Mark Udall: Bringing out the best in us

Mark Udall, Colorado Foundation for Water Education, President's Award Reception,
Mark Udall, Colorado Foundation for Water Education, President’s Award Reception,

From the Boulder Daily Camera (Mark Udall):

Recently, a lot of people have been asking me what it’s like to lose an election. It stings, that’s for sure. And while I wouldn’t recommend it, falling short in a race is a very humbling way of appreciating just how far you’ve come. In fact, as a lifelong mountain climber, I’ve learned far more from the mountains I did not summit, than those I did.

For the past 18 years, my most rewarding challenge has been exercising the power lent to me by the people of Colorado to fight on their behalf, first in the State House and then in the U.S. Congress. Throughout my career in public service — my six years in the U.S. Senate being but one chapter — I have always been guided by the rugged independence, strength and cooperative spirit that defines who we are as Coloradans and as Westerners.

This uniquely Western perspective holds that compromise is not capitulation, and that we are stronger when we all have a seat at the table — not only the privileged. This is a cause that my family has championed for generations and it is a creed that will continue to drive all Coloradans who answer the call to serve.

At this point in our politics, Americans are rightly impatient with the willful, partisan gridlock and dysfunction in Washington. Yet, in Colorado, we also know that by working together we have been able to keep our nation and our state moving forward and do our part to overcome Washington silliness for the good of the nation.

The idea that we don’t inherit the earth from our parents — we borrow it from our children — is the central idea of my long record of accomplishment. Throughout my career, this has led me to champion protecting our public lands and the special places that define Colorado, including Great Sand Dunes National Park, the James Peak Wilderness Area and Browns Canyon. It also has driven me to lead the fight to confront the real problem of climate change.

Colorado has spearheaded the nation’s pursuit of a balanced energy strategy. Most of the progress Colorado has made came after I fought alongside Republican Speaker of the Colorado House Lola Spradley to pass our state’s first renewable electricity standard. That important policy has meant Colorado is leading the clean energy revolution, creating good-paying jobs while fighting the causes of climate change. I’ve been proud to continue this fight in the U.S. Senate by successfully extending the Production Tax Credit for wind energy and introducing a national renewable electricity standard mirroring Colorado’s.

I also have led the charge to meet the promise of the Bill of Rights. Thomas Jefferson once said that a true patriot loves her country not just for what it is but what it can be. We still have a ways to go, but I am proud to have followed in the footsteps of leaders like my father to meet the promise of equality enshrined in the Constitution. That includes leading the successful fight to repeal the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and supporting policies that help women, the middle class and our immigrants get a fair shot at the American Dream.

I’ve said for years that Coloradans pull together come hell or high water. Little did I know that this saying would be proven true during my time in the U.S. Senate, from wildfires that left thousands homeless to a biblical flood in 2013 that swept over much of the Front Range. I was proud to help Coloradans rebuild in the wake of disasters and to secure resources that will help fight tomorrow’s wildfires, including a series of next-generation air tankers. I also went to work immediately after the 2013 flood and partisan federal government shutdown and successfully delivered more than $770 million in emergency flood support and marshalled nearly $2.5 billion in additional federal assistance so that Colorado could rebuild better and stronger than before.

And while there is much work left to be done to protect our privacy from government interference, I’m proud to have led the effort to reconcile the enormous power of our nation’s intelligence agencies with the bedrock principles of our democracy. We’ve proven that the choice between ensuring our security and protecting our privacy is a false choice, and that we can keep faith with our nation’s founding principles while also safeguarding our communities.

When I first came to the U.S. Senate, I told my colleagues that we were not elected to deal with Democratic or Republican problems, but to find uniquely American solutions to our toughest challenges. Just like mountain climbers who are all on the same rope, we know that we’re all in this together — and that we are only truly successful when we all succeed together.

The great writer Wallace Stegner challenged us to build communities to match our scenery. In a narrow sense, that means that we should strive to make our society as beautiful and thriving as the natural landscape that surrounds us. But in a broader sense, it also means that our communities should bring out the best in us, and that we should never stop building on the uniquely independent yet cooperative spirit that makes Colorado great.

