(d)eregulation nation: what a House Democratic majority means for the environment

“It’ll be nice to have sane people running that committee instead of an ideological lunatic who should have retired from Congress a decade ago.”

Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking environmental news in the Trump era. Each issue features updates on Trump administration rollbacks of conservation, environmental, and public health protections, as well as news from across the political spectrum about what’s going right and who’s fighting back.

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What do Tuesday’s elections mean for the environment? This much is likely, according to D.C. politics and policy pros: When Democrats become the majority party in the House next year, the Trump administration will have to start answering earnest questions about its rollbacks of pollution rules, public land protections, climate change programs, and more.

“This Republican Congress has been happy as it could be to look the other way as Trump dismantled 40 years of environmental protection,” said Brett Hartl, the government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “With the House in Democratic control, there will finally be some legitimate oversight of the terrible things the president has done, in the environmental realm and everywhere,”

House committees can’t block agency rule changes. But their oversight inquiries may slow the pace of deregulation, he said. “You can bog an agency down with oversight requests, demands that they testify, subpoenas, to the extent that they can’t get rules done because they have to devote large numbers of staff to dealing with them.”

Democrats could also take aim at Trump’s environmental policies by directing federal dollars away from administration priorities, such as oil and gas extraction, and towards land and species protections.

“Between what the House will demand and what the Senate requires to get the necessary votes to advance a [budget] bill,” said Sarah Greenberger, senior vice president for conservation at the Audubon Society, “there may be some much better opportunities to advance priorities” on conservation of biodiversity.

Bill Snape, an environmental law professor at American University, agrees that the budget process offers potential to counterbalance some Trump policy drives, notably the administration’s dismissal of climate change. “The fact that the House is now controlled by the Democrats means that climate change becomes a legitimate issue again during the appropriations process,” added Snape, “where they’re going to put money for NASA or NOAA and the other agencies.”

While climate legislation is a non-starter, Snape says, he thinks the House and Senate could cooperate at the intersection of the environment with infrastructure. “If we’re really going to go to a renewable energy system, [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] is going to need some guidance. The idea of getting our grid modernized and ready for renewables, how states and federal governments manage that? That’s all FERC,” he said.

“If the Democrats decide to legislate on that,” he added, “I think even Republicans would be interested.”

Onward with some highlights from the November 6 elections:

bad: Washington State voters nixed a statewide carbon fee by 56 percent

  • The ballot measure, I-1631, would have been the first in the nation to put a price on climate-heating carbon pollution.

  • Big Oil underwrote most of the $31 million (more than twice the money that fee advocates raised) campaign against the measure.

  • But the spokesperson for the “No on 1631” campaign didn’t mention the industry’s interests to a reporter when she described the measure’s defeat as “a clear victory for working families, consumers, small businesses and family farmers across our state.”

  • Washington State voters rejected a somewhat similar measure in 2016.

  • Read more about the measure’s defeat in The Seattle Times

Related: “People will never vote for a carbon tax, so let’s stop asking,” suggests James Temple in the MIT Technology Review.

better: statehouse candidates who campaigned on climate won on Tuesday

  • On Tuesday, Democratic candidates who campaigned on grappling with climate change flipped seven statehouses away from Republican control.

  • Republican governors, as a group, are not uniformly opposed to good climate policies.

  • Still, the current Republican governors of Maine, Nevada, and New Mexico have all vetoed clean energy legislation since Trump took office.

  • Now each will be handing their seat over to a Democrat.

  • Read more in this Vox explainer.

  • “Maine’s governor-elect vows to expand Medicaid, address climate change,” reports Maine Public Media.

  • Nevada Current reports on the blue wave that washed over the state on Tuesday, which featured the election of the state’s first Democratic governor in over two decades, Steve Sisolak.

  • New Mexico governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham will face a climate policy challenge as soon as she takes office, reports the Santa Fe New Mexican: her state’s growing dependence on oil and gas revenues.

good: Nevadans voted for more renewable energy

  • Question 6 was approved by 60 percent of voters.

  • The measure amends the state constitution to mandate that utilities purchase at least 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources.

  • The mandate takes effect in 2022, and must be met no later than 2030.

  • Read more in High Country News.

also good: Voters in 20 states approved dozens of ballot measures to pump a collective $7.2 billion into environmental conservation, parks, water quality, and “working farms and ranches,” according to the Trust for Public Land.

great: more than 111 women have been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

  • Okay, it’s not environmental news.

  • But next to the election of a Democratic House majority to impose some checks and balances to the Trump administration, this is the greatest national news to come out of the midterms.

  • Both happened despite Republican gerrymanders and voter suppression, which have given them an undemocratic advantage in many states.

  • Milestones within the milestone:

    • Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, of New Mexico and Sharice Davids, Ho Chunk, of Kansas, will be the first Native American women in Congress. Read more about them at Indian Country Today.

    • Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota are the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Read more about them at CNBC.

    • 29-year-old Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez of New York becomes the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, and Ayanna Presley is the first woman of color to represent Massachusetts on Capitol Hill. Read more about them, and other trailblazers in Tuesday’s elections, in The New York Daily News.


Thanks for reading (de)regulation nation, a production of Brooklyn Radio Telegraph LLC.

This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m an environmental journalist. Learn more about me and see some of my work at my web site.

If you’ve received (de)regulation nation from a friend, please subscribe.

This week’s quote comes from Brett Hartl of the Center for Biological Diversity, in reference to Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the current chair of the House Natural Resources Committee.

  • Bishop recently accused the U.S. environmental group NRDC of being an unregistered foreign agent and co-launched an investigation of the group, possibly in retaliation for NRDC’s suits against the Trump administration.

  • Bishop was re-elected on Nov. 6.

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