Background photo by: The New York Times // Graphic by: Emily Zhao

Toss-up Senate Races: Environmental Spotlight

Emily Zhao
Nov 4, 2018 · 8 min read

Each candidate’s stance on environmental issues

According to the New York Times, CNN, and The Washington Post, the Senate races in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, and Texas are all key toss-up races which could go either way. Although environmental issues may not be the highest concern to you right now, it’s worth taking a look at each candidate’s stance (or lack of a stance).

Arizona: Martha McSally vs. Kyrsten Sinema

With Republican Jeff Flake retiring, GOP candidate Martha McSally had expected a relatively easy win but instead is lagging in the average poll by a minuscule margin. In 2016, Trump won the state with a narrow margin, which has now transferred to the 47–50 approval-disapproval ratings. Both candidates have significant experience in Congress, McSally since 2014 and Sinema since 2012.

McSally has consistently spoken out against EPA regulations on fossil fuels and claims that the negative impacts of the Clean Power Plan drastically affect Arizona’s economy and communities. In 2015, McSally said in a public letter addressed to the EPA: “Furthermore, closure of the coal generating facilities in Arizona would devastate the economies of our rural communities, where the plants support high-wage employment and provide a critical tax base for schools and local governments.”

More recently, McSally supported the FY 2019 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill, which allocated funds towards fighting forest fires, bolstering the Indian Health Service, and combating the opioid crisis (among others). On the other hand, the bill also restricts the Waters of the United States rule which is used in conjunction with the Clean Water Act; McSally claims the bill will “relieves livestock operations from regulatory red tape.”

On the other hand, Krysten Sinema’s consistently centrist position generally favors more environmental protection, as seen by her track record in Congress. Most recently, Sinema voted against the 2017 bill (which eventually passed) that opened land in the Arctic for potential drilling. However, in the past, she has voted against more forest protection, water quality regulation, and pesticide control.

Florida: Bill Nelson vs. Rick Scott

In this contentious and expensive race between Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Rick Scott, the polling has been constantly swaying. The precious Everglades which line the Florida coast and are constantly in danger of sea level rise is a hot topic for both candidates. Investments to protect the coastline have increased dramatically (over a billion since 2011), and surprisingly have bipartisan support.

Republican Rick Scott has taken a formal stand against offshore drilling near Florida and aims to protect the Florida coastline. He has personally fought to secure more federal funding for lake and environment restoration, like the repairment of the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee.

His website also claims that “Governor Scott declared a state of emergency due to impacts of red tide and has directed $13 million in grant funding for communities impacted by red tide and blue-green algae.” However, recently, he has been receiving significant backlash from prospective voters for not doing enough to combat the algae outbreaks, which not only affect the residents near the coast but also the tourism industry. For a state surrounded by water, environmental issues are near the top of its residents’ concerns.

Meanwhile, Democrat Bill Nelson has shown a more personal approach to environmental issues by listening to worried residents and even more worried scientists. From the League of Conservation Voters, Nelson has received an impressive 95% approval for 2017 due to his consistent voting for more environmental protection. Furthermore, he has promised to address the red algae bloom more directly than Scott has done in the past. As a staunch believer in climate change, Nelson has pledged more funding and more awareness of the environmental issues affecting Florida.

Indiana: Joe Donnelly vs. Mike Braun

Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly and Republican challenger Mike Braun are nearly tied in all the polls, their ratios reflecting race, gender, and social class.

Democrat Donnelly has been reluctant in support environmental protection often switching between supporting Indiana’s energy economy and its natural resources. On his website, Donnelly believes in having the best of both worlds: “Pushing for greater energy independence and increased oil, natural gas, and coal production can be coupled with efforts to maintain clean air and water and increase renewable energy sources.” More recently, Donnelly has supported the EPA’s de-regulation of water quality and pesticide use.

American Businessman and Republican Mike Braun served on the Indiana House of Representatives for the 63rd district from 2014–2017. He does not seem to have any direct view on climate change but did generally vote against environmental protection while serving on the state legislature. There is no official statement on his website pertaining to the environment or energy.

Missouri: Claire McCaskill vs. Josh Hawley

Incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill is working to hold her seat against the Missouri Attorney General and Republican Josh Hawley, who has already had an incredible campaign. Both have taken firm stances on the EPA and energy production.

As a firm believer in climate change, McCaskill has supported the development of renewable energy in Missouri by suggesting tax credits for companies working to develop renewable energy sources. She has also voted against drilling in the Arctic and believes in more protection for national parks. However, she considers the energy convenience of residents priority and votes against environmental protection which would hinder the local economy. Therefore, following that concept, she voted in support of the Keystone Pipeline and against EPA regulations.