That’s the spirit that has guided me throughout my time in public service, and it’s the spirit that will continue to guide me as I find new ways to help Colorado and our country move forward.

Mark Udall is Colorado’s outgoing senior U.S. senator.

More 2014 Colorado Novembee election coverage here.

Fountain Creek: “If the mayor would have gotten behind this, it would have passed” — Jeff Chostner

Fountain Creek Watershed
Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Funding for flood control projects on Fountain Creek that protect Pueblo has been jeopardized by last week’s rejection of a drainage district in El Paso County.

That’s the opinion of District Attorney Jeff Chostner, who worked diligently to advance funding opportunity for the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District while he was a Pueblo County commissioner.

“I had talked about the best way to get flood control passed would be to have a vote of the entire district (Pueblo and El Paso counties),” said Chostner. “Combined with Pueblo County, there would have been enough support.”

The Fountain Creek District is authorized by state law to collect up to a 5-mill tax, and the district’s board was seriously discussing how and when to approach voters. The district also had looked at forming a subdistrict within just the Fountain Creek watershed and charging a fee.

In June 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire destroyed more than 18,000 acres and 347 homes. It also left behind ground baked hard as concrete, worsening the potential for floods.

That shifted the focus of public officials, who had already formed a stormwater task force, to looking at flood control projects to protect Colorado Springs and away from the obligation to protect Pueblo from increased development on Fountain Creek, Chostner said.

“As a former county commissioner, I’m disappointed that the stormwater measure did not pass. We counted on the goodwill of voters, and it failed,” Chostner said.

“I am looking to see if there’s a way the district attorney’s office can work with the Pueblo County commissioners and their attorneys.”

It would not be the first time the DA has gotten involved. Chostner’s predecessor, Bill Thiebaut, challenged Colorado Springs in federal and district courts on the issues of sanitary sewer spills and water quality. Chostner inherited and pursued the water quality case.

“I kept trying to expand it to Pueblo County,” Chostner said of his last year on the Fountain Creek board, where he served as chairman.

The downside of trying to sell the vote in Pueblo County would have been the perception that Pueblo would be paying to fix Fountain Creek problems mainly caused by rampant growth in El Paso County.

“I don’t blame El Paso County for concentrating on Waldo Canyon.

They chose to look inward, and this should have been a two-county vote,” Chostner. “I think people would understand these are problems we all share.”

Chostner puts a lot of the blame on Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, who campaigned against the drainage district. Bach acknowledges Colorado Springs needs to do something about stormwater, but has tried to bundle it with other capital needs. Bach also wants Colorado Springs to take care of its own needs, rather than join in the regional effort promoted by the stormwater task force.

That grates at Chostner, who as a commissioner told the Colorado Springs City Council it had a “legal and moral obligation” to fund stormwater.

Bach was sitting just a few feet away and kept silent at that meeting.

“If the mayor would have gotten behind this, it would have passed,” Chostner said. “Now, Colorado Springs is the only major Front Range community without a source for stormwater funding. There’s no political courage in El Paso County.”

So when would be the best time for another vote?

“It should be at the earliest feasible time,” Chostner said.

More stormwater coverage here.

Opinion: Just call John Hickenlooper the Silver Fox — High Country News #COWaterPlan

Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference
Governor Hickenlooper, John Salazar and John Stulp at the 2012 Drought Conference

From the High Country News (Forrest Whitman):

John Hickenlooper, the recently re-elected (by a whisker) governor of Colorado, should be called the new “silver fox” for his work on water sharing, in memory of Delphus Carpenter, who earned that title back in 1922. That year, Carpenter cajoled seven Western states into signing the historic agreement that divvied up the Colorado River.

Delph Carpenter
Delph Carpenter

Hickenlooper was certainly wily as a fox when he brokered a difficult deal this summer between the oil and gas industry and Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis. Hickenlooper got Polis to back down from his campaign to put anti-fracking legislation on the ballot, and created a bipartisan commission to work out tougher fracking rules. Hickenlooper avoided a messy political battle while also spurring a fracking pact and developing a first-ever statewide water plan. It was the kind of thing Delphus Carpenter might have done.

