues that appeared on California ballots ended with mixed results. Voters rejected Proposition 23, a ballot measure that would have suspended the state's landmark climate change law, AB 32.
However, Proposition 26, which also received funding from big oil, passed. As a result, the state assembly cannot create new regulatory fees or taxes without a two-thirds vote.
Opponents of the measure have called it the "Polluter's Protection Act," because it undermines the prinicple that polluters should pay for the harm they cause. It also is likely to strip away funding for AB 32.
Returning to the federal level, we will have to wait and see what kind of trouble Republicans stir up in the House. Although President Obama appears to be above the Lewinsky-type issues that dragged down Clinton's administration in the hands of a Gingrich-led House, I think it is clear that John Boehner--as new Speaker of the House--will do everything in his power to block the EPA from instituting greenhouse gas regulations.
As I mentioned at the top of this post--not a lot of good news. But that is the way things are.