Mixed day for climate politics

For those of us hoping for substantive climate or energy legislation in the near future, Tuesday’s election was a mixed bag at best. And that’s after having lowered our expectations following Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) decision to pull the plug on advancing the American Power Act back in July. If Democrats couldn’t muster the votes or political capital with majorities in both houses of Congress, there was little chance following a mid-term election that was sure to weaken their hold.

Yesterday’s bright spot came out of California, where the state’s 2006 landmark climate legislation (CA AB32) was upheld by voters who either didn’t buy the argument made by Prop 23 proponents that AB32 would hurt the economy or didn’t take well to out-of-state oil companies telling them what to do. Yet even this “victory” is a mixed bag.

Sure, it’s a relief to see Prop 23 defeated and climate hawks Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom elected as Governor and Lieutenant Governor, respectively. And the Defeat Prop 23 coalition—a diverse collection of climate activists, environmental nonprofits, unions, clean tech entrepreneurs and businesses, and government agencies—is now well positioned to work together to advance California’s clean energy future. But at what cost? Over $31 million in campaign donations, for one. The cost in volunteer and paid organizing efforts is much harder to estimate, but it’s no stretch to say that the countless hours spent campaigning against Proposition 23 could have been put to good use elsewhere.

And therein lies the real story behind the election. Renewable energy advocates and climate change activists should expect to continue to play defense for the foreseeable future. For one, don’t be surprised when new House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) brings to the floor a bill barring the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide. President Obama has vowed to veto such legislation but the point remains: It’s hard to move the ball forward when all you can do is play defense.

Unfortunately, the clock is ticking and the stakes of this game couldn’t be higher.

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