Hickenlooper did something revolutionary when he signed a water plan for the entire state, and now, what he calls regional round tables are working hard to find ways to turn the plan into action. Early results show that some water providers east of the Rockies might agree to stop their destructive “buy up and dry up” programs on the state’s Western Slope. At the same time, stakeholders are working on water-conservation ideas, since we’re expecting a shortfall of a half-million acre-feet within the next decade.

This is not just a Colorado plan, because it offers relief to hard-pressed states downstream. That’s important, of course, because water in much of the West begins in Colorado. If we can put more water into rivers that feed into the Colorado River, neighbors as far away as the Sea of Cortez will benefit. It will certainly help states like California, now ravaged by terrible drought.

Upper Basin States vs. Lower Basin circa 1925 via CSU Water Resources Archives
Upper Basin States vs. Lower Basin circa 1925 via CSU Water Resources Archives

When Delphus Carpenter, the first “silver fox of the Rockies,” got seven states to agree on how to share a river, he put a stop to legal water battles that were just beginning to get bitter and expensive. The compact wasn’t perfect, organized as it was during some of the wettest years in recent history. And increasing drought continues to dim and challenge its assumptions. Changing realities over time will also affect the new Colorado water plan, as well as the oil and gas pact.

Meanwhile, stakeholders have been asked to do something that is not in their natures. The oil and gas industry is seriously looking at ways to interfere less with local communities, which means that it’s talking beyond the mineral rights to which it’s entitled. The same is true with the water plan. Instead of trying to divert existing water for more supply in their own basin, the assembled landowners, water utilities and others are talking about ways to deal with shortages. They’re talking about how much water they can save and how to help the whole state have water. Interstate water compacts are at the table as well, because these obligations don’t go away.

Hickenlooper is responding to many obvious factors, such as the big drought of 2004-’05, and especially to the frightening predictions that Colorado, like the rest of the West, is soon going to be at “peak water” yield. Peak yield will happen when the water resource is giving us absolutely everything it can give. Hickenlooper’s also responding to the political facts about oil and gas development. Fracking may not be popular, but it’s also a $30 billion industry.

I’ve never served on an oil and gas commission, but I have served on one of those water roundtables. I’ve seen how hard it is to look beyond the immediate water needs of “our” basin. It’s also tough to preach moderation and quality of life to oil and gas drillers. How did this new “silver fox” do it?

Hickenlooper played what baseball managers call “little ball.” He didn’t hit for the fences, but made one little move at a time. He apparently aimed to be successful with just one person at a time. He is inclusive, he listens, and he’s persuasive: I still have the little silver water pin he once gave me.

Delphus Carpenter did the same thing. He urged representatives from the seven states that rely on the Colorado River to come together at Bishop’s Lodge near Santa Fe 92 years ago. The basic compact they signed back then still holds. Years ago, Carpenter gave all the credit for the deal to President Herbert Hoover. Hickenlooper does much the same thing with his “aw shucks, it wasn’t me” attitude. If that doesn’t sound like a Silver Fox, I don’t know what does.

More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.

Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies: Election Results and Impacts on the Water Sector

George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South
George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

Here’s the release from the AMWA:

[The November 4] midterm elections will remake the look of Congress next year, as the Republican party will control both the House and Senate for the first time since 2006. While votes are still being counted in many parts of the country and many decisions are yet to be made about the new majority’s priorities for the 114th Congress, this memo will provide an early look at where things stand and what AMWA should prepare for heading into 2015.

The Makeup of Congress

Republicans picked up seven U.S. Senate seats outright last night, and appear likely to pick up two more by the time all the votes are counted. The GOP won open seat races in West Virginia, South Dakota, Montana, and Iowa, defeated Democratic incumbents in Arkansas, North Carolina, and Colorado, and successfully defended all GOP-held seats up for election (most notably Kentucky, Georgia, and Kansas).

This gives Republicans 52 Senate seats as of this morning, but the total will grow to 54 if Republican Dan Sullivan holds onto his slim lead over incumbent Democrat Mark Begich in Alaska, and Republican Bill Cassidy defeats Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu in a December 6 Louisiana runoff election. Meanwhile, Virginia Democratic incumbent Mark Warner holds a slim 12,000-vote lead over Republican challenger Ed Gillespie in a race that appears headed to a recount.

