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Climate a major separator in election year

RALEIGH, N.C. — The race for the White House isn’t the only one with big stakes for climate policy. In campaigns for Congress and for governor around the country, candidates are talking about how green the grid should be, too.

Voters are increasingly feeling the impacts of climate change after last summer’s extreme weather. In the debate over how to respond to a warming world, Republicans are promoting an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy.

They justify keeping fossil fuels in the mix for economic benefits and for energy security, reliability and independence. Former President Donald Trump has indicated he’ll try to roll back President Joe Biden’s clean energy investments and expand drilling if he returns to office.

Led by Biden, Democrats are talking about the climate crisis as an existential threat. Many want to pivot to wind, solar and renewable resources and phase out fossil fuels that feed warming. Some Democrats in oil- and gas-producing districts are walking a tightrope as their party moves away from fossil fuels but their communities depend on the industry.

The U.S. added clean power resources, energy storage, electric vehicles and emerging technologies like hydrogen and carbon capture and storage at record-breaking levels last year, according to BloombergNEF and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

The transition to clean energy is unstoppable, but could be greatly slowed by unwilling politicians, said Shannon Baker-Branstetter, senior director for domestic climate and energy policy at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress.

“It’s really the pace that is at stake now,” they said.

The U.S. is the second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide after China. The United Nations has said that countries must slash their emissions by the end of the decade for any hope of limiting warming to the 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times adopted by the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Biden wants to cut U.S. emissions by about half, compared to 2005 levels, by 2030.

State action is essential to that, Baker-Branstetter said.

In North Carolina, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has worked in a bipartisan way to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s power plants, and helped attract investments from the electric vehicle industry. With Cooper term-limited, Attorney General Josh Stein seeks to keep the seat in Democrats’ hands by following Cooper’s lead.

Stein wants the state to embrace the transition to clean energy to cut emissions and create jobs. He also wants the major utility to retire coal power plants sooner than planned and invest more in renewable energy.

Republican Mark Robinson, the lieutenant governor, wants to keep developing fossil fuels.

Robinson thinks President Joe Biden’s push to abolish fossil fuels is a failure, he blames Democrats for “crippling utility bills” and he supports nuclear power as clean energy, his campaign said. Robinson told a church audience in 2023 the climate changes due to the seasons and climate science is based on “pseudoscience, junk science.” Trump has endorsed Robinson.

Democrats and Republicans are competing hard for another open governorship in Washington state.

Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, isn’t seeking a fourth term after making climate action the centerpiece of his tenure and his 2020 presidential run. As in North Carolina, a Democratic attorney general — Bob Ferguson — is promising to do more of the same, and grow the economy while doing it.

Ferguson said he aims to make Washington a global leader in clean, renewable energy and manufacturing.

Republican Dave Reichert, a former congressman running for governor, also said Washington should be a leader, but not at the expense of hardworking families who can’t afford gasoline prices. The state’s 1-year-old Climate Commitment Act puts a price on carbon emissions and increases the gas tax. Conservatives are trying to repeal that legislation this November.

“This should never be an either-or conversation,” Reichert said in a statement. “Let’s work together to look at every reasonable option without compromising the future we should all endeavor to protect.”

In fossil-fuel friendly Montana, Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke is seeking a second term by promoting an all-of-the-above energy policy that includes fossil fuels and renewable resources, such as wind power. As Trump’s Interior secretary, Zinke worked both to expand oil and gas production, and lease major areas for offshore wind.

Montana has some of the largest coal reserves in the world, but most of it is in the conservative eastern half of the state. Zinke’s seat is in the western half, home to large capacities of hydropower and more liberal voters. He narrowly defeated Democrat Monica Tranel two years ago. In their likely rematch, Zinke calls Tranel a “radical environmental zealot” who vowed to shut down fossil fuel production.

Tranel, a longtime clean energy advocate and environmental attorney from Missoula, said Zinke is “doubling down” on a resource from last century and it’s time to “embrace the future.” The seat is one of several targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee is spending against Democrats in oil and gas-producing districts who didn’t support a sprawling energy package by House Republicans. That legislation would undo virtually all of Biden’s agenda to address climate change, sharply increase domestic fossil fuel production, and ease permitting restrictions that delay pipelines and refineries.

The NRCC targets include New Mexico Rep. Gabe Vasquez, who represents a sprawling district from Albuquerque to the Mexico border that cuts across a major oil production zone known as the Permian Basin. The Democrat said he’s working to support oil and gas workers with legislation to prioritize their health care, and believes it’s his duty to balance responsible fossil fuel development with protecting the environment.

Another NRCC target, Alaska Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola, said the nation needs a real plan for ensuring affordable energy and she’ll work to expand and diversify domestic energy production. A major oil project known as Willow has been one of her top priorities, she said, because of its importance to the state’s future.

Alaska’s Republican lieutenant governor, Nancy Dahlstrom, is seeking to challenge Peltola for the state’s lone U.S. House seat. Dahlstrom said she would “unleash Alaskan energy,” and always support oil and gas projects because energy independence is linked to national security.


McDermott reported from Providence, Rhode Island. AP writers Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana and Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico contributed to this report.
Source: The Garden Island

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