Activist state

The Rise of the State and the Local Climate Candidate

Brian Radford, a Tucson Democrat seeking a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives, supports investing more money in public education and improving access to health care. affordable healthcare, among other priorities.

But tackling the climate crisis and ensuring his desert community has an adequate water supply are central to his campaign.

“I have four boys and what will happen to their generation if we don’t put things in place now? was under an excessive heat warning. “Access to clean water, solar power and clean energy – these are all big issues for me.”

Radford is part of a growing cohort of downside candidates across the country whose campaigns are focused on confronting the realities of a rapidly warming planet.

With action in Congress largely stalled and the Supreme Court imposing limits on the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, those of the states and local communities rush into the void.

Environmental groups say city and state leaders play a central role in shaping strategies to tackle the global climate crisis, even if they lack the extensive power — and deep pockets — of the federal government. .

“This issue is too big for any area of ​​government,” said Nick Abraham, director of state communications for the League of Conservation Voters, whose more than 30 chapters across the United States endorse race candidates. national and local. “We’re all going to have to push at the same time.”

This push has become more focused in recent years. Young grassroots activists from the Sunrise Movement are injecting new energy into the effort by urging policy makers to take decisive action against global warming.

At the same time, several groups have formed to recruit, train and fund local and state candidates who run on a pro-environment platform. Lead locally pushes back the candidates in the ballot who support the Green New Deala Democratic-sponsored congressional proposal with big plans to fight climate change and other initiatives to reign in the fossil fuel industry.

“By electing climate champions to city councils, county commissions, and state houses, we can block licensing of new pipelines, ban fracking in every state, or win majorities that can pass massive green jobs bills,” the group says.

Based in California Super Bloom Project works to train activists and young people to run for office. The group also supports Assembly candidates who support environmental justice and other progressive causes.

And the Cabinet Climate Action Funda political action committee formed about two years ago is investing in climate-focused candidates in 14 states who are running for the legislature, city council and utility regulatory commissions, among other positions.

Short-vote races often receive little public attention and are chronically underfunded, said Caroline Spears, the group’s founder and executive director.

“We exist because there’s a huge gap between the authority that state and local decision makers have and the resources that they get,” said Spears, who holds a master’s degree in atmospheric and environmental engineering. ‘energy.

The Climate Cabinet Action Fund plans to distribute thousands of dollars to candidates this year, Spears said. (Amounts vary by state and are governed by local campaign contribution rules, she added.)

“We’re actively tracking thousands of races across the country to determine which ones are having a very significant climate impact and which are being overlooked,” Spears said. “You can think of what we’re doing as a ball of climate money.”

Most of the candidates endorsed by the group are Democrats, reflecting the Republican Party’s general unease with government rules that limit fossil fuel production, even as they increasingly accept the scientific reality that the human activity is causing climate change.

Among the “priority candidates” the group is backing are several running for seats on the utility regulatory boards in Georgia and Arizona. These little-known but powerful panels oversee suppliers of gas, electricity and other energy sources as well as water and telecommunications companies.

“These are really under the radar races and ones that don’t often get a lot of attention but have a very big role to play. [the implementation of] clean energy,” said Abraham of the League of Conservation Voters. “They’re where the rubber meets the road to actually get clean power on the grid and the massive task…to make that transition.”

He cited the Nebraska electrical system to illustrate his point. The state is Republican-controlled and strongly backed Donald Trump in 2020. Yet its three utilities, governed by elected boards, have all committed to a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

“That’s huge in a state that I think most people would write off” as too conservative to support such a move, Abraham said.

The League of Conservation Voters released a memo last month detailing state-level environmental wins in 2022, including:

  • A Maryland measure committing the state to net zero climate emissions by 2045 and requiring a 60% carbon reduction goal by 2031.
  • Washington State’s $17 billion Clean Transportation Program.
  • Colorado’s efforts to tackle air pollution.

State-level action is being spurred by the very real impacts of climate change that local politicians are witnessing in their communities, Abraham said.

“The urgency they feel is not due to congressional inaction or stalled legislation,” he said. “It’s seeing the effects of climate change on a daily basis. We’re seeing record heat waves, we’re seeing rivers dry up in the West, and real water access issues in places like Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. We are witnessing devastating forest fires.

“The urgency is because people see this in their daily lives and they know how serious it is,” Abraham said,

That’s what prompted Brian Radford to run for the Arizona House. He observes with concern that a prolonged drought, aggravated by global warming, has reduced the reservoirs of the Colorado River. Federal cuts and other measures have reduced Arizona’s water allocation; a county adjacent to his district has largely dried up, he said.

“We kind of take it for granted that we have water, but there has to be planning for us to have it in the future,” Radford said.

Radford, which has been endorsed by the Climate Cabinet Action Fund, offers tax rebates and state grants to encourage farmers to invest in water-reduction technology, among other conservation measures. the water. (The former assistant special education teacher and retired corrections officer is one of two Democrats seeking to represent the 17th Legislative District. Five Republicans are also running in the Aug. 2 primary; two members from each party will face each other in November.)

“When you see neighboring communities running out of water, it’s kind of scary,” Radford said. “What will happen in the future if we don’t put things in place now?”