In the House Republicans have gained a net of 14 seats so far, though 15 more remain too-close-to-call or headed to a runoff as of this morning. Analysts say the party appears on track to hold at least 246 House seats next year – which would mark the party’s largest majority since the 1940s.

Notable Winners and Losers

Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop of New York – Ranking Member of the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee and a strong proponent of investing in water infrastructure (particularly the Clean Water SRF) – was defeated in New York’s First Congressional District. Also losing was House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Nick Rahall of West Virginia and Colorado Senator Mark Udall, who served on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

On the Republican side, Nebraska Rep. Lee Terry is trailing Democratic challenger Brad Ashford by about 4,000 votes in a still too-close-to-call race. Rep. Terry serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee and is the lead sponsor of H.Res. 112, a resolution marking the importance of tax-exempt municipal bonds. And defeated outright was Florida Republican Steve Southerland, who has been a harsh critic of EPA and its “Waters of the U.S.” proposal.

Pulling out a win was Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, who earlier in the year found himself in a competitive race but ultimately defeated his Republican challenger by a comfortable 17-point margin. Sen. Merkley serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee and was an early advocate for the new “Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act” (WIFIA) pilot program.

Committee Ramifications

The election results will lead to some shuffling on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) is expected to take Rep. Rahall’s place as Ranking Democrat and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) appears in line to take Rep. Bishop’s spot as lead Democrat on the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee. T&I Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Penn.) and Water Resources and Environment Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) each won reelection and are expected to maintain their gavels.

Michigan Republican Fred Upton will return as Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and New Jersey’s Frank Pallone is expected to succeed the retiring Henry Waxman as Ranking Democrat. Leadership of the Environment and Economy Subcommittee – which has direct oversight of SDWA – appears likely to remain unchanged with Chairman John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and Ranking Democrat Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) each winning reelection.

Wholesale changes are in store for Senate committees, as the Republican takeover of the chamber will allow GOPers to replace their Democratic counterparts as chairmen. Most notably for the water sector Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe will be the new Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, bumping Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to Ranking Member, while Arkansas’ John Boozman is likely to replace Maryland’s Ben Cardin as Chairman of the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee.

The Policy Landscape of the 114th Congress

While Republicans will be able to drive policy discussions on Capitol Hill for the next two years, their majorities in both chambers will fall well-below veto-proof margins – thereby requiring some degree of cooperation with Democrats and President Obama. Senate Republicans will also have to deal with possible filibusters from members of the new Democratic minority – many of whom will be eager to pay back the GOP for what they saw as an excessive use of the filibuster in recent years.

Looking ahead, lawmakers will return to Washington next week for what could be a brief lame duck session, where a budget measure to keep the government operating beyond December 11 is expected to pass easily. But once newly-elected members are sworn in to begin the 114th Congress the water sector will be affected in a number of ways:

  • If Republicans and Democrats aim for compromise early next year, a comprehensive tax reform bill could be on the agenda. Earlier tax reform proposals have included plans to raise revenues by reducing the tax benefits of municipal bonds – a policy that would have the side effect of increasing infrastructure borrowing costs for local communities. AMWA should be prepared to take part in a major effort to defend municipal bond tax benefits and educate lawmakers on its role for financing infrastructure. This effort will be complicated by the possible loss of Rep. Lee Terry, who sponsored the resolution in support of municipal bonds that served as a rallying point on the issue.
  • The newly-Republican Senate and the more-conservative House will probably take a fiscally conservative approach to writing FY16 appropriations legislation – especially when it comes to agencies like EPA. This could translate to less funding availability for the SRF programs and the new WIFIA pilot, so AMWA will need to brief lawmakers on the economic and job-creating value of water infrastructure investments.
  • Appropriations legislation could also serve as a vehicle for Republicans to attach riders undoing controversial policies, such as EPA’s “Waters of the U.S.” proposal and the agency’s greenhouse gas regulations. Appropriations riders could also be used to attack possible administration efforts to impose “inherently safer technology” (IST) reviews or mandates on water and chemical facilities through Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act. However, these and other riders would probably draw veto threats from President Obama, thereby forcing Republicans to decide if fights on these issues are worth risking a potential government shutdown.
  • The Republican majority will virtually ensure Congress takes no action on divisive issues such as stand-alone legislation to impose “IST” mandates on water treatment facilities and measures to regulate greenhouse gas emissions or otherwise address climate change. Democratic-backed legislation to reauthorize the Drinking Water SRF also faces an uncertain future, even though a similar version of the bill unanimously passed the House in 2010 before dying in the Senate.
  • Looking to 2016 and Beyond

