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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Cap-and-Trade Takeaway

Air Date: Week of
In Virginia's fifth district, Republican Robert Hurt (center) defeated clean-energy champion Tom Perriello. (Photo: Mitra Taj)

Midterm elections swept out a slew of Democratic candidates from the House of Representatives, many of whom had cast controversial votes in favor of last year’s cap-and-trade bill to cut greenhouse gas emissions. LOE’s Washington correspondent Mitra Taj reports on what this year’s election results tell us about popular support for legislating solutions to climate change.


CURWOOD: Well, clean energy seemed to be selling well out West, but in coal country, things turned out a little differently.

BOUCHER: Not only should we continue to use coal, we need to use coal in greater amounts than we’re using it today! That’s what we’re committed to!


CURWOOD: Rick Boucher apparently wasn’t committed enough for voters in Virginia’s ninth district. The Democratic Congressman lost his seat after serving nearly three decades in the House of Representatives. Many blame his departure on one “yes” vote in particular-- the cap-and-trade bill to address climate change.

That was the biggest environmental legislation of recent years, and after it scraped through the House, it died in the Senate. Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent Mitra Taj has been following how supporters of the House bill have fared, and she joins me now. Hi there, Mitra!

TAJ: Hi Steve!

CURWOOD: So, a lot of focus on the representatives who voted for this cap-and-trade bill to cut greenhouse gas emissions. I guess it’s seen as a kind of bellwether for future legislation. Mr. Boucher lost his seat— was that mostly because he voted for it?

TAJ: In Boucher’s case, I think that’s fair to say. The sound byte you heard was from a pro-coal rally he attended, and while he was talking supporters for his challenger were passing out flyers calling him a “traitor” to coal country for voting yes. And this is despite his role in helping secure billions of dollars for the industry in the bill.

CURWOOD: And I guess where the fossil fuel industry is powerful, candidates who supported cap and trade probably had a tougher time. Now Mitra, you were in Virginia’s fifth district, where clean energy advocate Democrat Tom Perriello lost his seat. What did you hear from voters there?

In Virginia's fifth district, Republican Robert Hurt (center) defeated clean-energy champion Tom Perriello. (Photo: Mitra Taj)

TAJ: Yeah, well, I stopped by an event for Perriello’s opponent, Robert Hurt, who ended up winning, and while cap and trade wasn’t the only concern, it was definitely in the mix.

MAN 1: Why am I voting for Hurt? Because he’s a true conservative, he won’t vote for the health care bill, he’ll vote to repeal it. And he also won’t be for cap and trade, which will run further jobs out of here.

MAN 2: Take your pick, cap and trade, the stimulus… Take your pick…

MAN3: It’s going to increase the price of everything we buy!

MAN4: You’re in coal country. Cap and trade is not going to be a friend to the coal country.

CURWOOD: Okay that’s coal country. Clearly attempts to associate cap-and-trade with cost worked there. What about the big picture across the country?

TAJ: Well in the big picture, what matters is what happens in competitive districts; politicians are always watching what swing voters want. And, I actually found that in those races more cap-and-trade supporters running for reelection kept their seats than those who voted no on the cap-and-trade bill. Not much more, about 40 percent compared to 30 percent, but I think voters clearly weren’t going to the ballot box to send a message about the climate bill.

CURWOOD: So is this what the takeaway will be when people look back and think about how voters respond to policies like cap-and-trade?

TAJ: I guess it’s hard to say what our collective political memory will be on this a few years out, but the battle over the narrative is definitely happening now. You have some industry lobbyists saying you know, voters overwhelmingly rejected Democrats and their agenda, including their plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions… And you have environmentalists arguing back that, no, actually Americans have consistently polled in favor of cutting carbon pollution and encouraging clean energy jobs.

CURWOOD: And, what about the candidates who voted "yes" and lost their seats?

TAJ: Well I caught up with Tom Perriello in Virginia just before he lost his bid, and he seemed to regret the state of the Senate much more than his vote.

PERRIELLO: I think we have just hemorrhaged jobs to China and hundreds of billions of dollars to petro-dictators by not doing this. I mean the Republicans and the spineless Democrats in the Senate that stood in the way of a national energy strategy have probably cost the country a generation worth of jobs.

Because we can either be part of this, and lead it, or we can follow and weep for the next 50 years because the senators didn’t have the guts to stand up for what was going to create the next great American decade. I’d rather stand with America on that, then to stand with the haters.

CURWOOD: Okay, no regrets there for Mr. Perriello, for voting to support cap-and-trade legislation, but then, of course, he didn’t win. Thanks Mitra.

TAJ: Thank you, Steve!

CURWOOD: Mitra Taj is Living on Earth’s Washington correspondent.



Follow the debate over what the midterms meant for cap-and-trade votes.

Click here for statistical analysis of the cap-and-trade vote.

Click here for a breakdown of Congressmen and women who voted for and against the cap-and-trade bill.

After the elections, environmental groups pointed to this poll that shows little voter concern over candidates' support for cap-and-trade in key districts


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