Composite image of the US from space. Image: NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC (CC BY 2.0)

Climate change up and down the ballot

The Presidential election is crucial for climate, but trump vs. Biden is not the only key vote coming up in the United States.
The Presidential election is crucial for climate, but trump vs. Biden is not the only key vote coming up in the United States.

It’s a big climate year in the United States – and not just because Trump is up for reelection. Across the country, states are voting on measures that could have a big impact on the country’s climate future. Recent polls have indicated that more Americans believe in climate change than ever before and more citizens are ranking the issue as their top priority. As young climate activists come of voting age, election results could tell a different story than in 2016. 

Candidates with a climate agenda

The Sunrise Movement has endorsed candidates up and down the ballot and in both blue and red states. These races are key to the immediate climate future of the United States. If Biden gets elected, but there is a Republican senate, climate legislation will burn quicker than California during the drought.

In Massachusetts, Senator Ed Markey is running for re-election. Markey is the co-sponsor of the original Green New Deal and a vocal advocate of a clean, equitable transition to sustainable energy. Massachusetts leans blue, and it’s looking good for him—he’s a leader on the street and in congress.

Good stuff is happening in West Virginia. West Virginia has a long history of extracting natural resources and Paula Jean Swearengin knows that. She’s the daughter and granddaughter of coal miners and has seen the devastation coal mining has had on rural communities and the environment. She’s passionate about green jobs and a sustainable future. 

Also in West Virginia is Cathy Kunkel, who is running for the House of Representatives against Rep. Alex Mooney, a right-wing Republican who wants to defund the Environmental Protection Agency. Kunkel helped launch Sunrise and has long fought for people’s rights over pipeline rights. 

Qasim Rashid is running against a seven-term incumbent Republican, Rep. Robert Wittman in Virginia. Rashid wants to end fossil fuel subsidies and is focused on an intersectional approach to fighting climate change and achieving environmental justice. His opponent voted to leave the Paris Climate Accord and once received a “Climate Change Denier Award” from a group of environmentalists.

Places and Issues 

Supreme Court case: who decides if oil Is in the wrong?

This one isn’t on the ballot per se, but it could have a huge impact on how oil companies are held accountable, and who should decide these cases. Baltimore is one of the cities seeking compensation for damages from oil companies. Currently, the focus of the case is on whether state or federal courts should hear this case. This could determine where big environmental lawsuits are heard in the future—given that the court is swinging conservative, there is a lot at stake.

Colorado Reintroduction of Wolves: Proposition 114

Colorado this fall is voting on the plan to reintroduce wolves in the state. Wolves used to be abundant in Colorado until hunting nearly eradicated them. Supporters of the proposition say bringing wolves back would balance the ecosystem and support species health of not just wolves, but other wildlife too. Colorado relies on tourism to its parks—and proponents say healthier parks could boost revenue as well. Wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone was touted as a huge victory for both parks and people. As ecosystems become vulnerable to climate change, preserving native wildlife will be essential for a sustainable future. 

California Proposition 15: taxing oil?

In California, commercial properties might have to start paying taxes based on their current market value (they are currently paying taxes based on purchase value). This means oil companies in California would have to start paying higher taxes. This tax money would go to state-funded schools and local government. 

This measure is a way to begin holding oil companies and other corporations accountable for their land and market assets. NRDC, Sierra Club, and many other environmental organizations support Proposition 15.  

A quote from NRDC reads, “The oil industry has used Prop. 13 loopholes to evade tens of millions of dollars in property taxes. Companies like Chevron, Exxon, Phillips 66, Shell, and Tosco are paying taxes based on assessments taken prior to 2000. Prop. 15 would end this hidden subsidy to dirty energy.”

Who opposes it? Land developers and big business, reports the LA Times

Alaska’s North Slope Oil Production Tax

Another oil tax vote lies in the far north. The North Slope is above 68 degrees North Latitude in Alaska and is home to the state’s largest oil fields. This year, the oil production in the North Slope was the best it’s been in recent years according to the Alaska Daily News.

The North Slope Oil Production Tax would increase taxes for oil companies located above 68 degrees that have produced more than 400 million barrels and currently produce 40,000 barrels a day. 

These oil companies that fit the criteria would now pay more in taxes, and that revenue would stay in the Alaskan economy. Between Proposition 15, the supreme court case in Baltimore, and this tax, it could be a bad year for oil.

Who pays for parks in Michigan?

Currently, the royalties from oil and gas extraction on public lands go back into state funds that can be used to protect land or improve parks. There is currently a cap on how much money can go into this fund. Proposition one would remove the cap on the fund so that all revenue from oil and gas extraction stays in the park funds. The funds would then only be used for further park creation, protection, and improvement.

Many environmental groups support this change – but not everyone. The Sierra Club and the Green Party of Michigan oppose the measure because both find qualms with further connecting park funding with oil and gas extraction. Sierra Club’s statement on voting against the proposal concludes: Land is non-renewable. 

Given the ongoing pandemic, the presidential election will likely not be determined on November 3rd. Similarly, these races and issues may not be finalized then either. Regardless of the outcome, disaster and injustice do not stop. Currently, the Cameron Peak Fire just became the largest on record in Colorado and Hurricane Delta hit Louisiana in October. Climate change is here to stay, and the votes of today determine the environment of tomorrow.