    Because it is never too early to look ahead to the next election, there is already talk in Washington that the GOP’s new Senate majority could be short-lived. When voters head to the polls in 2016 Republicans will have to defend a slew of competitive seats in states that generally trend blue in presidential election years (including New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Florida). Running the table in these races could tip the Senate’s balance of power back in favor of Democrats – something that might motivate GOP senators from these states to spend the next two years searching for issues on which to reach across the aisle in the spirit of bipartisanship.

    No such competitive environment appears on the horizon in the House, where partisan redistricting has created an environment where most Republicans represent overwhelmingly conservative districts, and most Democrats hail from strongly liberal ones. Most political observers expect the House of Representatives to remain firmly in Republican hands at least through 2020, when the results of the next census will give state lawmakers a chance to once again redraw House district lines.

    More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.

    Silt Water Conservancy District sucessfully de-Bruces to fund infrastructure projects

    Silt Creek
    Silt Creek

    From the Rifle Citizen Telegram (Heidi Rice):

    The Silt Water Conservancy Distict was successfully de-Bruced with unofficial election results reporting 1,943 in favor (58.5 percent) over 1,381 against (41.4 percent). The approval will mean the district will now be able to collect money for repair and replacement of irrigation equipment for Rifle Gap Reservoir and Harvey Gap Reservoir. The measure also will allow for improvements to irrigation ditches for farmers north of the Colorado River in the Rifle and Silt areas.

    “We just want to thank all the voters. A lot of people worked hard to get this passed,” said Kelly Lyon, president of the Silt Water Conservancy District. “This should really help our district. Now we need to go to work and get these things done.”

    The district had stressed that de-Brucing the district would not increase property or sales tax, but would give them access to government grant money to help pay for repairs. The district has been run under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or “TABOR,” which forces Colorado governments from the state to school districts to face restrictions in raising their budgets.

    More 2014 Colorado November election coverage here.

    Fountain Creek: “They’re selfish and the vote shows they don’t care about their neighbors downstream” — Jay Winner

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Pueblo County officials are considering legal options after a two-year effort to form an El Paso County drainage authority for Fountain Creek went down the drain Tuesday. Particularly irritating for them was the decision by voters to approve keeping $2 million in tax money for parks while rejecting a plan to fund more than $700 million in flood control backlog.

    “They may develop some nice parks, and hopefully they’ll have water to put on those parks,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “They’re selfish and the vote shows they don’t care about their neighbors downstream. The vote on Tuesday was very divisive to Southern Colorado.”

    “I’m angry and disappointed,” added Pueblo County Commission Chairman Terry Hart. “They’ve put the question to voters twice and stormwater has failed twice. With these votes, it’s clear the people in El Paso County value entertainment more than honoring their commitments.”

    The vote could have repercussions for the Southern Delivery System, an $841 million water pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs.

    “Colorado Springs and its voters have not been supportive of finding and funding solutions for flood control on Fountain Creek throughout the discussions about Southern Delivery System,” said Pueblo Chieftain Publisher and Editor Bob Rawlings. “It should not have been built and should not be turned on until those questions are answered.”

    The Lower Ark District voted last year to sue the Bureau of Reclamation over its approval of the SDS contract despite the lack of a steady stream of funding for stormwater, which Colorado Springs had indicated was in place during a study. The district asked for a supplemental study monitoring SDS impacts without stormwater funding in place. The lawsuit was put on hold until after the election.

    “We did not want to be blamed for the failure of the stormwater vote,” Winner said. “To me, this is not unexpected. I just don’t think they care.”

    The Lower Ark board will consider its legal options at its Nov. 19 meeting.

