Barack Obama's Green Agenda Crushed at the Ballot Box
With a slew of new climate change deniers entering Congress, Barack Obama's environmental ambitions are now dead
Californians decisively rejected a measure to roll back the state's landmark climate change law yesterday, the sole win for environmentalists on a night that crushed Barack Obama's green agenda.
With that lone victory in California, environmentalists managed to keep alive a model for action on climate change, preserving a 2006 law that had set ambitious targets for greenhouse gas reductions and had attracted tens of millions in clean-tech investment.
But many new members of Congress are at best sceptical on climate change, and Republican promises to reduce the role of government could spell the end for progressive energy legislation and could herald a new era of environmental deregulation.
In California though, there was celebration at the overwhelming defeat of Proposition 23 by a broad climate change coalition that ranged from the outgoing Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Silicon Valley executives and venture capitalists to environmental groups.
With 95% of precincts reporting, some 61% of Californians voted against a measure brought by Texas oil refiners, Tesoro and Valero, and the oil billionaire Koch brothers that would indefinitely halt a 2006 law mandating ambitious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
"We are beating Texas again," Schwarzenegger told supporters at an election night party.
"Even though they spent millions and millions of dollars, today the people will make up their mind and speak loud and clear that California's environment is not for sale."
It was the first time voters had been asked directly for a verdict on a climate and energy plan.
Had the ballot measure passed, it would have scuppered the chances of other states following California's lead.
But it was an expensive win, with opponents of Proposition 23 spending $31m to assure its defeat. The oil companies put up more than $10.
And the coalition, with their intense focus on Proposition 23, failed to anticipate its evil twin: Proposition 26, which will also hinder action on climate change. The measure, backed by Chevron, requires a two-thirds majority before imposing new taxes or fees. It gathered 54% support, blocking government efforts to get industry to pay for pollution.
In Washington, there was only devastation. 2010 is shaping up to be one of the warmest years on record, but that is unlikely to weigh heavily on the minds of many of the Republican newcomers to Congress.
Obama in interviews on the evening of the elections, admitted there was no change of sweeping climate and energy legislation in the remaining two years of his term. He said he hoped to find compromise on "bite-sized" measures, such as encouraging energy efficiency or the use of wind and solar power.
A cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions was the sleeper issue in the mid-term elections, a galvanising force for Tea Party activists. It saw the defeat of a handful of Democrats from conservative states who voted for last year's climate change bill - such as Tom Perriello and Richard Boucher, in Virginia.
"I don't think there's any question about it, cap-and-trade was the issue in the campaign," Boucher's former chief of staff, Andy Wright, told Politico. "If Rick had voted no, he wouldn't have had a serious contest."
It also installed a heavy contingent of conservatives hostile to the very notion of global warming in Congress - and solidified the opposition of establishment figures to co-operation with Democrats on energy legislation.
The new speaker of the House, John Boehner, once said: "The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment is almost comical." Vicky Hartzler, who took out the 34-year veteran Ike Skelton in Missouri, has called global warming a hoax.
A number of the victorious Tea Party candidates in the Senate, including Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida have said they do not believe in man-made climate change.
Some of the surviving Democrats are just as opposed. Joe Manchin won his Senate seat in West Virginia by, literally, shooting his rifle at Obama's climate agenda.
In her election night stint as a Fox news commentator, Sarah Palin singled out the Environmental Protection Agency as an example of big and wasteful government. The Republican leadership has signalled they it is opposed to a whole array of EPA regulations, including those on ozone and mercury. The EPA is seen as a fallback route for the Obama administration to deal with the regulation of greenhouse gases after the US senate dropped its climate bill in the summer.
The new crop of Republican leaders in the house are way ahead of Palin, with plans for sweeping investigations of climate science and of Obama administration officials such as Lisa Jackson, who heads the EPA.
As far as the leaders are concerned, the science of climate change is far from settled. "We're going to want to have a do-over," Darrell Issa, a favourite to head the house oversight and investigations committee, told a recent interviewer.