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Energy and environment issues take center stage in US elections

A bulldozer pushes a mountain of coal at a rail/barge terminal in Calvert City, Kentucky. Creative Commons: Kentucky Photo File, 2010

A bulldozer pushes a mountain of coal at a rail/barge terminal in Calvert City, Kentucky. Creative Commons: Kentucky Photo File, 2010

The US midterm elections of 2014 made waves as energy and climate change issues dominated many campaigns for the first time due to an unprecedented surge in pro-environmental political advertising.

According to an analysis by Kantar Media Intelligence, between October 20th and October 26th, the majority of Senate-focused campaign ads were energy or environment-related. Of the 14,888 individuals television commercials that were energy or environment themed, 55% supported Republicans and 45% supported the Democrats.

While energy issues have occasionally taken center stage in elections, the focus on the environment—and particularly in climate change—was a new development in American politics. In the 2012 presidential race, neither President Barack nor his challenger Mitt Romney mentioned climate change in a debate.

In contrast, Senate debates in Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, and West Virginia have all featured candidate’s views on climate change, energy policy, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Kantar Media found that the energy and environment was the third most mentioned issue in this year’s election cycle after jobs and healthcare.

Environmental groups claim back political space

The surge in environmental political ad indicate a shift in election donor priorities and a pushback from environmental advocates.

In a bid to bring climate change and environment to the forefront of the state and federal political agendas, billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen Climate Action Committee, pledged tens of millions to support Democrat candidates that pledged support strong environmental protections.

The Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters also spent record amounts in the midterm election cycle with efforts focused on the swing states.

On the other side of the political spectrum, the billionaire Koch brothers backed several Republican candidates sympathetic to the oil, gas, and coal industries who ran, in part, on weakening environmental regulations.

Gene Karpinski, president of The League of Conservation Voters, told the New York Times, “[The Democrats] are making it part of the narrative that their opponents [ the Republicans]  are outside the mainstream. To the extent that it’s being used aggressively, that’s definitely new.”

The escalation of the environment issue in election agendas appears to be reflective of a wider public shift towards environmental concern in the United States.

September saw the largest climate march in history, with 400,000 people taking to the streets of New York City to demand climate action, while a survey released Monday by the Huffington Post found that 44% of respondents believe in anthropogenic climate change.

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