From Maine to California, Tuesday's primaries launched the campaigns of incoming governors and U.S. senators who will set the climate and energy agendas of the country for years to come.
In Senate races, several candidates on both sides of the aisle stood firmly against establishing a mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions.
The tone on climate change was often more muted in gubernatorial contests, but the stakes are no less pivotal for energy and climate agendas of states considering everything from cap-and-trade programs to wind farm development.
California, for example, faces a showdown over its target to slash emissions by 2020. In Maine, the Republican gubernatorial candidate has expressed skepticism about climate science and slammed former Vice President Al Gore in a recent debate, raising questions about his position on Maine's partnership in the Northeast's regional cap-and-trade program.
"State programs that cut greenhouse gases could be in jeopardy in the future without strong state leadership," said Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown University State-Federal Climate Resource Center, about the influence of governors in the climate debate. She noted that governors also are critical in pressuring members of Congress and the White House about constituents' concerns.
"When governors have air time with the president and tell them they want federal climate legislation, it matters," Arroyo said.
Yet the status of federal climate legislation remains in limbo on Capitol Hill since Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) released a legislative plan in May to cut greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent by 2020. The primary winners on Tuesday running for Senate seats further cloud the waters for where legislative support for climate legislation on Capitol Hill is headed.
'Warming hoax' winner takes Nev. GOP slot
Senate primary victories in Nevada, California and Arkansas were linked in part to cap-and-trade opposition. All three winners -- one Democrat and two Republicans -- rejected policies that would price businesses' carbon emissions.
In Nevada, for example, that opposition went deeper. Republican Sharron Angle, a former state Assembly member and a tea party favorite, beat politically moderate challengers, including former state GOP chairwoman Sue Lowden, by tapping into the state's conservative base.
Angle was rewarded for attacking the "warming hoax," calling for the dissolution of federal agencies and arguing that Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), whom she will face in November's general election, is to blame for the state's withering economic condition.
"The Department of Energy is one of those institutions that is not covered by the Constitution and should probably be phased out," Angle said in a recent interview.
Reid has stagnant approval ratings and is vulnerable to defeat. But he might have been given a gift with Angle's win, Democratic observers say, pointing to her extreme views that might push independent voters into Reid's camp and motivate Democratic turnout on Election Day.
Angle isn't buying it.
"I think they haven't been reading the tea party leaves very carefully if they don't understand the climate of this country has really changed, well, over the last year and a half," she said before winning the primary. "The people are now very energized. It is a silent majority that has awakened, and they're very conservative-minded."
Enviro attacks may have helped Lincoln in Ark.
The conservative streak runs deep in Arkansas, too. This time, it helped a Democratic incumbent preserve her political career. Sen. Blanche Lincoln veered to the right in the state's primary last month and in a runoff Tuesday against Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.
Lincoln attacked cap and trade and joined a Republican effort to strip U.S. EPA of the power to regulate greenhouse gases, prompting the League of Conservation Voters to launch a scathing television ad that labeled the senator "Big Oil Blanche."
The ad may have backfired, said Janine Parry, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas, who believes the commercial helped Lincoln disconnect from liberal environmental types and Washington efforts on climate change. Neither play well in Arkansas.
"We don't seem to be sold on the role of people in global climate change," Parry said, noting that Senate action on climate legislation expected this summer could complicate Lincoln's general election campaign.
"The national Dems would be well to either give her a pass on this or position her such that her vote is temperate ... and even right of center."
Lincoln's Republican challenger, Rep. John Boozman, appears poised to pounce on the Senate plan to take up a climate bill.
"I think it really shows what this administration is trying to do," he said earlier this week. "They're willing to wreck the economy -- the legislation is a job killer -- over ideology."
Maine GOP winner: 'Not a fan' of Al Gore
In the half-dozen primaries for open governor seats held Tuesday, global warming often was absent from candidates' lips. But in one big state -- California -- and in one small state -- Maine -- hints of the climate battles to come bubbled to the surface.
In Maine, tea party favorite Paul LePage swept the Republican primary. His supporters helped push language into the state Republican platform calling for a defeat of cap and trade and investigation of the "collusion between government and industry in the global warming myth."
When asked directly about global warming in a Republican primary debate, LePage said he thought the environment was important but added that he was "not a fan of the Al Gore programs."