Hawley definitely tends to lean towards deregulation of the environment as he has explicitly pledged to vote against the Waters of the United States Rule and the Clean Power Plan. In March 2017, he claimed the Clean Power Plan was raising the price of energy to unreasonable standards for residents. As the attorney general, he has sought legal action against the EPA’s regulations for being too restricting on local businesses.

Montana: Jon Tester vs. Matt Rosendale

In a race jokingly called Trump vs. Tester, tensions are especially high as President Trump focuses his campaigning efforts on Montana. Being a state filled with stunning vistas and valleys, the environment is something especially important to protect. Yellowstone National Park, which sits mostly in Montana, is one of the most visited national parks and a great pride for many residents. The issue of keeping public land in public hands is a major issue for both candidates.

Incumbent Democrat Jon Tester has repeatedly voted to protect public lands like Yellowstone and other state parks from mining and deforestation. In addition, he is a strong advocate for maintaining public land so it can be shared and enjoyed by everyone. His support for environmental regulation is relatively consistent with an 84% approval from the League of Conservation Voters. Voting against drilling in the Arctic and deregulation of water quality, Tester has proved his commitment to protecting the environment.

Republican Matt Rosendale has been active in the state legislature since 2010 and is currently the State Auditor. On his website, he expressed the same desire to maintain public lands and cited past actions where he specifically opened up more land for recreational use. He also mentions the frequent wildfires in the summer and the need for more management reform. In contrast, he supports the recent EPA deregulation and believes it “will strike a better balance between recreation and mining and logging.” From personal experience, he also believes that grizzly bears should be taken off any sort of federal protection because of the supposed harm they pose to residents.

Rosendale has also proved to be a skeptic of climate change in the GOP in a candidate forum and said, “I haven’t seen enough evidence that by imposing draconian regulation on our business and our industries, and the cost would be transferred to the consumer, for the potential of possibly having a minuscule impact on the climate.”

Nevada: Dean Heller vs. Jacky Rosen

Incumbent Republican Senator Dean Heller and Democrat Jacky Rosen may have the closest race in the 2018 Senate races with a mere 1 point margin according to Real Clear Politics. Energy is a major issue in Nevada where oil drilling and renewable energy fight for favor in the state legislature.

Heller has an abysmal 0% from the League of Conservation Voters for almost always voting against more regulation and environmental protection. Although he has stated that he supports a balance between affordable energy and renewable energy development, his record is not consistent with that stance. He votes most consistently in support of domestic oil and natural gas development, standing for a greater independence from foreign energy sources.

With almost an exact opposite stance, Rosen has shown an impressive engagement in supporting more environmental protection for Nevada’s public lands and investment in renewable energy sources, winning her an unprecedented 97% approval rate from the League of Conservation Voters. She believes in more reliance on renewable energy and has even spearheaded a solar panel project in Henderson, Nevada.

Texas: Ted Cruz vs. Beto O’Rourke

In what is likely the most publicized Senate Race, Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke has made the race against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz astonishingly close over the past few weeks. Rousing up the Latino population in Texas, O’Rourke is likely to make this race even close as election day draws nearer. In the Oil state of America, energy and the environment are both controversial topics.

Unsurprising from a man constantly lauding about Texas’ oil industry, Cruz is the exact enemy of environmentalists introducing legislation which would cut back on regulation and spearheading more funding for drilling. One of his most notable anti-environment pieces of legislation was the American Energy Renaissance Act which “opens opportunities to encourage responsible energy exploration (including hydraulic fracturing), build the Keystone pipeline, modernize refineries, increase offshore drilling, expand energy exports, and broaden energy development on private land, generating revenue to reduce the national debt.”

Cruz believes that the fossil fuel industry in Texas is an integral part of the economy and should be fostered. Furthermore, he supports opening more land for drilling in the Arctic and believes in cutting back federal protection on public land.

With an impressive 100% from the League of Conservation Voters, Beto O’Rourke has stood up for renewable energy and sustainable farming practices in a state often called the least “green” state in the US. Serving as the U.S. Representative for Texas’s 16th congressional district since 2013, O’Rourke has consistently voted for more environmental regulation and supported the Paris Climate Accords. Furthermore, he took a stance against the deregulation of the EPA, claiming that more rules on fracking and drilling are needed. However, he also acknowledged that the majority of Texas still depends on fossil fuels for energy and that the shift to renewable sources will be tedious and on-going.

The Climate Reporter

At the Center of the Youth Climate Movement

The Climate Reporter

An international youth-led environmental news organization covering the work of the growing youth climate movement and more widely known environmental movement.

Emily Zhao

Written by

The Climate Reporter Editor-in-Chief | Earth Optimist | Filmmaker | Based in Maryland

The Climate Reporter

An international youth-led environmental news organization covering the work of the growing youth climate movement and more widely known environmental movement.

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