Election 2010: What it Means for New England’s Environment

Seth Kaplan

The following is a special edition of CLF’s e-News.  To receive this kind of carefully screened (no spam here!)  information and to support CLF join today.

We at CLF watched last Tuesday’s elections with great interest, and in some cases, trepidation. Our ability to be effective in our work is greatly enhanced when there is real leadership on environmental issues at the state level, especially when federal leadership is lacking. With some exceptions, New Englanders chose with their votes to continue the environmental progress we are making in our region. Now that the dust has settled, we are pleased to bring you this special post-election edition of our e-news. Below, you will find a state-by-state forecast of how the election results are likely to help or hinder our and others’ efforts to address the most pressing environmental challenges affecting our region, namely reducing our carbon emissions from energy and transportation, planning for and mitigating the impacts of climate change, supporting clean energy development that creates good, local jobs, and protecting our natural resources – all in the interest of a healthy, thriving New England for everyone.

An overarching challenge that every governor and legislature will face is how to strike a balance between budget pressures and appropriately staffing and supporting environmental protection agencies. Maintaining a balanced budget can lead a state government into making “penny wise and pound foolish decisions,” like underfunding stormwater and sewage infrastructure projects needed to meet federal mandates and protect public health. In a closely related vein, building up jobs and the economy will mean that environmental permitting must be fair and timely; underfunded agencies without adequate staffing and resources will not be able to meet that goal.

Maine

The election of Paul LePage, a Republican who, for the first time in four decades, will be a governor of that party with majorities from his own party in both the Maine House and Senate, is potentially a shift of deep significance. On the campaign trail, Governor-elect LePage questioned the fact of climate change, indicated support for offshore oil and gas exploration and new nuclear power plants, stated that wind power was still too unreliable to focus much attention on and suggested folding the Departments of Environmental Protection, Marine Resources, Conservation and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife into the Department of Agriculture.

Currently the mayor of Waterville and general manager of Marden’s, a discount department store, LePage has indicated that his primary focus will be on making it easier to do business in Maine. His generally moderate record in Waterville and the long tradition of bi-partisan consensus around environmental issues in Maine provide some suggestion that forces may be at work that will temper negative campaign rhetoric. But it will be a challenge to advance a science-based agenda in Maine that looks to energy efficiency and clean renewable resources as the building blocks of both environmental protection and economic development.

Maine voters returned its two members to the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Chellie Pingree and Rep. Mike Michaud. Both have solid records as leaders on environmental issues.

For more on Maine’s election results, read CLF Maine Director Sean Mahoney’s blog post on CLF Scoop.

Massachusetts

Governor Deval Patrick’s re-election on a platform of clean energy and economic development was a hopeful sign for Massachusetts, with potential for positive reverberations beyond the Commonwealth. The Patrick campaign bucked conventional wisdom by emphasizing the need to make longer term investments, like building Cape Wind and putting in place long-term contracts that use such projects to provide electricity at a stable and predictable price.

The continued efforts to implement legislation enacted over the last two years – including the Massachusetts Green Communities Act, the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act and the Massachusetts Oceans Act – will provide ample opportunities to press forward with that affirmative agenda of building a clean energy economy.

On the federal front, it is notable that the only newly elected member of Congress from Massachusetts (filling a seat to be vacated by retiring Rep. Delahunt), U.S. Representative-elect Bill Keating from the 10th Congressional District, is a supporter of Cape Wind and received a state-wide award as “Environmental Legislator of the Year” when he was in the Massachusetts State Legislature, primarily for his water pollution work.

New Hampshire

The election resulted in a massive shift in the political landscape in New Hampshire. Prior to Tuesday, Democrats controlled both houses of the Legislature and the Executive Council under a Democratic governor. With the exception of Governor Lynch, who retained his office, Republicans swept other areas of the government. In the New Hampshire House and Senate, Republicans not only became the majority, but also achieved veto-proof majorities. In the Executive Council, which confirms nominations to offices in the executive branch and which approves government contracts, a Democratic majority not only was erased, but all five Council members are now Republican.

