Since Donald Trump became president, his administration has tried to lend a helping hand to fossil-fuel businesses —coal in particular. After Tuesday’s midterm elections, Trump is still president, and energy policy will largely remain the same at the federal level.
But what about in the states? There, a whole lot may be about to change.
Nationwide, at least 10 candidates for governor won their races who campaigned on aggressively moving their states away from burning fossil fuels and toward relying on renewable forms of energy for electricity.
The newly minted governors, all of them Democrats, will serve from California to Maine and aim to inch the United States closer to meeting its emissions-reduction commitments under the Paris climate agreement at a time when the federal government under Trump is largely ignoring scientists who say the world has little time to get climate change under control.
The victor in Nevada, Steve Sisolak (D), endorsed a successful ballot measure there to get half the state’s power from wind, solar and other renewable sources by 2030. California governor-elect Gavin Newsom (D) said he was proud to see his predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown (D), sign into law a plan to produce all of the state’s power from carbon-free sources by 2045.
Minnesota governor-elect Tim Walz (D) and New Mexico governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) each vowed to get half their states’ power from renewable sources within a dozen years.
“Gone are the days where anyone talks about New Mexico not being in first place,” Lujan Grisham said at the start of her victory speech in Albuquerque Tuesday evening. “We will lead from today and on in renewable clean energy and we will be known as the clean energy state of America.”
Six other winning gubernatorial candidates, all Democrats — Jared Polis of Colorado, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, Janet Mills of Maine, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Kate Brown of Oregon and Tony Evers of Wisconsin — each told state affiliates of the League of Conservation Voters they will try to get all of their respective states’ electricity from “clean” energy sources by the middle of the century.
Environmentalists hope state leaders can pick up where Barack Obama left off. The Trump administration is seeking to repeal an Obama-era plan to require states to meet strict carbon dioxide emissions standards.
Even if that federal rule is fully scrapped, the 2018 election means many states will be led by governors who will try to compel utilities to buy significant portions of their power from solar and wind projects.
“Those are the kind of solutions that are incredibly popular with the public,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the LCV, which spent more than $80 million during the 2018 election cycle to elect a slate for mostly Democratic candidates. “Governors have already embraced them in many places.”
Democratic gains in statehouses across the country have buoyed the chances of state-level renewable energy legislation. The change in control of governor mansions may prove pivotal in Maine, Nevada and New Mexico, where in recent years Republican governors vetoed renewable energy bills.
In those states, there is hope among progressives of a repeat of what happened in New Jersey in the past year. After years of foot-dragging on renewable energy under former governor Chris Christie (R), Democrat Phil Murphy was elected governor in 2017 and shortly thereafter signed into law a commitment to get half the state’s power from renewable sources by 2030. In New Jersey, much of that will come from offshore wind.
In total, Democrats will control the governorships and both legislative chambers in 14 states — up from just eight before Election Day. Democrats also secured supermajorities in both the upper and lower chambers of Oregon’s legislature, paving the way for progressive energy legislation there.
However, when tested directly on the ballot — rather than just as part of a gubernatorial candidate’s broader platform — renewable energy standards saw more mixed results.
Voters in Arizona defeated a measure that would have sped up the sunny state’s shift toward solar and wind energy amid a gush of more than $54 million in political spending from proponents and opponents of the ballot question.
In neighboring Nevada, however, voters approved a measure similar to the one Arizonans rejected. But Nevada’s largest electric utility sat out that ballot fight, unlike Arizona’s. Before Nevada’s measure could become law, it has to survive a second vote in 2020.