Environment Issues Figure in Many 2018 Mid-Term Races, Ballots

October 24, 2018
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (left) shakes hands with President Donald Trump at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Oct. 15, during Trump's visit to Panama City to see the devastation from Hurricane Michael. Following the storm, Scott's past history of climate denial has resurfaced as an issue in his race with Senate incumbent Bill Nelson (D).  Photo: U.S. Air Force/Samuel King Jr.  Click to enlarge.

TipSheet: Environment Issues Figure in Many 2018 Mid-Term Races, Ballots

As the Nov. 6 elections approach, environmental journalists can expect stories — and consequences. What happens will matter for the environment.

A significant power-shift could make a huge difference on national and statewide scales. Who controls a legislature or a statehouse determines what environmental legislation passes and whether it gets enforced.

But climate, environmental and energy issues also figure prominently in individual races and ballot measures.

One starting point for tracking races that impact the environment is a look at the League of Conservation Voters’ endorsements. They are all listed here for both U.S. Senate and House. Another way in is the LCV “Dirty Dozen” list.

The Sierra Club also endorses candidates. The list of endorsements for federal offices is here — but keep in mind that Sierra has a huge network of local chapters, and they also endorse state and local candidates.

Here is a roundup of 11 environmental decisions on the ballot.

  1. Washington Carbon Fee. Washington’s statewide ballot includes a carbon tax, or carbon emissions fee, that would take effect in 2020 and gradually increase. It would be the first in the nation. It has become an issue in at least one House race.
  2. Florida Drilling Ban. Florida’s ballot will include a proposed amendment (subscription required) to the state constitution banning offshore oil and gas drilling in state waters.
  3. California Hen Cages. The animal rights movement has gotten a proposition on the California ballot that would expand requirements for humane treatment of caged farm animals. California actually adopted a cage-limiting proposition in 2008, but this year’s Proposition 2 would update and strengthen that law.
  4. Colorado Ballot Measure. The biggest environmental contest on the Colorado ballot will be Proposition 112, which defines setback requirements (may require subscription) for oil and gas operations, keeping them at a greater distance from homes, neighborhoods and schools. The oil industry opposes it, and has spent huge sums to persuade people to vote “no.”
  5. South Carolina 1st District. This district — in a typically red state — could turn blue over the issue of offshore drilling. The seat currently held by Republican Mark Sanford, who lost the primary, is now a contest between Democrat Joe Cunningham and Republican Katie Arrington. Cunningham, a former ocean engineer, is using the drilling issue (subscription required) against Arrington, just as she used it against Sanford.
  6. Virginia 7th District. This Richmond-area district was the site of a surprise primary loss by then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014. Its current holder, Republican Rep. Dave Brat, has voted consistently against LCV environmental positions, and now the LCV is buying ads against him. His opponent, one-time CIA officer Abigail Spanberger, has recently inched ahead (subscription required) in the polls.
  7. New Jersey 3rd District. Incumbent Republican Tom MacArthur is being targeted by a $1.1 million campaign (subscription required) by environmentalists. The Cook Political Report rates the district as a toss-up. A coalition of green groups has launched an ad and canvassing campaign, supporting the Democrat Andy Kim.
  8. Minnesota 3rd District. Incumbent Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen is finding himself in a very competitive race to keep his seat. Democrat challenger Dean Phillips, a businessman and political rookie, is using the environment as an issue. He wants to tar Paulsen with the GOP position favoring mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (Paulsen broke with his party on this). Paulsen ads show him paddling away from President Donald Trump in a canoe, but Phillips ads feature Paulsen and Trump in a canoe together (subscription required).
  9. California 28th District. Republican incumbent Dana Rohrabacher mocks the idea that human emissions are causing climate change. He quips that it’s really dinosaur farts (subscription required). His Democrat opponent, real estate executive Harley Rouda, is airing ads using that against him. Rohrabacher’s support for Russia may be even more of a handicap.
  10. Florida Senate. Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott (who in 2005 forbade state agencies to use the term “climate change”) is going after the Senate seat of incumbent Dem Bill Nelson. The environment is certainly an issue. Scott’s climate denial has resurfaced as an issue following the devastation of Hurricane Michael. And Nelson has joined environmentalists in blaming Scott’s pollution policies for the red tides (may require subscription) that have plagued Florida’s waters this year.
  11. North Dakota Senate. Incumbent Democrat Heidi Heitkamp faces a stiff challenge from Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer — in a state which has a strong tendency to vote Republican. Cramer and Heitkamp have been trading barbs (may require subscription) about which of them deserves more credit for ending the ban on U.S. oil exports.


* From the weekly news magazine SEJournal Online, Vol. 3, No. 38. Content from each new issue of SEJournal Online is available to the public via the SEJournal Online main page. Subscribe to the e-newsletter here. And see past issues of the SEJournal archived here.

SEJ Publication Types: