Climate change and your U.S. House vote: Close races with big impact for the planet

A bird flies near the U.S. Capitol dome at sunrise in Washington, D.C., on March 4, 2021,

Last week, Reckon looked at the environment, energy, and climate change policies of candidates locked into some of the closest U.S. Senate races.

Little has changed this week as Reckon delves into tight races in the U.S. House. In terms of the current composition of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats generally favor action on the climate while Republicans have not advocated for climate policies either because they doubt the science or worry that drastic changes to energy policy could cost jobs.

Analysts still expect Republicans to take the majority in the House while the Senate remains a toss-up. Many big issues remain mostly partisan, like abortion, voting rights, marriage equality, the economy, Trumpism and the future of democracy.

A recent Washington Post poll shows that half of all registered voters consider climate change to be 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 Yellowstone National Park, which spans three states, to close in June after roads and bridges washed out. A severe heat wave in the Pacific north-west 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.

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

But where do U.S. House candidates in some of the closest midterms races, according to the Cook Political Report, stand on the environment and climate change? Here’s a quick guide to help make up your mind.

Nebraska 2 (Omaha area)

Don Bacon (R)

The incumbent Republican has a mixed record on the environment.

According to the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), Bacon voted for pro-environment causes 17% of the time since arriving in the U.S. House in 2017. His pro-environmental voting record in 2021 is 24%, the group said.

During his final debate with his Democratic rival earlier this month, Bacon said he was broadly skeptical of climate change science but noted that “clearly” there had also been some climate change in recent years.

He also said that he believed “in the ‘all-of-the-above’ energy approach,” a political term that supports fossil fuels, including coal and natural gas, nuclear, geothermal, solar and wind.

In 2016, ahead of the elections, he said: “I don’t think we know for certain how much of climate change is being caused by normal cyclical changes in weather vs. human causes, according to a report by the Lincoln Journal Star. “I support legislation that allows for continued incremental improvement in our environment but oppose extreme measures that create significant economic and job disruption.”

Tony Vargas (D)

The former science teacher and current member of the Nebraska Legislature is a firm believer in climate change and clean energy, according to his campaign website. He believes climate change threatens “children, businesses and the environment” and that replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy is an “environmental and economic necessity.”

He added on his website: “We also need to do everything we can to ensure that we are being good stewards of our environment and leaving our state a better place for future generations. That means cracking down on bad actors that are polluting our land and water and causing health and environmental disasters.”

Ohio 1 (Cincinnati area)

Steve Chabot (R)

The longtime U.S. House member, who is vying for a 14th term, has a 12% lifetime environmental voting record, according to the LCV. In recent years, Chabot has criticized green energy proposals and climate change science.

“Despite claims to the contrary, the evidence concerning man-made climate change is far from conclusive,” Rep. Steve Chabot told in a 2018 statement. “However, what is conclusive is the damage some of the more extreme proposals intended to address climate change, like cap-and-trade, will have on our economy.”

Greg Landsman (D)

As a former public school teacher and current member of the Cincinnati City Council, Landsman has a track record of pushing green initiatives.

He championed the Green Cincinnati Plan, a historic environmental justice ordinance that placed Cincinnati at the forefront of the environmental policy movement. According to his campaign website, he supported the country’s largest municipally-led solar project.

“In Congress, I will work to improve the lives of children and families across our region,” Landsman told the LCV, which has endorsed his candidacy. “That means making sure we all have the opportunity to live in a safe and healthy world with opportunities for good-paying jobs of the future.”

Pennsylvania 7 (South, close to New Jersey)

Susan Wild (D)

The incumbent is a big supporter of the environment, voting on pro-environmental bills 100% of the time in 2021 and 97% throughout her two terms in the House, according to her LCV environmental scorecard.

“Clean air and water are fundamental to the health of all our families, and we have a responsibility to protect our lands, natural resources, and climate for current and future generations,” Wild said on her campaign website.

Lisa Scheller (R)

The former Lehigh County commissioner lost out to Wild in 2020, but recent redistricting means she is the slight favorite to win the seat, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Like many of her Republican colleagues, Scheller takes the party line on climate change.

“Right now, we are not ready to be completely [reliant] on renewables, and we are finding ourselves depending on foreign countries who don’t like America for energy when we have all the energy that we need right here in Pennsylvania,” said Scheller during a debate in early October. “We should be doing things with solar, wind, natural gas and oil. I don’t think the government should be picking winners and losers when it comes to energy.”

Texas 15 (South)

Michelle Vallejo (D)

Vallejo is one of three candidates vying for the vacated 15th congressional district seat, extending from the Rio Grande Valley to San Antonio. The Rio Grande Valley, where Vallejo was born, is one of the best examples of where climate change and high levels of immigration intersect.

“As South Texas faces more severe weather every year and is on the verge of the worst water crisis in our history, our health and our economy are taking the hit,” Vallejo told the LCV.

She is endorsed by the Latino Victory Fund, a political organization dedicated to building political power in the Latino community.

“Michelle Vallejo is the only Latina candidate running in the 15th District who supports issues and policies that will help South Texas families and Latinos across the country,” said Nathalie Rayes, president and chief executive officer of the Latino Victory Fund. “Michelle knows how critical it is for South Texas’ communities to have access to affordable, quality healthcare, a strong economy and job opportunities, affordable education, climate change action and reproductive rights, and she is a powerful voice who will become a leading voice for these issues in Congress.”

Monica De La Cruz (R)

In a region dominated by fossil fuels, De La Cruz appears well-positioned to place a historically moderate left-leaning seat in the GOP’s hands. She supports oil and gas jobs, is an advocate of the country becoming energy independent and rejects “radical socialist Green New Deal policies,” according to her campaign website. But at the same time, she wants to improve air quality, reduce pollution, increase reliance on nuclear energy and reduce energy costs.

She criticized the 13 Republicans who voted for the bipartisan Infrastructure bill in Nov. 2021, claiming it went towards climate change programs. “I still can’t believe 13 Republicans voted for this unfundable bill, $3 trillion worth of social policy, infrastructure and climate change programs,” according to her campaign Facebook page.

Virginia 7 (Northeast region)

Abigail Spanberger (D)

The former CIA officer first won her seat in 2018, defeating Republican Dave Brat, who had a 1% pro-environmental voting record, according to the LCV. Spanberger has a 96% rating.

The two-term U.S. House member favors clean energy and environmental protection.

“Climate change is a direct threat to the safety and strength of America’s future,” said Spanberger’s campaign website. “The science is real — and the next generation of Virginians is counting on us to take this threat seriously. In Congress, I have worked with colleagues in both parties to create good-paying clean energy jobs, lower greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency, protect our air and water, and safeguard Virginia’s public lands for recreation and conservation alike.”

Yesli Vega (R)

Vega is a current Prince William County Supervisor in Virginia. She has no environmental or energy policy on her campaign website but has encountered both as a politician in her home state.

In 2020, she voted against setting a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% and achieve 100% clean, renewable electricity by 2030, according to Inside Nova, a news website in north Virginia. She said doing so would hurt the housing industry in Virginia.

She has also championed fossil fuels.

During a debate in June of this year, Vega said that the solution to high gas prices was to get “American energy production up and running again,” according to the Culpeper Star Exponent, a daily newspaper in Culpeper County, Virginia.

Christopher Harress

Christopher Harress |

Climate change reporter on the east and Gulf coasts.

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