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The Republican Triumph in the 2014 Midterms Is Bad News for the Environment

After sweeping GOP victories in elections across the country, the coming Congress is likely to be less environmentally friendly than any in recent memory.
Photo by Evan Vucci/AP

The 2014 midterm election was a Republican wave — and the environment got swamped.

Republicans seized control of the Senate, winning a 52-seat majority that stands to increase after the final tally in three undecided states. Republicans hold a lead in Alaska, and are expected to win a December 6 runoff in Louisiana. Democrats hold a narrow lead in Virginia but may have to survive a recount.

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell is expected to become the new majority leader after cruising to victory over Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. Republicans won every toss-up Senate race on the map except for a surprisingly close race in New Hampshire.


In the House, the Republicans increased their majority by at least a dozen seats. They now hold the largest Republican majority since the Truman administration, securing 244 seats to 177 for Democrats.

At best, it means a Congress that is disengaged from serious environmental issues just as the US faces critical choices in how to combat climate change. At worst, it means a Congress actively opposed to the environment. Regardless, the coming Congress is likely to be less environmentally friendly than any in recent memory.

The coming Congress is likely to be less environmentally friendly than any in recent memory.

"The new Congress should waste no time in advancing a pro-energy, pro-growth agenda," Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, told reporters Wednesday. "That means approving the Keystone XL pipeline, and expanding access to natural gas and oil resources. It also means reining in unnecessary regulations that voters rejected because they threaten our energy renaissance and harm our economy."

Senator James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who once compared the Environmental Protection Agency to the Gestapo, is likely to lead the Environment and Public Works Committee when the GOP takes control next year. Inhofe published a book in 2012 titled, "The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future," and has said previously that, "global warming can be beneficial to mankind." He has also called for congressional action to limit EPA regulations on clean water.


VICE News Roundup: What The Midterms Mean For The Environment

Republicans also emerged victorious in Governor's races across the country. Republican Rick Scott won easily in Florida over former Governor Charlie Crist. Scott's victory may hold vast implications both for 2016, where the presidential race may again come down to Florida and its 29 electoral votes.

Florida is also ground zero in the battle over climate change in the US. Without a strategy to combat rising sea levels, much of the state may eventually be underwater. Scott has previously said that he couldn't comment on his stance on climate change because he is "not a scientist."

"Miami is eventually going to be underwater if we don't do more to combat climate change," Patrick Hidalgo, the Hispanic vote director for the Obama campaign in Florida in 2008, told VICE News.

In Miami's Kendall neighborhood, the election night party for Joe Garcia, the incumbent Democrat in the 26th Congressional District, turned into a wake. Supporters were crying as he gave a concession speech to his Republican opponent, Carlos Curbelo.

Hidalgo and other Garcia supporters lamented that his loss — combined with the defeat of Charlie Crist — was a blow to the environment. "The state is going to drown, and nobody cares," an older woman who didn't want to give her name told VICE News.

Senator Jim Inhofe, who wrote a book calling climate change a "hoax" and a "conspiracy," is now likely to lead the Environment and Public Works Committee. (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

The turning tide against the Democrats was evident across the entire country, where battleground races repeatedly turned up red.


"Obviously, Republicans had a good night," President Barack Obama said in a news conference Wednesday.

West Virginia's 19-term incumbent Congressman Nick Rahall lost to his Republican challenger Evan Jenkins by 11 percentage points.

In Iowa, Joni Ernst, infamous for an ad she cut highlighting her commitment to "cutting pork" that referenced her experience in pig castration, trounced her opponent Congressman Bruce Braley, winning by a margin of 8.5 percentage points.

In North Carolina, Republicans surprised incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagan. In a race Hagan was slightly favored to win, Republican State Representative Thom Tillis won by nearly 50,000 votes.

Why the 2014 Midterms Matter — And Why Nobody Seems to Care. Read more here.

In Colorado, Corey Gardner upended Mark Udall 49 to 45 percent. Gardner's victory brings the critical state within Republican grasp after Democrats have held both Senate seats since 2009 and won the state in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

In Kansas, Republican incumbent Pat Roberts defeated his Independent opponent Greg Orman by a margin of nearly 10 points in a race that was widely expected to be a cliffhanger. Elsewhere in the state, Sam Brownback — a Republican who slashed taxes in attempt to created a "real live [Conservative] experiment" — was also reelected.

