Which representatives of American states have the best records on climate policy? – Quartz
While U.S. presidents have set the tone for U.S. action on climate change policy, much of the action is happening in states. What are these politicians doing to help – or hinder – climate policy?
The average American doesn’t pay much attention to it. Less than 20% of US citizens can name their state’s legislators, while a third do not know their governor, according to a study from Johns Hopkins University. But senators and state representatives are often the ones who make decisions about land use, extractive industries, energy efficiency and more, with the most immediate impact on the quality of life of voters.
This disconnection is the target of the political advocacy organization Action by the Climate Cabinet. “The American public is embracing climate action and clean energy,” says Caroline Spears, executive director of Climate Cabinet Action. “But there is this disconnect between how state lawmakers vote and how the people they represent actually feel.”
To highlight this, Climate Cabinet Action has undertaken to analyze the votes of state politicians on climate policy over the past six years. It has assessed more than 3,300 state lawmakers in 25 states representing more than 50% of the US population on everything from renewable energy sources to rules for pipeline protests. He then rated state politicians between 0 and 100 based on their climate action.
Armed with voting records from its representatives, the organization is hoping that local advocacy groups and voters concerned about climate change can use this information (now available in one place for the first time) to hold elected officials accountable in communities. ballot boxes. “This tool shows who in each state is driving climate change policies and who makes those policies impossible,” says Spears.
How state politicians measure up to climate action
For anyone who knows a bit about politics today, this report confirmed that partisanship dictates policy. Climate Cabinet Action found that Democratic lawmakers were much more likely to support climate action, while Republicans were more likely to oppose it. The gap in scores between Democrats and Republicans was glaring: Democrats’ average score was 91, the average Republican was 27.
At the extremes, 335 Republican lawmakers received a score of zero, while 699 politicians received a score of 100, almost all Democrats except two Republicans and three independents. Among the states in the study, Connecticut had the most climate-friendly lawmakers (85% of its lawmakers scored 75 or higher), while West Virginia had the least (just 11% with a score equal to or greater than 75).
Spears pointed out that this tool assesses the decisions of lawmakers on bills submitted to them, but that no two policy proposals are identical – the level of ambition of pro-climate policy can vary from d ‘state to state. Getting a perfect score on the index does not guarantee that an individual legislator is a climate champion. “[A person’s] the score is limited by the strength of the votes that arrive at the table, ”says Spears. “Truly, no state is doing enough on this issue right now, but what we can do is contextualize and point to ways in which states can learn from each other and improve. “
Polarization leads to paralysis
The main predictor of the adoption of a climate policy was which party controlled the government. Rapid climate action was more likely to occur when one party controlled the entire state government, as is the case in Virginia. There, lawmakers passed a law setting the state’s first clean energy standard, created an electric vehicle program, and joined a regional initiative to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, all at the same time. within a year, after the Democrats took control of both sides of the legislature. as governor in the 2019 elections.
In contrast, ambitious climate policy stagnated in highly polarized state legislatures where power was shared. In the Minnesota legislature, where most Democrats scored between 90 and 100 on the scholar scale and Republicans between 0 and 20, few climate bills were passed. This year’s legislative session saw the introduction of two amendments to the bill focused on the climate and party failure in the State Senate (one to reduce carbon emissions from electric utilities and a another for environmental justice efforts for disenfranchised communities). The only climate legislation that pass was a bill on energy savings, after three years of negotiations and debate.
On some occasions, the bipartisan consensus has resulted in substantial changes. In South Carolina, lawmakers’ climate vote results were less torn by party loyalty. Politicians in Palmetto State received an average score of 73 (few scored below 50). The State House temporarily banned offshore drilling in 2019 (the measure was later expanded), and the State adopted the Energy Freedom Law, which paved the way for more widespread adoption of solar power, including community solar options.
But Spears argues that it was a unique set of circumstances, rather than a partisan realignment, that got South Carolina politicians to agree on climate efforts. The ban on offshore drilling has been supported by lawmakers statewide keen to protect the state’s beaches and the tourist industry. South Carolina, which does not have a local oil and gas industry, also had fewer lobbyists influencing lawmakers.
Test if transparency leads to accountability
The next test will be whether knowledge of elected officials’ voting records puts pressure on the ballot boxes. Voters concerned about climate change will now have clear data on who votes for their priorities.
So far, many people concerned about climate change do not participate in local political work like campaigns and phone banking because they fail to see how important state elected officials are to adopting a policy. climate change, explains Eliza Nemser, co-founder of Climate change actors, an advocacy group.
Nemser sees a tool like this as a way to help voters overcome partisanship deeply rooted in US politics by clarifying which political record – not campaign promises or stumped speeches – is aligned with their own priorities. . And American voters agree more among themselves on climate change than their representatives. During the last vote63% of Americans were concerned about climate change, and more than half wanted government officials to do more to act.
“It’s possible to do all of this political work through a climate lens instead of a partisan lens,” says Nemser. “With every general election that boils down to two candidates, you’ll have a choice between a more impressive climate champion and someone who isn’t. There is often a very clear candidate to advocate for, and you may be blind to party affiliation.