Climate advocates win key governors races as Democrats defy 'red wave' in midterm elections

Key Points
  • Climate advocates won key governor's races across the country on Tuesday, even as control of Congress remains up in the air.
  • Environmental groups say the major victory of the midterm elections is among Democrats who made aggressive climate commitments as part of their gubernatorial campaigns.
  • “With the prospect of a possible divided Congress next year ... states are going to be a central battleground in the fight against climate change,” said Justin Balik, state program director of Evergreen Action.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) speaks to reporters at a press conference on November 09, 2022 in East Lansing, Michigan.
Brandon Bell | Getty Images

Democrats defied expectations in the midterm elections, dashing Republicans' hopes for a "red wave" that would have given the GOP a significant majority in Congress and potentially undermined President Joe Biden's sweeping climate agenda.

But while control of both chambers of Congress is still up in the air on Thursday afternoon, environmental groups are cheering the fact that gubernatorial candidates who made aggressive climate commitments won several races.

This year, state laws could have the greatest implications for climate action since state officials can accelerate their own climate agendas even in a divided Congress, advocates say. State officials will be in charge of funneling billions of dollars from Congress — the majority from Biden's historic Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) — into emissions reduction plans across the country.

"With the prospect of a possible divided Congress next year, and after the enactment of the historic climate investments in the [IRA], states are going to be a central battleground in the fight against climate change," said Justin Balik, state program director of Evergreen Action, a climate advocacy group.

In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has stressed investments in electric vehicle and battery manufacturing and has strongly opposed the Line 5 oil pipeline, won a second term in the critical swing state that's become the heart of the U.S. auto industry, NBC News projects.

In Massachusetts, Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey is the projected winner, according to NBC News. Healey rolled out an aggressive plan that calls for achieving 100% clean electricity in the state by 2030 — five years ahead of the president's national target.

Democrat Gubernatorial nominee Maura Healey (R) visits Meridian Street Market as she campaigns on the eve of the US midterm elections, in Boston, Massachusetts, on November 7, 2022.
Joseph Prezioso | AFP | Getty Images

Climate action could also move forward in Maryland and Minnesota after environmental victories in those two gubernatorial races.

In Maryland, author and non-profit leader Wes Moore is the projected winner, according to NBC News. Moore has called on the state legislature to require Maryland to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2035 and has vowed to make environmental justice a priority in budgeting decisions.

In Minnesota, Democrat Tim Walz won re-election in the governor's race, NBC News projects. Walz in September rolled out a plan that calls on the state to slash emissions from cars, trucks and other transit by 80% by 2040 and ensures that 20% of Minnesota's cars are electric by 2030.

Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said that while the outcome of the midterm elections is still in limbo, "climate action allowed candidates to show that Congress can make progress on important issues."

"From New Hampshire to Michigan to Colorado, voters showed up for climate champions, returning many of them to office after passage of the most transformative climate measure in U.S. history," Krupp said in a statement.

Kevin Curtis, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, said that state level election results "are clearly a boost for meaningful climate action at the state level, especially in some places where progress has been difficult."

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry speaks at the opening of the US Pavilion during the COP27 climate conference at the Sharm el-Sheikh International Convention Centre, in Egypt's Red Sea resort city of the same name, on November 8, 2022.
Ahmad Gharabli | AFP | Getty Images

The climate victories in gubernatorial races have notable implications for national and local climate policies, advocates say, especially with respect to deploying funding from Biden's climate legislation.

"With the costs of clean energy decreasing rapidly, states also have both the authority and the responsibility to set the aggressive next generation standards to reduce emissions in the most polluting sectors of our economy," Balik said.

Still, climate groups are concerned for provisions within the climate bill if Republicans do seize control of one or both chambers of Congress. The $375 billion spending package, which is projected to reduce the country's carbon emissions by roughly 40% by 2030, was approved without a single Republican vote.

Biden climate officials have argued that the majority of the president's legislation was developed in a way that will make it difficult for future Republican Congresses or administrations to repeal. Additionally, if Republicans win control of Congress, they will not have a veto-proof majority.

"Most of what we're doing cannot be changed by anyone else who comes to Washington because most of what we do is in the private sector," John Kerry, Biden's climate envoy, reportedly said this week at the UN COP27 climate summit in Egypt. "The marketplace has made its decision to do what we need to do."

Biden, who will attend the summit on Friday, said he is eager to work with congressional Republicans after the midterm elections but emphasized he would not compromise his climate agenda.

"I'm not going to walk away from the historic commitments we just made to take on the climate crisis," the president said on Wednesday. "They're not compromise-able issues to me and I won't let it happen."

— The Associated Press contributed reporting

Biden on midterms: The 'red wave' didn't happen
Biden on midterms: The 'red wave' didn't happen