The result of the seismic Congressional shift in favor of Republicans is likely to be more gridlock.


In Obama's home state of Illinois, Republican Bruce Rauner defeated incumbent Democratic Governor Pat Quinn 51 to 46 percent.

In Maryland, Republican Larry Hogan beat Democrat Anthony Brown by nine points. While in Michigan, incumbent Republican Governor Rick Snyder (who acknowledges climate change but not whether humans are causing it) held onto his seat.

In Maine, Republican incumbent Paul LePage (who has compared the IRS to the Nazis on more than one occasion, and once mused on the benefits that global warming would hold for Maine) defeated Democratic challenger Mike Michaud by four points.

Even in Virginia, expected to be a relatively easy win for Democrats, incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Warner is clinging to a narrow lead of slightly more than 12,000 votes out of nearly 2.2 million cast. Virginia has no automatic recount process, but candidates that lose by one percent point or less are allowed to petition for one, which Warner's challenger, former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, is likely to do.

The result of the seismic Congressional shift in favor of Republicans is likely to be more gridlock. Although McConnell has said that there will be "no possibility of a government shutdown," a continued acrimonious relationship with his party and the President is a safe bet.

"Congress will pass some bills I cannot sign," Obama said. "I'm pretty sure I'll take some actions that some in Congress will not like. That's natural. That's how our democracy works."


The one project that is highly likely to see Congressional action is the Keystone XL pipeline. The President has delayed action on the massive project to increase shipments of oil from Canada to US refineries, but Republicans are likely to press for construction to move ahead.

"We anticipate a relatively quick vote on the Keystone XL pipeline and one that will present itself in front of the President's desk and one which the President will have, for the first time, to expend his actual political capital on that issue," said Scott Segal, founding partner of the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani, a leading consultant on energy issues.

Green billionaire Tom Steyer and his environmentalist allies — including the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Defense Action Fund — spent over $85 million this election cycle trying to influence key races. They are now licking their wounds.

Showdown in Coal Country. Watch the VICE News documentary here.

Steyer's NextGen Climate group spent $65 million in congressional and state races, frequently battling billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch and their Americans for Prosperity conservative advocacy group. Steyer came away with victories in half of the elections in which he spent money, but the losses included high-profile races in Colorado and Iowa that led to the GOP Senate majority.

Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips issued a statement claiming partial responsibility for the Senate victories.


"Tonight's results are a clear rebuke of ObamaCare and the government overreach that have come to define the Obama-Reid agenda, and a class of senators who chose to rubber stamp bad policy rather than fight for the people they represent," Phillips said.

In his remarks Wednesday, Obama tried to strike a conciliatory tone.

"I'm eager to work with the new Congress to make the next two years as productive as possible," Obama said. "I'm committed to making sure that I measure ideas not by whether they are from Democrats or Republicans, but whether they work for the American people.

While vowing to act on immigration and touting progressive victories on several ballot measures — including going "five for five" on votes to increase the minimum wage — Obama was quiet about the environment. He noted that, "our dependence on foreign oil is down, as are gas prices," but mentioned climate change only once in passing, saying, "the United States has big things to do."

Check out more of VICE News' Midterms coverage:

Young people have the most at stake in this election: an interview with Rep. Jared Polis

Colorado's Great Divide: Oil and the Environment

Florida Governor's Race: Dispatch from a Battleground State Headed Underwater

These Towns and Counties Across America Just Banned Oil and Gas Fracking

In Search of the Keystone XL Pipeline and Its Impact on the Midterm Elections  

Environmental Groups Target Key Midterm Fight for North Carolina Senate Seat

Climate Voters Might Decide Tight New Hampshire Senate Race

Support for Action on Climate Change Grows Among Swing State Voters

In Michigan a Candidate's Environmentalism Might Be a Winning Strategy  

Laura Dattaro and Robert S. Eshelman contributed reporting.

Ari Ratner is a Fellow at New America. Follow him on Twitter: @amratner