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Terry McAuliffe

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks to supporters while campaigning in Charlottesville on Friday. (Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Critical Climate Races for Governor in Virginia and New Jersey

Our voter's guide makes it easy for every American, in every state to vote on the crucial issue of the climate crisis.

Karyn Strickler

With tight races for Governor in two states, Vote Climate U.S. PAC is issuing their first-ever, Gubernatorial Voter’s Guide in Virginia and New Jersey for the elections on Tuesday, November 2, 2021, rating candidates on climate change. There is a major divide between candidates on climate change in both critical Gubernatorial races. Climate-action voters could make a difference if they turn out and vote climate.

In the Vote Climate U.S. PAC Voter’s Guide, candidates for Governor are rated from zero to 100 on the following: Position, Leadership, and Support for a U.S. Fee on Carbon and Climate Plan (See below for more details). Incumbents and challengers are given an overall Climate Calculation based on the average of all of those categories.

In Virginia, Republican Glenn Youngkin’s overall Climate Calculation is an unacceptable 12.5 out of a possible 100. He is out of touch with the emergency situation that climate change represents. That compares to his Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe with an overall Climate Calculation of 68.75. Vote Climate U.S. PAC recommends that Virginians vote climate and choose McAuliffe for Governor of Virginia.

On position, McAuliffe understands the importance of climate action as a top priority issue. According to McAuliffe's campaign website, "Climate change presents a tremendous threat to our communities, health, and economic well-being. Virginia, until recently, has failed to adopt progressive policies to protect our environment and mitigate the effects of climate change...” McAuliffe scores a 100 on position. He also scores a 100 on leadership on the issue.

By comparison, Virginia Gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin disagrees with the scientific consensus that climate change is real and human-made, from burning fossil fuels. According to the 'American Independent,' when asked if human-made greenhouse gas emissions were responsible for climate change, Youngkin stated, "I don't know what's responsible for climate change, in all candor." He scores a zero on position and on leadership.

It should be noted that McAuliffe has one of the best climate plans currently in the country, where his opponenthas no climate plan whatsoever. McAuliffe is capable of improving his plan to meet the need, but Youngkin does not even understand that there is a problem.

The gap for otherwise very strong candidates like McAuliffe comes from the fact that their plans, while relatively ambitious when compared with the status quo, need improvement in order to quickly bring down atmospheric carbon dioxide and slow climate change. Every elected official in America needs to advocate for the most ambitious climate plans, similar to our Vote Climate U.S. PAC Voter’s Guide Criteria and: Keep all Fossil Fuels in the Ground; Use 100% Renewables by 2030; Support for Zero Human-Made Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050; Support some form of Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) listed below, (NOT Carbon Capture and Sequestration, which allows the perpetuation of the Fossil Fuel Economy.)

  • Carbon Farming/Sustainable Agriculture
  • Reforestation and Afforestation
  • Wetland Construction
  • Direct Air Capture (DAC) of Carbon Dioxide with Recycling, powered by low-to-zero carbon energy sources

Virginia Gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe supports taking action to keep fossil fuels in the ground. According to McAuliffe's climate change plan, "Together, we can develop the technologies and train the workforce we need to transition away from fossil fuels while protecting Virginia’s consumers." Glenn Youngkin does not support keeping fossil fuels in the ground. According to The Citizen, when asked about energy sources and the effects of climate change, Youngkin stated, "Yes, we need more natural gas. Yes, we need to innovate and find ways to actually use coal resources cleanly…”

McAuliffe does not support switching to 100% renewable energy sources by 2030 but instead aims to reach 100% renewable energy by the slightly less ambitious date of 2035. His opponent Glenn Youngkin does not support switching to 100% renewable energy sources by 2030 or anytime. Youngkin supports perpetuating the fossil fuel economy which is driving climate change and related weather extremes.

Youngkin does not support the elimination of all human-made, greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. According to The Roanoke Times, Youngkin stated, "I believe in all energy sources, we can use wind and solar, but we need to preserve our clean natural gas and we can, in fact, have a reliable energy grid." McAuliffe does not take a clear position on the elimination of all human-made, greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

In the Climate Plan section of our Voter’s Guide Youngkin scored a zero. McAuliffe received a score of 25. McAuliffe shows an understanding of the issue with his plan to keep fossil fuels in the ground. He advocates for 100% renewable energy by 2035, close but still 5 years short of what Vote Climate U.S. PAC thinks is necessary to slow climate change. McAuliffe needs to take a clear stand on the carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere and the elimination of all human-made, greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Vote Climate U.S. PAC urges voters to choose McAuliffe for Governor of Virginia. He understands the urgency of climate change based on his position on the issue. He offers leadership on climate change. Still McAuliffe, like all candidates for Governor, needs to publicly support a federal and/or statewide fee on carbon and to improve his climate plan.

