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The Midterm Issue No One’s Talking About

Nov 7, 2022 Ricardo Gomez
As voters push to prioritize climate change and fossil fuels spend big on key races, less than one percent of election ads are focused on the environment.
The Midterm Issue No One’s Talking About
Workers atop a building heavily damaged by Hurricane Ian at Fort Myers Beach, Fla., in Oct. 2022. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

Less than one percent of television ads for House and Senate midterm races have focused on the environment — even as recent polling shows that voters believe climate change should be a priority this election cycle.

Despite yet another summer of destructive storms and wildfires intensified by global warming, only 0.8 percent of television ads in congressional races have focused on the environment, according to data from AdImpact. Democrats and Republicans have focused similar levels of attention on the environment — 0.9 percent and 0.7 percent of their ads, respectively.

Although 80 percent of voters support a windfall tax on fossil fuel companies — a way of recuperating money by taxing surging profits — candidates are not running on holding fossil fuel companies accountable. Instead they are ceding the narrative on environment and climate change to oil and gas companies that have gone on the offensive — spending enormously and pouring millions into campaigns up and down the ballot to protect their profits.

Just last week, three of the biggest oil and gas companies posted another quarter of record profits, leading President Joe Biden to beg the oil industry to “invest in America by increasing production and refining capacity.” In response, ExxonMobil CEO Darren Wood made a mockery of how little action politicians are taking to rein in Big Oil’s power when he said, “There has been discussion in the U.S. about our industry returning some of our profits directly to the American people. That’s exactly what we’re doing in the form of our quarterly dividend.” So, a portion of ExxonMobil’s excess spoils will be returned to company shareholders, not the public.

Despite candidates’ silence on the issue, much is at stake on Tuesday when it comes to addressing the climate crisis. In addition to the thirty-six states electing governors, who help set state emission reduction goals and appoint leaders to energy regulation boards, the midterms include major down-ballot races for state regulation boards that can rein in oil and gas. These races will have immediate and lasting impacts on climate change’s trajectory.

For example, in Louisiana, Texas, and Arizona, races for state-level executive offices overseeing public utility and land commissions will determine whether or not states make green transitions away from fossil fuels or continue business as usual. In Arizona in particular, the race for offices that regulate public utilities and a ballot initiative could have major impacts on clean energy efforts and oil and gas companies’ political spending.

In Oregon, thanks to corporate spending, the GOP could win the governor’s office for the first time in 40 years and roll back the state’s longstanding climate protections. In Texas, Beto O’Rourke is challenging the Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, who has raised massive funds from oil and gas donors whom he has appointed to the state’s influential regulatory boards.

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