5 Lose-Lose Senate Races for Climate Advocates

In several critical midterm races Democratic candidates' stated climate change beliefs echo their Republican opponents'.

In Kentucky's senate faceoff, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and Republican Mitch McConnell have fought over who is the biggest supporter of the coal industry. Credit: UFCW International Union

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Anti-climate action Democrats are running in elections from coast to coast. With most of the attention focused on the U.S. Senate midterm races, here are some of the politicians to be aware of, based on conversations with several experts:

READ: In Key Midterm Races, Democrats Sound Like Republicans on Climate Issue

State: Kentucky

Candidate:  Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky secretary of state

Views on Climate Change: Grimes has said she believes climate change is happening, but that the Obama administration “has taken direct aim at Kentucky’s coal industry.” She has said multiple times in interviews that she will fight for “what keeps the lights on.” Kentucky gets nearly 93 percent of its electricity from coal.

What’s at Stake: Despite the fact that coal mining accounts for less than 1 percent of Kentucky jobs, the industry’s centuries-old legacy means it is still considered vital to the state’s livelihood.

Opponent: Mitch McConnell, minority leader in the Senate; the 30-year veteran could become majority leader if Republicans win enough seats in the elections.

State: Louisiana

Candidate:  Mary Landrieu, third-term senator, chair of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

Views on Climate Change: After years of speculation,Landrieu recently said she accepts that climate change is happening and manmade. However, she is generally considered one of the oil and gas industry’s biggest advocates on Capitol Hill. Last year she referred to President Obama’s climate plan as “overzealous regulations.” She strongly supports fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline project. She has also backed several Republican-sponsored amendments that would have prevented federal agencies from preparing for climate change and fighting it.

What’s at Stake: Fossil fuels play a key role in Louisiana’s economy. More than 16 percent of all jobs in the state are directly or indirectly attributable to the industry. Louisiana ranks fourth in the nation for energy production and second, behind Texas, for refinery capacity. It is also the third most energy-consuming state in the nation, using nearly five times as much energy as New York. Louisiana is already being gravely affected by climate change. Sea level rise is swallowing up the state’s wetlands, which are critical as a natural buffer against strong coastal storms.

Opponents: Republican Bill Cassidy, first term representative for Louisiana’s 6th Congressional district, and Tea Party-backed candidate Rob Maness, a retired Air Force colonel.

State: Alaska

Candidate:  Mark Begich, first-term senator

Views on Climate Change: Begich has said repeatedly that he accepts the scientific evidence for climate change and that he sees its impacts across Alaska, from disappearing coastlines to melting permafrost. However, he is also a strong proponent of drilling in the Arctic Ocean. In a recent campaign ad, he touted the fact that he fought for five years to get drilling permits approved. He is also a strong supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline.

What’s at Stake: Alaska literally runs on fossil fuel money.With no income or sales tax, the state gets 90 percent of its revenue from taxing the oil industry. One third of all jobs in the state—127,000—are oil-related, according to a report by the University of Alaska. But the state is also seeing impacts from climate change earlier than many regions of the nation. Temperatures are hotter than ever before, its coastlines are shrinking from sea level rise, and the state’s permafrost is melting, destroying much of the infrastructure—such as roads—that lie on top of it.

Opponent: Republican Dan Sullivan, an attorney and an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps reserves.

State: Georgia

Candidate: Michelle Nunn, former CEO of the nonprofit Points of Light, which helps mobilize volunteers on a series of projects across the globe

Views on Climate Change: Nunn says on her website, “We must continue to decrease our reliance on foreign oil and confront the challenges of climate change.” She is a vocal proponent of an all-of-the-above energy strategy, particularly one that includes the Keystone XL pipeline. These seemingly conflicting beliefs have environmentalists split over whether to support her.

What’s at Stake: Georgia doesn’t extract a lot of fossil fuels and has a burgeoning renewable energy portfolio. However, this could change in the near future. Oil and gas interests have been scouting natural gas extraction within the Chattanooga Shale, part of which lies underneath the northwest corner of the state. Companies have also been looking to drill for oil and natural gas off Georgia’s coast.

Opponent: Republican David Perdue, a Fortune 500 CEO and executive for well-known companies like Reebok and Dollar General

State: Arkansas

Candidate: Mark Pryor, second-term senator

Views on Climate Change: Pryor voted to cut funding to federal agencies so they couldn’t regulate the greenhouse gases causing climate change. He also voted for an amendment that would prevent Congress from being able to set up a federal tax or fee on carbon emissions. He is a vocal supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline and supported legislation that would give Congress the power to approve the project, bypassing President Obama.

What’s at Stake: Arkansas has a long history of oil drilling and, within the last decade, added a booming natural gas industry to the mix. Natural gas production using hydraulic fracturing more than quadrupled from 2005 to 2010. But after a series of earthquakes shook the region, the state’s Oil and Gas Commission banned the disposal of fracking fluids in wells, leaving the future of fracking in the state somewhat in question.

Opponent: Republican Tom Cotton, a first term representative for Arkansas’ 4th Congressional district