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Wildfires, Floods and Hurricanes: What your Senate vote can mean for climate change

Here’s a guide to the closest five races.

The midterms are now just under two weeks away. For months, analysts have forecasted that Republicans will retake the majority in the House while control of the Senate remains a toss-up.

Although voters are mobilizing around staple issues like abortion, voting rights, marriage equality, the economy and the future of democracy, a recent Washington Post poll shows that half of all registered voters consider climate change one of the most critical issues in the upcoming midterms.

And it’s not hard to see why.

The humanitarian crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, added to a summer of extreme weather events throughout the country. Historic flooding in eastern Kentucky during July and August killed a dozen people. Record flooding and mudslides forced the June closure of Yellowstone National Park, which spans three states, after roads and bridges were washed out. A severe heat wave in the Pacific Northwest caused at least four deaths. Then, of course, Florida was devastated by a category four hurricane, which some analysts claim was made worse by our warming climate.

Over the last two months, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest investment into fighting climate change in U.S. history. It added to other environment-friendly policies from the Biden White House.

But where do candidates in some of the closest midterms races stand on the environment and climate change? Here’s a quick Senate guide to help make up your mind.

Georgia

Raphael Warnock (D):

The incumbent senator has an excellent record on the environment, voting 100% of the time for pro-environment issues, according to the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), a non-partisan environmental pressure group based in Washington D.C. Warnock’s environmental credentials stretch back to his time as a pastor at his Atlanta church, where he encouraged congregants to become involved in environmental projects.

“Climate change is a civil and human rights issue,” Warnock told the LCV. “As a Senator, I will advocate for transformative environmental policies that benefit and include all communities—especially those that are disproportionately affected by climate change.”

Herschel Walker (R)

The former NFL running back has gained widespread attention throughout his Senate campaign. He has had little to say about climate change or energy policy. But after the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act in August, he said: “They continue to try to fool you that they are helping you out. But they’re not,” he said. “Because a lot of money, it’s going to trees. Don’t we have enough trees around here?”

While those comments appeared to be sarcastic at the time, more can be gleaned from some of his earlier comments.

During his primary victory speech in May, Walker said that the “radical left came in with a bunch of lies to divide us,” including “windmills made airplanes fly, tanks can run on solar, drilling for oil in America cause global warming but drilling for oil from dictators does not.”

Walker also took aim at the Green New Deal, an environmentally-friendly take on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal from the 1930s. The plan would spend trillions of dollars transforming the U.S. economy to use carbon-free energy and provide living wage jobs.

“We, in America, have some of the cleanest air and cleanest water of anybody in the world,” Walker said. “So what we do, we gonna put, from the Green New Deal, millions or billions of dollars cleaning our good air up. So all of a sudden, China and India ain’t putting nothing in there, cleaning that situation up. Since we don’t control the air, our good air decided to float over to China’s bad air so when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move. So it moves over to our good air space. Then now we got to clean that back up.”

Pennsylvania

John Fetterman (D)

Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor has nuanced views on climate change. He was an ardent supporter of placing a cap on carbon and bringing green energy jobs to his home state, which he hoped would help replace some blue-collar jobs lost during the closures of steel mills in the region. He even supported a moratorium on fracking during his 2016 run for the U.S. Senate.

While he still supports addressing climate change, he has dropped his support of a fracking moratorium. Fracking is considered a controversial practice, where gas is extracted from bedrock by injecting highly pressured water, sand and chemicals into the ground. The technique can cause minor tremors and is broadly seen by environmentalists as a distraction from pursuing green alternatives. Fetterman claims that the country’s current energy needs now precede environmental concerns.

“I support fracking,” Fetterman told NBC News last week. “I supported the energy security we should have in the United States.”

Mehmet Oz (R)

The celebrity doctor supported fracking in his recent debate with his Democratic rival. However, he had previously written in medical columns about the dangers of fracking to human health and called for more regulation. He has also made several comments in the past, including pushing climate-denier talking points. When questioned about the columns in a debate, he denied making the comments.