Maine is a small state in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, but it is a key player in the nation's only operational cap-and-trade system, which covers 10 states in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. The continuing operation and growth of that program require the support of governors and could be critical if national climate legislation fails, said Arroyo, who does not have official positions on any of the candidates.
Regional cooperation in the Northeast among governors also may be important for the siting of electrical transmission lines for offshore wind development.
LePage's campaign directed all press inquiries to his website, which did not include an energy section. Andrew Ian Dodge, the Maine coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, said LePage motivated a lot of people in the movement, and "they will be angry if he sells them out."
Climate a back-burner issue out West -- for now
The term-limited Democratic governor of Maine, John Baldacci, signed a package of energy bills in May that promotes efficiency and renewable development.
The Democratic candidate, Elizabeth "Libby" Mitchell, is likely to hold similar positions, said Daniel Sosland of Environment Northeast. Mitchell's website includes a "clean energy" section promoting pending state initiatives on wind projects onshore and offshore and efficiency.
There are also multiple independent candidates running whose stances on climate and energy issues are not entirely known.
Sosland noted that candidates' rhetoric doesn't always match their policies as administrators. LePage, he said, signed the U.S. Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement while mayor of Waterville, Maine. The agreement pledges cities to slash emissions 7 percent below 1990 levels to 2012.
On the other side of the country, California's climate has temporarily descended below the radar of the gubernatorial candidates. Yet it seems destined to resurface soon thanks to a ballot initiative slated for November that would draw a direct line between job creation and climate change.
The "California Jobs Initiative" would suspend the state's global warming law, A.B. 32, until unemployment falls below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters.
The initiative, backed by conservative politicians and by oil companies including Valero Energy Corp., Tesoro Corp. and Occidental Petroleum Corp., is now having its signatures verified by the secretary of state, and supporters expect it to qualify for the ballot within the next two weeks.
In Calif., whither the climate law?
GOP gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay Inc., last year published an op-ed vowing to suspend the law if elected. "I will issue that order on my first day as governor," she said.
Since then, however, Whitman has drastically toned down her rhetoric. Her campaign website includes no reference to climate change, and she has positioned herself carefully on other key environmental issues. She opposes new offshore drilling until new, less invasive technologies are developed; she supports nuclear energy for its carbon-free attributes; and she supports California's aggressive 33 percent renewable portfolio standard.
State Attorney General and Democratic nominee Jerry Brown, meanwhile, has taken a clear position on climate. Brown sued U.S. EPA in 2008 for not issuing California a waiver to implement its greenhouse gas standards for automobiles. He also brokered agreements with large in-state emitters like ConocoPhillips, the city of Stockton and the Port of Los Angeles to offset emissions associated with expansions.
Brown hasn't hit Whitman hard on A.B. 32, but said in April that pausing the law would hurt investment. "To just respond to particular pressures, if you let that happen, you don't get anywhere," he said. "It's called breakdown, as opposed to breakthrough" (ClimateWire, April 30).
Anita Mangels, a spokeswoman for the anti-A.B. 32 ballot initiative campaign, said she hoped the candidates would revisit the issue.
"All of the candidates did talk about it, so now, hopefully, that the primary's over, they will be focusing on a variety of issues, this included," she said. "I might add that this is not a partisan issue at all. Every Californian, regardless of their political party, is going to have to bear the costs of A.B. 32."
There is precedence in California for using climate to appeal across the political aisle. Whitman's vanquished opponent, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, supported A.B. 32 during his 2006 campaign. He told a campaign consultant in an e-mail that he used his support of the law to woo the Sierra Club, the Los Angeles Times reported last month.
In this season's Republican primary, he endorsed the anti-A.B. 32 initiative. "Although I believe in the importance of protecting our state's environment and natural resources, our state is not an economic or environmental island," he said in a January statement.
"A.B. 32 has placed us completely out of sync with both federal standards and those of our neighboring states. At a time when we are already hemorrhaging jobs and our once vibrant economy has faltered, California should not continue to implement a law that will make these problems worse."
Whitman is intentionally trying to avoid the climate issue, say some political observers.
"She specifically did not endorse the initiative so she could put some space between the intent to kill 32 and her middle ground, and I think she did that deliberately so Brown couldn't attack her for it," said Democratic consultant Steve Maviglio, who is working on the campaign to defeat the anti-A.B. 32 initiative. "Poizner went after her for not endorsing it, and she put some middle ground there."
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