How Environmental Conservation Won Midterms
Our public lands and rivers have been under attack for the past two years. While at times it seems that the conservation movement is stronger than ever, as it very well may be, a collective action problem has been quite evident in recent years. Nobody wants a dead planet — not now, not ever — but that is exactly what we are going to get if we do not make a concerted effort to reduce our human contribution to climate change and protect the precious lands that we have cherished for centuries. There is much that the average citizen can do to aid in the effort to protect our planet, but much of the responsibility also falls on policymakers. At the most basic level, the simplest form of civic engagement to play a part in this fight is voting. Since the 2016 presidential election, there has been little that anyone could do to affect how the Trump administration handled the issues within the jurisdiction of the EPA and the Department of the Interior such as privatization of public lands and systemic denial of human impact on climate change. For the past two years, Americans have stood by in limbo as the White House has privatized public lands and systematically denied the role humanity plays in climate change.
Within the past two years, the Trump administration has issued many controversial and regressive rollbacks of protected public lands and rivers. Despite all of this, the midterm results, if anything, have reflected that the fight to preserve and protect the public lands is stronger than ever. Western Democrats touting platforms revolving protection of public lands won key congressional and gubernatorial races — many of which were previously held by their Republican counterparts. These states include Arizona, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina and Utah.
A key Senate race in Montana between Republican Matt Rosendale and Democrat Jon Tester revolved around the debate regarding public lands and political side-switching. Rosendale had reportedly switched opinions on public land ownership between his 2014 House of Representatives campaign and the 2018 Senate election. Despite his change in stance, the self-described “Trump Conservative” failed to win over the undecided voters in Montana. Instead, Tester, who touts an 86% lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters, won the Senate seat in a big win for conservationists all throughout the Western United States.
Other pro-conservation Democrats won major races in New Mexico with Senator Martin Heinrich defeating Republican candidate Mark Rich, who supported federal rollbacks of public land protections. Wins in Nevada, where President Trump criticized his predecessor’s protection of the Golden Butte National Monument, and even South Carolina propelled environmentally-focused Democrats to a stronger position in the political sphere.
Florida took a major step towards water protection by approving a state constitutional amendment to fully ban all offshore oil drilling exploration and extraction in state-protected waters. Offshore oil has become a very contentious topic in Washington as of late mainly due to the Trump administration’s announced plans to expand offshore oil drilling on the Pacific, Gulf, and Atlantic coasts. However, with over 68% of the vote, Floridians took a stand against offshore oil that many coastal states might find themselves replicating in the coming years.
Despite Florida’s new amendment, many Southern states are still falling far behind Northern and Western states in the conservation movement. Much of this is due to long-standing political institutions in the South as well as industry in states such as Georgia. The Peach State, for example, is liable for CO2 emissions higher than most countries and is the most coal-dependent state in the nation. Also home to two of the three dirtiest fossil-fuel electric plants in America, Georgia is an example of a Southern state that has fallen far behind the conservation efforts of Western states and even some of its neighbors like North Carolina.
Regardless of the stragglers, the midterms proved to be a huge win for the environmental conservation movement. As the Trump administration closes in on two years, it is clear that progress is being made on the congressional side of affairs regarding conservation. Further, there is plenty of reason to expect the environment to be a major topic of debate come 2020.