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Results from governors' races could solidify US clean energy transition

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Results from governors' races could solidify US clean energy transition

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Incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Mich., celebrates a win over Republican challenger Tudor Dixon during an election night watch party Nov. 8 in Detroit.
Source: Brandon Bell/Getty Editorial via Getty Images

State-level clean energy actions that seemed vulnerable going into the 2022 U.S. midterm elections appear safe as Democrats retained control in several key state executive branches.

Incumbent Democratic governors Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan and Tony Evers in Wisconsin held onto their offices in swing states, ensuring their executive orders that support a low-carbon energy mix will survive another term.

As of about noon ET on Nov. 9, Democrats also appeared to seize control of both the Michigan Senate and House. In Wisconsin, Republicans hold clear majorities in both the state Senate and Assembly.

Elsewhere, Democrats held onto governor seats in states including California, Maine and Pennsylvania. Republican candidates retained the governor's office in Florida, Ohio and Texas.

In Maryland and Massachusetts, control of the governorship flipped from red to blue.

Several races were still too close to call, with Democrat Katie Hobbs holding a slight lead in Arizona, where the outgoing governor is a Republican. In Nevada, incumbent Democrat Steve Sisolak was running behind Republican challenger Joe Lombardo. Oregon was also unresolved, with Democrat Tina Kotek holding a slight lead in a race to succeed an outgoing Democrat.

The gubernatorial races were not the only items on the ballot impacting the nation's clean energy rollout. In New Mexico, voters enacted a constitutional amendment designed to speed up infrastructure projects, while New Yorkers approved a $4.2 billion environmental bond act.

The following is a select look at governors' races and some statewide ballot issues.

Arizona

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs, Arizona's secretary of state, led Republican opponent Kari Lake by about 12,000 votes as of about noon ET on Nov. 9. Seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission are up for statewide vote, and Republican candidates Kevin Thompson and Nick Myers both led in races for two open seats. Earlier this year, Republican commission members sank 100% clean energy rules in a 3-2 vote.

California

Democratic incumbent Gavin Newsom easily beat Republican challenger Brian Dahle 57%-42%, with about 95% of precincts reporting at least partial results. Under Newsom's leadership, the state has set ambitious climate goals and enacted legislation extending the life of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant to help ensure a reliable power supply.

Proposition 30 — a state ballot initiative that was failing, with just 41% support early Nov. 9 — would have raised the state income tax by 1.75% on the share of individual income above $2 million, effective Jan. 1, 2023. The extra money generated by the tax would have supported zero-emission vehicle subsidies and electric vehicle charging stations. Newsom opposed the measure despite his executive order requiring all passenger vehicle sales by 2035 to be zero-emission.

Colorado

Democratic incumbent Jared Polis was reelected with more than 57% of the vote. Polis, who in his first term issued a state clean energy plan calling for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040, will continue to guide the oil- and gas-producing state through its clean energy transition.

Maine

Democratic incumbent Janet Mills defeated predecessor Republican Paul LePage with nearly 56% of the vote. In her first term, Mills signed a law committing the state to be carbon-neutral by 2045.

Maryland

Democrat Wes Moore won with nearly 60% of the vote to take over from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. In June, Moore released an agenda for his first 100 days in office that includes 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035 and incentives to make electric vehicles more affordable.

Michigan

Democratic incumbent Gretchen Whitmer won by nearly 10 percentage points, capturing about 54% of the vote. Whitmer has led a legal fight to shutter Enbridge Inc.'s Line 5 propane and crude oil pipeline. Whitmer also signed an executive order aiming to reduce greenhouse gases 28% from 1990 levels by 2025 and achieve economywide carbon neutrality by 2050.

Nevada

With Republican Joe Lombardo holding 50.6% of the vote, though the race had not been called as of midday Nov. 9, the Nevada energy sector could have a new state administration with which to contend. Lombardo has kept mum on energy policy, including recent legislation signed by Democratic incumbent Gov. Steve Sisolak raising Nevada's renewable portfolio standard to 50% by 2030 and setting a goal for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050. However, Republicans would need large gains to flip both chambers of the state legislature and roll back the laws.

New Mexico

Voters approved a constitutional amendment that could allow the legislature to appropriate state funds to private entities for big infrastructure projects. Though the New Mexico Constitution prohibits using taxpayer money on private enterprise, the state may now make an exception for projects that support "essential household services," including energy, water, wastewater and the internet. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was reelected with about 52% of the vote.

New York

Voters approved the largest environmental bond act in New York history, authorizing the sale of up to $4.2 billion in bonds for capital projects to reduce the impact of climate change. The Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act will finance projects to support environmental protection, flood control, water quality improvement and resilient infrastructure. Gov. Kathy Hochul was elected to a full term, with more than 52% of the vote.

Oregon

With two-thirds of the ballots counted as of about noon ET on Nov. 9, Democrat Tina Kotek held a narrow lead over Republican Christine Drazan in Oregon's gubernatorial race. Hanging in the balance is the state's greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program, which Drazan has vowed to repeal. Outgoing Democratic Gov. Kate Brown created the program through an executive order after the state legislature tried and failed to pass cap-and-trade legislation. At that time, Kotek was the speaker of the state House and supported the measure, but Drazan, who was House minority leader, led a walkout to prevent a vote on the bill.

Pennsylvania

Democrats held onto the Pennsylvania governor's office after State Attorney General Josh Shapiro defeated Republican contender Doug Mastriano, winning more than 55% of the vote. On his campaign website, Shapiro said he supports an "all-of-the-above energy" mix that includes hydrogen and the use of carbon capture as a decarbonization tool. The governor-elect also supports legislation requiring 30% renewable energy by 2030 and setting a goal to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

But the new administration could still have implications for outgoing Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's decision to bring Pennsylvania into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which Mastriano has criticized. Despite initial reservations about the program, Shapiro has since waffled on his position. Full results for the state House and Senate, both of which had been under Republican control, had not yet been determined by midday Nov. 9.

Texas

Republican incumbent Greg Abbott was reelected with nearly 55% of the vote, convincingly beating Democratic challenger Beto O'Rourke. Abbott won reelection in the wake of a mid-February 2021 severe cold weather event that knocked out power for millions of Texans in what was the largest controlled blackout in U.S. history. Abbott has since signed a range of grid reliability laws and moved to reform the Electric Reliability Council Of Texas Inc.

Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Wayne Christian, the Republican incumbent, won with 55% of the vote. Democratic challenger Luke Warford had argued poor oversight was to blame for the Texas Railroad Commission's alleged faulty response to the February 2021 winter storm.

Wisconsin

Republican candidate Tim Michels failed to topple incumbent Democrat Tony Evers, who issued an executive order to achieve 100% carbon-free electricity consumption by 2050. While Michels had not weighed in on the climate goal, the Republican has questioned the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change. Michels co-owns an infrastructure construction company that had been awarded a contract with the Keystone XL pipeline project and was critical of President Joe Biden's halting of the pipeline.

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