The role of the United States in confronting the global climate crisis has been cast into serious doubt after an election that stacked the deck in Congress in favor of fossil fuel industries. Republicans seized firm control, and added several new senators who deny that climate change is a problem.
A solid majority of voters who spoke to exit pollsters said they regarded climate change as a significant matter, but most were on the Democratic side. By a huge margin, Republican voters said the opposite. And in state after hotly contested state, they elected their own to the Senate.
The college town of Athens, Ohio voted by 78 percent to outlaw fracking and related activities on Tuesday, standing in stark contrast to three other towns in the state that failed to pass similar measures.
Athens joined the north Texas town of Denton and two southern California counties, San Benito and Mendocino, in pushing back against the fracking boom on election day.
Every local fracking ban victory "is a win for the movement," said Susie Beiersdorfer, an anti-fracking activist in Ohio.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting water, chemicals and sand down a well to crack open bedrock and extract fossil fuels. The controversial process has been a boon for the economy. In Ohio, it has recently driven a near doubling of oil and gas production.
Increasingly, communities such as Athens are acting on their concerns about the potential health and environmental impacts of the process, and warning that the existing rules aren't strong enough.
Environmental groups watched in shock last night as many of the seats they considered shoo-ins fell to GOP control—leaving the movement examining its big-money midterm strategy and how to push climate action forward with a Republican Congress.
The nation's major green groups spent about $85 million trying to make climate change a central focus of the election and elect pro-action candidates. They knew going in they faced an uphill battle. The sixth year of an administration is historically difficult for the ruling party to win, and many of the races were being contested in red, energy-producing states.
But in the final weeks and days leading to Election Day, political forecasters projected positive outcomes for many of the races in which environmentalists spent time and money.
"I felt disappointment, straight up," Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, told InsideClimate News about watching the results come in. "It was hard to swallow seeing a lot of our friends and strong climate champions lose their races. And there were results that took us by surprise."
As oil prices sagged again on Monday to a four-year low, the Carbon Tracker Initiative said the recent downward spiral "changes the whole dynamic" for Canada's tar sands production.
The "vast majority" of potential capital expenditures on tar sands projects that are still in the earliest phases of development would require such high oil prices that they are "particularly risky," the group said.
Hundreds of billions of dollars could be spent on projects that are underway or in development, Carbon Tracker said. At least two-thirds of the tar sands enterprise is at risk if current prices persist, or if they drop even lower.
The public got a rare glimpse into the covert and hardball strategies used by some oil and gas companies when a lobbyist's candid remarks were leaked to the New York Times and Bloomberg News last week. The leak made the lobbyist the victim of his own tactics.
The man was Richard Berman, president of the consulting firm Berman and Company, who pitched a roomful of energy executives in June to invest $2 to $3 million in an "offensive" campaign in Colorado called Big Green Radicals that seeks to discredit anti-fracking advocates.
"There is no sympathy for the oil and gas industry" and people don't like the word "fracking," Berman told his audience at the annual meeting of the Western Energy Alliance. So industry must go on the "offense" against environmental groups, destroy their credibility by airing the personal histories of "every single activist," diminish their moral authority and use humor to "minimize or marginalize" them.
The initial targets of the campaign were the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Food and Water Watch.
Berman said the influx of money would be a "game-changer" and promised "total anonymity" to anyone who contributed. Donations would be processed through nonprofit organizations that aren't required to disclose donors.
The installation of the first air monitor in the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale region of south Texas has been delayed following a review of the proposed site by the Texas Historical Commission.
The location selected for the air monitor is on the grounds of the 90-year-old Karnes County courthouse of Karnes City, a community of slightly more than 3,000 in the center of the drilling hotbed. It was supposed to begin operating by the end of October.
But the spot proposed for the 40-foot-by-40-foot monitor with instruments reaching 32 feet into the sky would have spoiled the view of the picturesque building, said Chris Florance, director of public information and education for the commission.
"It was kind of right out there where everybody could see it," said Karnes County Judge Richard Butler, the county’s top executive.
A record number of anti-fracking measures are on the midterm ballots—but gas drilling isn't the only climate and environmental issue that will be put to voters on Tuesday.
Americans across the country will decide on everything from climate resiliency and drought relief to oil and gas taxes and wildlife protection.
Here's InsideClimate News' pick of the top five ballot measures to watch November 4:
The race in Michigan's 6th congressional district between incumbent Republican Congressman Fred Upton and Democrat Paul Clements has become surprisingly close—with Clements trailing the chairman of the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce by just a few points.
But until a few days ago, almost no one outside of the district was watching or involved in the race.
"It is now possible, if not likely, that this could be one of the biggest surprises coming out of the Midwestern congressional races," said Barry Rabe, an expert on the politics of climate change at the University of Michigan.
Upton was largely considered unbeatable thanks to his fourteen-term incumbency and ties to the fossil fuel industry, which has kept his campaign coffers full year after year. National environmental and political organizations like the League of Conservation Voters, the NRDC Action Fund and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee focused their efforts elsewhere. Even pollsters weren't tracking the race, at least not publicly.
The leading international network of climate scientists is urging a rapid shift away from fossil fuels, just as allies of coal, oil and natural gas industries in the United States appear poised to tighten their grip on Congress—where opposition to cleaner energy is already entrenched.
That outcome of Tuesday's midterm election would spell trouble for advocates of a strong international climate accord. Treaty negotiations are supposed to pick up in the next few months and culminate in Paris just over a year from now.
This weekend, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a synthesis report that sums up its years-long review of the climate crisis and what to do about it. The report called for the near-complete elimination of fossil fuel-burning by the end of the century. This, it said, is what is needed to have a reasonable chance of avoiding the most severe risks of man-made changes to the world's climate.
Nothing could be further from the agenda of Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the coal-state Republican who on the eve of the election appears to have significantly better than even odds of becoming the next majority leader. (Though, as the IPCC might put it, until the last votes are tallied any forecast of which party will prevail deserves only "medium confidence.")
Even if the Republicans don't gain a majority in the Senate on Nov. 4, they are likely to gain strength in that chamber as well as in the House—an election outcome that would undermine President Obama's entire climate agenda, not just his influence in the Paris talks.
Oil giant ExxonMobil is seeking "unprecedented secrecy" by labeling nearly 900,000 pages of documents as confidential in a class action lawsuit over an oil pipeline rupture in Arkansas, an attorney said in a new court filing.
The attorney, Tom Thrash, said Exxon's blanket assertion of confidentiality prevents affected property owners and the public from learning whether Exxon had properly maintained and repaired the 1940s-era Pegasus oil pipeline at the heart of the case, and it has forced him to file his arguments under seal.
The 858-mile Pegasus, which stretches from Patoka, Ill. to Nederland, Texas, was carrying Canadian diluted bitumen (dilbit) when it burst open in Mayflower, Ark. on March 29, 2013. An estimated 210,000 gallons of thick oil oozed into a neighborhood and waterway, sickening residents and forcing the evacuation of 22 homes. Exxon later bought most of the houses because the owners didn't want to return.