Environmental protection a big winner in midterms

A line of off-shore oil rigs in the Santa Barbara Channel near the Federal Ecological Preserve en route to the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in March 2015.
A line of off-shore oil rigs in the Santa Barbara Channel near the Federal Ecological Preserve en route to the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in March 2015. TNS

Voters overwhelmingly rejected the politics of pollution last week as they returned control of the U.S. House of Representatives to Democrats and gave Democrats their largest gain since Watergate.

Candidates who put action on climate change front and center were the biggest winners.

Pundits and political consultants once thought climate change was a distant concern and not an issue that would energize voters. But as fires rage from Chico to Malibu, people can plainly see, feel, and smell the impact of climate change. Before these fires started, voters made their feelings clear at the ballot box.


There was a time not that long ago when the idea of Republican Congressman Darrell Issa being replaced by a Democrat who advocates for clean energy seemed far-fetched. But that is precisely what happened in California’s 49th Congressional District in San Diego and Orange counties.

There, environmental advocate Mike Levin soundly defeated the Issa-endorsed candidate, Republican Dianne Harkey. Among the many issues in this race, perhaps the starkest dividing line was the environment.

Mary Creasman.jpg
Mary Creasman of the California League of Conservation Voters. Courtesy of California League of Conservation Voters

Moved by his strong environmental record and vision on renewables, the California League of Conservation Voters was quick to endorse Levin. The League of Conservation Voters ran an $800,000 campaign condemning Harkey’s support of offshore oil drilling.

Further up the Orange County coast, Democrat Harley Rouda appears to have beaten 30-year incumbent Republican Dana Rohrabacher. Democrat Katie Hill defeated Republican Congressman Steve Knight in a district that includes parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

We environmentalists helped make clear to voters that, unlike their opponents, Rouda and Hill oppose offshore oil drilling, support our public lands, and will use their positions in Congress to combat climate change.

State legislative results revealed a similar story.

Four years ago, Big Oil helped unseat Torrance Democratic Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi. Muratsuchi regained his seat two years ago. This year he placed climate change and opposition to offshore oil drilling at the forefront of his platform easily won re-election.

Salinas Democrat Robert Rivas, the author of California’s first county-wide ban on fracking, took every opportunity on the campaign trail to discuss how changing temperatures, increased droughts and floods are threatening agriculture, making action on climate change crucial. He won.

The message is clear: Californians are prioritizing action on climate change at a whole new level.

All this raises the question of what our new environmental majorities in the House will mean for California.

We expect Democrats to use their position to block Donald Trump’s assaults on our public lands and work to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Republican-controlled Congress let funding for this important program expire in September, despite overwhelming public support for it.

We hope to see greater oversight to counter abuses by Donald Trump’s administration.

Mary Creasman is chief executive officer of the California League of Conservation Voters, She wrote this commentary for CALmatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.


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