Key Votes to Watch: Climate, Fracking, Coal Exports

In addition to the tar sands referendum in Portland, Maine and the GMO Labeling referendum in Washington State, there are other key votes taking place today.

All the following races have one thing in common – thanks to the League of Conservation Voters, Tom Steyer‘s NextGen Climate Action PAC and Sierra Club, along with hundreds of thousands of grassroots activist, the environmental community is a major force in their outcome.

"We identified three places where climate was very clearly on the ballot. We want to show up and we have to play to win," Navin Nayak, political director for the League of Conservation Voters, told National Journal. 

The three races they chose are for Virginia governor, Washington State’s Whatcom County Council, and Ed Markey’s Senate race, which he won in June.

Virginia Governor Race

The environmental community rarely ranks as a top campaign contributor, but the Virginia League of Conservation Voters is the second biggest cash donor in the Governor’s race. They have spent $1.7 million to elect Democrat Terry McAuliffe, sending volunteers on 300,000 canvassing visits. The Sierra Club donated over $500,000 and mobilized 60,000 members on his behalf. Tom Steyer spent about $2.5 million on TV ads. 

His opponent, Attorney General Cuccinelli – one of the most outspoken climate deniers – accused prominent climate scientist Michael Mann of fraud and launched a "blatantly political investigation" against him.  Mann won the court battle.

"Cuccinelli is one of the most vocal climate deniers in the country. To defeat him would send a signal to other climate change deniers, and also highlight the growing environmental movement," Jeff Gohringer, press secretary for the national League of Conservation Voters, told Huffington Post.

"One would like to think that the attorney general would be representing the people of his state. Unfortunately, Ken Cuccinelli chose to spend the taxpayers’ money, forced the University of Virginia to spend $600,000 defending itself, and untold millions of dollars mounting this attack," Mann says in a video as part of the Next Gen Climate Action campaign against Cuccinelli. 

Watch out for 2014, environmental groups say, when they plan to make climate change a major campaign issue.

"Terry [McAuliffe] is setting an example for other candidates that when they lean into these issues they will be supported by a strong political force," Gohringer told The Hill.

"Coal is no longer a winning wedge issue and denying the problem of climate change and blocking action to address it is a much greater political liability," Navin Nayak, senior vice president on campaigns for the League of Conservation Voters, told The Hill. 

Fracking Votes in Colorado

Four cities on Colorado’s front range – Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins and Lafayette – will vote on fracking bans.

In Lafayette, the referendum asks voters to establish community rights over activities which interfere with them, such as fracking, which would be permanently banned. A similar bill of rights has passed in a handful of cities, towns and a county in New Mexico. 

The other three cities have five year moratoriums on their ballots.

The region has been inundated with 51,000 gas and oil wells with an end nowhere in sight. The industry is investing billions to expand, including drilling near neighborhoods and rivers. There are daily spills, contaminating soil and water, and air pollution has become a major problem. 

"People on Colorado’s Front Range enjoy their quality of life, and this industry represents an immediate threat to public health and that quality of life," Cliff Willmeng of East Boulder County United, told the Denver Post. "People see the question of the environment is not an abstraction – it’s something we’re living through now."

Not surprisingly, the Denver-based Colorado Oil and Gas Association has outspent grassroots activists by 32 times.

Boulder will also vote on two competing measures on how it will fund its own municipal utility, so they could add much more renewable energy. It has to buy all of the utility’s (Xcel) local assets, from substations to meters. Read the pros and cons.

"Energy use is the largest contributing factor to climate change and Boulder would be the first city in the country to create an energy utility for the reason of reducing that and targeting climate change," Steve Fenberg, executive director of New Era Colorado, told the local NPR station.

In the 2012 election, Boulder voted overwhelmingly to extend the nation’s first municipal carbon tax for another five years.

Coal Exports in Washington State

In a really local race in Whatcom County – population 205,000 – the county council could decide the fate of whether the US will export coal. Four of seven members of the council are up for election.

If they reject permits to site the $600 million Gateway Pacific terminal, that’s the end of it. If they approve permits, the Governor and others have to sign off, but the coal industry has passed a major hurdle. Besides the 48 million tons of coal expected to ship to China, the entire region would be exposed to the fumes from coal dust and diesel as 30 trains carry coal from Wyoming and Montana each day.

Coal train

Activists have poured close to $1 million into this local race, even outspending the fossil fuel industry.

Sierra Club and the Washington League of Conservation Voters endorse challengers Barry Buchanan and Rud Browne and  incumbents Ken Mann and Carl Weimer.

Read more about these races, "In a Switch, Green Groups Are Outspending Their Industry Foes–And Winning":

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