Three major energy and environmental issues debated in the Democratic-controlled House—climate change, offshore oil drilling, and “forever” chemicals—are starting to surface in the 2020 fight for the majority.
While they will likely again take a back seat in voters’ minds to health care and the economy, and the presidential election will undoubtedly be a heavy factor in down-ballot races, Bloomberg Environment has identified seven races in which green issues could become wedges on the campaign trail as the election year progresses.
California’s 25th District
Rep. Katie Hill’s tumultuous exit from Congress last fall opened up this seat in Los Angeles’ northern exurbs that voted Mitt Romney for president in 2012 and Clinton in 2016. A March 3 top-two special primary and, unless someone in the wide field takes a majority of the primary vote and wins the seat outright, a May 12 special election will decide who holds it for the remainder of this Congress.
State Assemblywoman Christy Smith, a Democrat who has nabbed endorsements from California state and federal leaders, released digital ads that link last year’s devastating wildfires in the region to climate change. She’s also called for the closure of the Aliso Canyon natural gas facility in the district, where a gas leak in 2015 forced thousands of residents from their homes.
Another high-profile Democratic contender, The Young Turks co-founder Cenk Uygur, backs the Green New Deal. Republicans running include former Rep. Steve Knight, whom Hill unseated in 2018, and former Trump aide George Papadopoulos.
Maine’s 2nd District
A nearly $1 billion plan to build a transmission line through Maine to deliver Canadian hydropower to Massachusetts is already spurring opposition in Democratic Rep. Jared Golden’s expansive district.
Golden’s three Republican opponents are against it, while the freshman hasn’t taken a stance. The Central Maine Power corridor project would eventually need federal approval, and opponents are collecting signatures to put the question before voters on the November ballot.
Golden, whose race is rated a toss-up by two political ratings organizations, is walking a tightrope in his district. He voted for one of the two articles of impeachment, and, according to ProPublica, has voted against his party nearly 10% of the time.
Interest groups for and against the project have already spent close to $400,000 on television ads, according to Advertising Analytics, which analyzes campaign ads.
Michigan’s 6th District
Republican Rep. Fred Upton has served in Congress for over 30 years and hasn’t announced if he will seek re-election, but his moderate Republican positions set him apart in the House GOP.
The senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee broke with his party when he supported the PFAS Action Act (H.R.535). The legislation consists of several bills to clean up and regulate PFAS, chemicals that don’t break down in the environment and are linked to numerous health concerns. Michigan’s water utilities are struggling to clean up the contaminants in drinking water, the legacy of decades of use on military bases and industrial plants. Michigan has more sites of PFAS contamination than any other state in the country.
He’s also pushed against the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord and voted for Democratic bills to restrict drilling near public lands.
Still, Upton’s top Democratic challenger, state Rep. Jon Hoadley, has painted Upton as more of an ally of the president than a foil—including on climate change.
Pennsylvania’s 1st District
With Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) retiring, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick would be the only Republican in the House next year who publicly supports a plan to tax carbon emissions. It’s a stance that earned him the endorsement and financial backing of the Environmental Defense Action Fund PAC.
Fitzpatrick, who also voted with Democrats last year to keep the U.S. in the Paris climate agreement, represents a district that voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“There isn’t any doubt that he’s in a seat that Democrats really covet,” said Terry Madonna, director of Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs. But some of his environmental positions could help Fitzpatrick reel in moderate Democrats and independents in the general election, Madonna said.
South Carolina’s 1st District
Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.) made some noise in his first few months on the job—literally. He blew an air horn at a March 7 House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing to show how right whales could be harmed by the seismic blasts used in offshore oil exploration. A few weeks later, he introduced a bill to prohibit oil and gas leasing off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts (H.R. 1941) that passed the House in September.
Republicans are eager to pick up what was a GOP stronghold for 40 years before Cunningham’s 2018 win. State Rep. Nancy Mace (R), the Republican frontrunner in the June 9 primary, has criticized Cunningham for voting to impeach Trump and for crafting an anti-offshore drilling bill that has very little chance of becoming law. Mace has said she would work with both parties to protect the coast from drilling.
The race is rated a toss-up by three political ratings organizations, and Cunningham has raised $1.8 million to keep his seat as the race heats up.
Texas’ 7th District
Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, who won this Houston-area seat in 2018, is the chair of the House Science, Space and Technology’s subcommittee on energy. She has sought to support her party’s call for climate change action without criticizing the oil and gas industry. She’s voted against bills to curtail offshore drilling and co-chairs the House Natural Gas Caucus.
Although Fletcher hasn’t endorsed the Green New Deal (H.Res. 109), her top Republican challenger—Army veteran Wesley Hunt—says she hasn’t spoken out forcefully enough against the resolution.
Texas’ 28th District
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) will face the first serious primary of his congressional career March 3. First elected in 2002, Cuellar often votes with Republicans on environmental issues—he voted against three anti-oil and gas drilling bills last year and came out against provisions to regulate lead in ammunition.
The district, which extends from San Antonio to the U.S.-Mexico border, sits in the Eagle Ford shale play. The oil and gas industry is a top employer and supporter of local municipalities.
Cuellar has a 42% lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters, who recently endorsed his primary challenger, 26-year-old immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros.
Cisneros is backed by Justice Democrats, the progressive organization who helped Ocasio-Cortez win in 2018. Cuellar sits on the House Appropriations Committee and has used his position to send critical border infrastructure money to his district. He also advocated for border-region wastewater infrastructure funding via the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade pact that will likely become law this year.