The new Republican majorities in the 114th Congress are mostly — 56 percent — on the record denying the reality of climate change. And barely two weeks into its tenure, the 114th is on a roll, with the new Senate Environment Committee Chair going on a rant about climate change being a hoax the first day he got his gavel, and a series of odd amendment votes on a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline revealing that the Senate itself may be a hoax.
What about the leaders of each of the 50 states, unburdened by congressional backbiting, national lobbying, or being whipped by party leaders? Working closer to the various impacts of climate change, do governors fare any better on either acknowledging humans cause climate change or working to do something about it?
According to new data from the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the 2014 midterm elections resulted in eleven new governors, two of whom are confirmed climate deniers: Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) and Governor Pete Ricketts (R-NE). Three accept the reality of mainstream climate science, namely Democrats in Hawaii, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. The rest sit somewhere in between, either with mixed records or insufficient public statements about climate change.
Nationwide, 16 governors explicitly reject the reality of mainstream climate science, up from 15 before the elections. The number that have been hostile to the idea of cutting carbon emissions and have not said explicitly whether they deny mainstream climate science decreased by one, from ten to nine. There is one fewer in the group who accepts the science to a degree but have mixed records when it comes to acting on that knowledge — earning them an orange “mixed” label. The number of governors with strong climate and clean energy records and who accept the science dropped by one, from 13 to 12.
Many governors are openly hostile to mainstream climate science and the idea of cutting wasteful carbon pollution. Maine Governor Paul LePage won re-election despite being one of the nation’s most outspoken climate deniers, targeting anti-pollution, clean energy and efficiency programs, and arguing that Maine could benefit from any effects on climate change even as its shrimping fishery collapsed in part due to higher water temperatures. Texas Governor Greg Abbott questioned the basic science of climate change, concluding that the issue needed further investigation. Mike Pence, the newly-reelected governor of Indiana, said that “we haven’t seen a lot of warming lately,” and “I remember back in the 70’s we were talking about the coming ice age.” NASA and NOAA just reported that last year was the hottest ever recorded, and 14 of the 15 hottest years on record happened in the last 15 years. Pence allowed a bill to become law that gutted his state’s uncontroversial energy efficiency program.
Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, helped pioneer what became a common tactic for conservative politicians to allow them to dodge questions about climate change: inform their interrogators that they are not scientists and therefore, it seems, unable to answer simple questions. Jindal said he can’t be expected to know about climate change because he is “not a scientist.” Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval dodged the question on the cause of global warming, saying he was “not qualified to answer that question.” Florida, at ground zero for sea level rise, re-elected Governor Rick Scott, who not only tried the “I’m not a scientist” line, but met with climate scientists after initially refusing to do so. They had a few minutes to share the broad scientific consensus on climate change, but it appears not to have swayed him.
Many governors simply haven’t answered questions about climate change publicly, and so curious constituents will have to wait until their governor shares his or her thoughts on climate change or begins to wield regulatory power over the state’s energy and pollution priorities.
Maryland’s newly-inaugurated Republican Governor Larry Hogan, who defeated former Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, is a bit of an enigma on climate change. He has vacillated back and forth on how much people have to do with climate change, saying in June of 2014 that “there’s no question that the climate is changing, and I do think that man…does have something to do with the problem.” He does doubt that Maryland can do much about the problem if it wanted to, and made that clear with his first move in office. He stopped final publication of rules that would have protected Marylanders from air pollution caused by coal-fired power plants that were due to be made official on Friday. The Secretary of the Environment had already signed off on the regulations but Hogan moved to stop them, despite the strong support the rules earned from health experts and the owners of the Raven Power plant.
Governor David Ige (D-HI) has taken action on climate adaptation in the legislature and has also said he will move for the Department of Health to create rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Newly-elected Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf believes in clean energy investment and said he wants to “remove the politics from the discussion about climate change and global warming.” Then-candidate Wolf also promised to try and move the state into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
The newly-elected governors on this list each have opportunities to listen to the consensus of the world’s top scientists that climate change is happening, humans are causing it, and it’s both critical and possible to cut emissions. If more new governors speak up and tell their constituents that they accept the reality of mainstream climate science and lead their states toward a commitment to efficient, clean, renewable power, the ranks of the “green” governors should grow. If, on the other hand, more governors who voiced skepticism about plans to cut carbon pollution take their rhetoric to outright climate denial, the numbers of the red striped climate denier governors will expand.
Tiffany Germain is Research Manager for CAP Action.