In March, Oz said that the idea “that carbon is bad” is “a lie.” He added: “Carbon dioxide, my friends, is 0.04% of our air. That’s not the problem.”

Climate scientists have said that while carbon dioxide is an essential gas for life to thrive, too much causes the climate to heat up, which can disrupt weather patterns and the usual balance of nature. He also has advocated for Biden’s administration to reopen federal lands for oil and gas drilling.

Nevada

Catherine Masto (D)

The former attorney general of Nevada has a near-perfect record on pro-environment policy, according to the LCV. During her tenure from 2007 to 2015, she has fought corporate polluters in court and secured a $1 billion settlement from Anadarko Petroleum Corporation for polluting Lake Mead. The senator has also introduced a slew of climate-friendly bills in the Senate.

“I’m proud to introduce this package of green bills to help Nevada and the nation reduce pollution, slow the climate crisis, and foster good-paying green jobs,” she told LCV. “By promoting electric vehicles and the infrastructure that comprehensively supports them, we can have a huge impact on the health of our communities and our planet. I’ll continue to work in the Senate to support Nevada’s clean-energy economy, protect our children’s health, and safeguard the planet’s future.”

Adam Laxalt (R)

Laxalt replaced Masto as Nevada’s attorney general in 2019 and now wants to take her Senate seat. He has not emphasized climate policy in his campaign but has claimed that renewable energy would never be enough to power the nation. “It’ll never get the job done,” he said in a January interview.

“As we know, the sun can stop shining, the wind can stop blowing, and these things take energy just to be able to use, to set them up in the first place,” Laxalt said in the interview.

In 2016, Laxalt co-signed a letter from state attorney generals claiming that there was “reasonable suspicion” to reject claims that climate change was real.

Arizona

Mark Kelly (D)

Former astronaut Mark Kelly was involved in shaping parts of the recent Inflation Reduction Act, including a plan to tackle drought in the west.

“I have seen the planet change from space, and wanting to stop that and protect our state and our planet is part of what inspired me to run,” Kelly said to the LCV As an engineer and astronaut, I care deeply about climate change and its impact on our country and the planet.”

Blake Masters (R)

The former Chief Operating Officer of billionaire and political activist Peter Thiel’s investment firm, Masters, has repeatedly questioned climate change science while heavily criticizing U.S. House member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal plan.

In a February interview, he said, “we have to figure out if the earth is warming and why.”

The consensus among climate scientists is that the earth is warming because of human behavior.

Masters was also on the Thiel-led Trump transition team when it attempted to appoint William Happer as a climate adviser. Happer, a well-known climate change denier, believes the planet is suffering from a carbon dioxide famine rather than an overabundance.

Wisconsin

Ron Johnson (R)

Incumbent Ron Johnson scored 24% on voting for environmentally-friendly bills in Congress and 7% throughout his 11 years in the Senate, according to his LCV environmental scorecard. But he’s not a climate change denier.

“I don’t deny climate change. The question is, can you really do anything about it when China, when India — they’re going to be burning fossil fuels,” Johnson said in a recent interview. “America is going to have to burn fossil fuels. Eighty percent of our energy comes from fossil fuels right now, and that’s not going to change anytime soon because wind and solar are not reliable.”

Mandela Barnes (D)

The lieutenant governor of Wisconsin is a member of the state’s task force on climate change. He also has a track record of working alongside farmers, environmental advocates, Indigenous leaders, and business executives in his home state.

“What we need to do is reduce carbon emissions. What we also need to do is move towards a clean energy economy and make sure Wisconsin is in the driver’s seat,” Barnes said in his first debate with Republican rival Ron Johnson.Eighty percent of the world’s solar panels are built in China. We can do a build on those right here in Wisconsin, charting the path to a clean energy future.”

Christopher Harress

Christopher Harress | charress@reckonmedia.com

Climate change reporter on the east and Gulf coasts.

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