What could the 2010 midterms mean for climate and energy policy in the Southeast?

This blog was written by Jennifer Rennicks, former Senior Director of Policy & Communications at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | November 16, 2010 | Climate Change, Elections, Energy Policy

Although a few races are still being determined with recounts and write-in ballots, the vast majority of the 2010 midterm races have been decided. Here, in the eight Southeastern states that SACE represents, voters elected 5 new governors, 6 U.S Senators, nearly 100 Representatives and hundreds of members to serve in state General Assemblies from Richmond, Virginia down to Tallahassee, Florida.

This midterm saw a slightly higher participation rates than past mid-term cycles (approximately 42% nationwide) due in part to anxiety about the economy and jobs and tight races in several states (including a few here in the Southeast).

Although 5 new Southern governors will be sworn-in come January, only one state saw a party change as clean-energy supporter Gov-elect Bill Haslam (R and current mayor of Knoxville, TN) will replace the term-limited Gov. Phil Bredesen (D).  There were no party changes in any Southeastern Senate race, although Florida’s Sen-elect Marco Rubio’s victory may have implications for climate policy as he has expressed doubts about climate science whereas the Senator he is replacing (Mel Martinez) supported attempts to pass a climate bill in 2008.  The House of Representatives saw the greatest changes as 15 Democratic seats in our region changed parties: at least one seat in every state but Kentucky.  Support for the 2009 House climate bill was not a solid indicator of whether you won or lost a seat, but approximately 80% of those who supported that legislation were re-elected while 62% of those Democrats who voted against the legislation lost their seats or saw retiring seats flip a Republican challenger.

Technically the current Congress has several weeks left of legislative business and clean energy proponents, including SACE, are working hard to see that energy policies like a renewable energy standard, efficiency measures and diesel pollution retrofits may be considered before adjourning for the year in December.  When the new Congress is sworn in next January, the House and the Senate will be controlled by different parties (the Republicans and the Democrats, respectively), making it unlikely that sweeping energy legislation – either progressive or regressive – will become law in 2011.  Instead we are more likely to see incremental policies advanced where there are ‘broad areas of agreement’ such as wider-deployment of electric vehicles such as the Tesla pictured to the left, improvements in energy efficiency and transitions to lower carbon fuels.  Many of the clean energy policies that SACE supports and will hope to see promoted in the new Congress, or through state legislatures, are the measures highlighted in Oceana’s winning submission for last summer’s Clean Energy Gulf Challenge.  Unfortunately, new legislative threats to the Clean Air Act are equally, if not more, likely in the new Congress, requiring that citizens convey their support for the public health protections this law provides.

On November 4, SACE’s monthly webinar series presented a state-by-state run down of election results with some early commentary and analysis for what the election may mean for energy policy in our region.  For more detailed information, download and listen to our recent post-election webinar here.

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