While it is important not to automatically assume that Republicans will oppose all effective and affirmative action on the environment, it is fair to note that New Hampshire’s Republican party adopted a platform that espouses positions that represent a retreat from state and regional efforts to tackle climate change. Whether there will be a serious attempt to translate these positions into policy remains to be seen.

On the federal level, Kelly Ayotte (R) won the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Judd Gregg. She defeated Democrat Paul Hodes, who vacated the Congressional District 1 seat to run for Senate. While in Congress, Hodes had been a strong ally on a variety of environmental issues. Republican Frank Giunta defeated incumbent Democrat Carol Shea Porter, also a strong ally on environmental issues, for the Congressional District 2 seat. Charlie Bass (R) won New Hampshire’s second Congressional seat (District 1), defeating Democratic candidate Anne McLane Kuster. Rep. Bass has shown leadership around key environmental issues before in Congress, including re-establishing passenger rail in New Hampshire, and has the potential to become an ally on future initiatives, including advancing renewable energy in the state.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island elected Independent Lincoln Chafee as governor. Among the three candidates running for governor, Lincoln Chafee was widely viewed as the candidate who was most likely to understand environmental issues and advance a pro-environmental agenda. Chafee advanced environmental issues as a U.S. senator and as the “new urbanist” mayor of Warwick, RI, where he championed a rail-based vision for development around T.F. Green Airport that is now coming to fruition.

David Cicilline, most recently mayor of Providence, was elected to replace Congressman Patrick Kennedy in the 1st Congressional District. Cicilline’s strong record on environmentally sound urban development and energy efficiency as mayor of Providence suggests he will be an important voice in Congress. His successor as mayor of Providence, Angel Tavares, is widely expected to provide leadership in that key city that will build on the renaissance of the last decade.

Vermont

Vermont elected Democrat Peter Shumlin to serve as the state’s next governor. For many years, Governor-elect Shumlin served as President pro tempore of the Vermont Senate. As the leader of the State Senate’s majority over the past several years, Mr. Shumlin has led initiatives to address climate change, electric energy efficiency, renewable energy development, and to protect the state’s air, water and forests. However, the Shumlin administration has its work cut out for it to adopt strong environmental and energy policies in the face of record budget deficits.

Vermonters elected Republican Phil Scott, also a former state senator, to serve as the state’s lieutenant governor. While this post holds primarily ministerial responsibilities, Mr. Scott’s views on important environmental issues remain to be seen.

At the federal level, Vermonters voted to send Democrats Congressman Peter Welch and U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy back to Washington for another term. Both members of Congress are considered to be pro-environmental and in favor of progressive energy policies, with Rep. Welch serving as a leader in the House on energy efficiency. Senator Leahy has now become Vermont’s longest serving senator and will play a key role in the leadership in Congress.

Lastly, Democrats gained unprecedented majorities in both houses of the Vermont State House, giving Governor-elect Shumlin the opportunity to work with friendly faces on crafting a legislative agenda.

Connecticut

The election of Democrat Dan Malloy, who won by a slim margin, is a cause for great hope and optimism in climate and energy circles. During the campaign, Malloy, the former mayor of the City of Stamford, articulated progressive and powerful ideas about the importance of confronting global warming, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building up both clean energy and broad transportation choices that build walkable and livable communities and presided over an exciting, sophisticated and innovative “microgrid” project.

The federal scene in Connecticut, including the election of Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to the Senate, was characterized by preservation of a powerful delegation who will provide a strong voice in Congress for sensible energy policy and for investment in urban neighborhoods, a voice that will be critically needed given the larger makeup of the new Congress.


Leave a Reply

About the CLF Blog

The views and opinions expressed on this blog do not necessarily represent the opinions or positions of Conservation Law Foundation, our boards, or our supporters.