In New Jersey, Republican challenger for Governor, Jack Ciatarelli’s overall Climate Calculation is 18.75 out of 100, showing a clear disconnect with the climate emergency. That compares to his opponent, incumbent Democrat Governor Phil Murphy with an overall Climate Calculation of 62.5.

On position, Governor Phil Murphy understands the importance of climate action as a top priority issue. According to the official New Jersey governor's website, Murphy states, "Climate change is the single greatest long-term threat currently facing humanity, and our state and economy are uniquely vulnerable to its devastating effects..." Murphy also stated, “New Jersey faces an imminent threat from climate change, from rising seas that threaten our coastline to high asthma rates in some of our most vulnerable communities due to fossil fuel pollution.” He scores a 100 on position and a 100 on leadership.

By comparison, Ciatarelli does not take a clear position on whether climate change is real and human-made, from burning fossil fuels. According to the 'Insider NJ,' Ciatarelli acknowledged climate change, simply stating, "We’re experiencing something in regard to our climate." Ciatarelli has also attacked climate action. According to the 'Insider New Jersey,' when asked about New Jersey governor's climate change plan, Ciatarelli responded, stating, "It’s too much, too soon, too fast." He scores a 25 on position and a zero on leadership.

In the Climate Plan section of our Voter’s Guide, both candidates received a score of zero, which is explained in detail below, showing why that score does not tell the whole story for Murphy. Ciatarelli does not support keeping fossil fuels in the ground. According to the 'New Jersey Environmental Lobby,' Ciatarelli states, "We should . . .celebrate. . . the unprecedented era of natural gas discovery and extraction. It is creating a very natural evolution from coal to oil to natural gas.” Governor Phil Murphy does not take a clear position or is inconsistent, on keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

Gov. Murphy does not support switching to 100% renewable energy sources by 2030. According to Reuters, "New Jersey released a draft energy plan on Monday that provides an initial blueprint for the total conversion of the state’s energy profile to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. The plan, called Draft 2019 Energy Master Plan, advances Murphy’s goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) said in a release. The plan defines clean energy as carbon-neutral electric generation and maximum electrification of the transportation and building sectors to meet or exceed greenhouse emissions reductions of 80 percent relative to 2006 levels by 2050." Ciatarelli does not support switching to 100% renewable energy sources by 2030. Ciatarelli's campaign website states, "Calling for the complete phase-out affordable natural gas—which heats about 75% of New Jersey homes—is a disaster."

Governor Murphy does not support the elimination of all human-made, greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and instead supports lowering emissions to 80% below 2006 levels by 2050. According to 'Reuters,' "New Jersey released a draft energy plan on Monday that provides an initial blueprint for the total conversion of the state’s energy profile to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. The plan, called Draft 2019 Energy Master Plan, advances Murphy’s goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050," the New Jersey BPU said in a release. Ciatarelli does not take a clear position or is inconsistent, on the elimination of all human-made, greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

All candidates for Governor in both states have no known or consistent position on a federal or statewide fee on carbon. All candidates for Governor nationwide need to publicly advocate for a fee on carbon and to improve their climate plans for better overall climate calculations, but most importantly because we believe that a fee on carbon is the most effective policy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Vote Climate U.S. PAC urges voters to choose Phil Murphy who understands the urgency of climate change based on his position on the issue. He offers leadership on climate change, both things that his opponent does not offer.

Greenhouse gas levels reached record highs in 2020, even with pandemic lockdowns. Only the complete elimination of these greenhouse gas emissions will lead to a slow reduction in the atmosphere over the next century. Vote Climate U.S. PAC’s call to eliminate all human-made greenhouse gases surpasses that of a net-zero carbon emission or a carbon-neutral economy by 2050, which we do not believe goes far enough toward the elimination of fossil fuels.

Vote Climate U.S. PAC’s Voter’s Guide is a tool to help voters to make climate change a top voting priority. Our voter’s guide makes it easy for every American, in every state to vote climate. It goes well beyond a normal scorecard to include not only position but also the candidate’s climate plan, leadership, and putting a fee on carbon.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Karyn Strickler

Karyn Strickler is a political scientist, grassroots organizer and writer. She is the founder and president of Vote Climate U.S. PAC, working to elect candidates to get off fossil fuels and put a price on carbon. Karyn is the former producer and host of Climate Challenge on MMCTV. You can contact her at climatechallengetv@gmail.com.

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