    Pueblo County also will huddle with lawyers on potential violations of its 1041 permit for SDS, which includes stormwater controls. Hart said the county also is concerned about the Reclamation permit for use of Lake Pueblo and a state water quality permit in light of Tuesday’s vote.

    “Every conversation we’ve had with our friends to the north has been ‘be patient.’ We told them we would sit back and watch,” Hart said. “Our patience is at an end. In fact it may be gone.”

    The other commissioners had similar views.

    “They’re obligated legally and morally to control stormwater,” said Commissioner Sal Pace. “If they have to dry up some parks or not pave some streets, they need to figure it out.”

    “I would share my dismay with Colorado Springs Council President Keith King (who was quoted on the radio Tuesday night),” said Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen. “They need to regroup and secure funding for flood control on Fountain Creek. I would add that it’s up to their leadership to inform the voters.”

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    A two-year effort to get El Paso County rowing in one direction on Fountain Creek flood control fell apart like a sandy bank falling into the stream Tuesday. But Colorado Springs officials have not given up on finding a way to fund flood control.

    “I think that it’s unfortunate that the stormwater initiative didn’t pass here in El Paso County, particularly considering the storms, floods and issues we’ve had in the last couple of years,” said Larry Small, a former Colorado Springs council member who now manages the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District. “Hopefully the people will become more aware and reconsider the issue at some future point.”

    A task force started by Colorado Springs council members and El Paso County commissioners in 2012 became a private organization promoting the Pikes Peak Drainage Authority in this year’s election. But its efforts to promote were counteracted by signs in Colorado Springs front yards that read: “No rain tax.”

    Council voted 7-2 and commissioners 5-0 to put the measure on the ballot last summer.

    But Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach in August issued a proclamation claiming the fee was too high and tied up money for 20 years. He has promoted other ways to fund stormwater control, bundling it with other capital needs. On the day after the election, Bach announced stormwater would be added to the topics at a series of community meetings that will begin next week. In any case, the soonest another election would be held is next April.

    “Everything from Mayor Bach to date has grossly underfunded stormwater,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart, who added that the county is looking at legal action as a result of the failed vote. “I need to see something concrete.”

    Colorado Springs Utilities continues to take the position that the 1041 permit applies to future development, not the historic needs that were listed in the stormwater initiative, said Gary Bostrom, chief of water services. However, Utilities wants to see stormwater control succeed.

    “We will remain focused on doing our part to support a longterm solution to fund stormwater infrastructure needs,” Bostrom said. “In addition to our many efforts underway to improve Fountain Creek, Colorado Springs Utilities will continue to work with community leaders to develop a stormwater solution that our residents can support.”

    From KRCC:

    In El Paso County, voters strongly supported issue 1A for a revenue retention to help fund county parks. Voters rejected a proposal to create a regional drainage authority to fund storm water repairs. In Manitou Springs, issue 2G, which would have prohibited marijuana sales, was soundly defeated.

    More Fountain Creek coverage here and here.

    One big loser in this election? Climate policy.

    Science Senator. It's called science.
    Science Senator. It’s called science.

    From Vox (Brad Plumer):

    In the lead-up to the 2014 midterms, a lot of green groups were hoping that this might finally be the election in which climate change became a defining issue.

    You had billionaire Tom Steyer spending $57 million trying to convince voters to care about global warming. You had the League of Conservation Voters pouring in another $25 million, more than in the previous two elections combined. All the while, it at least seemed possible that recent natural disasters — from Hurricane Sandy two years ago to the ongoing drought in the West — might push climate issues to the fore.

    Ultimately, none of it mattered much. The outlook for climate policy looks just as dismal after these midterms as it did before — at least in Washington, DC.

    True, there were small shifts in attitude here and there. Some Republicans are now acting like it’s no longer viable to deny the basic facts of global warming. Instead, they dodge and say “I’m not a scientist.” And, as Rebecca Leber reports in The New Republic, green candidates are getting better at playing offense. In Michigan, Democrat Gary Peters won his Senate race handily after making climate a top issue.

    But there are few signs that the broader landscape is changing significantly. Global warming remains a low-priority issue in American politics — in a Pew poll, it ranked a lowly 8th (out of 11) on the list of issues voters care about. The newest, more Republican Congress will, if anything, be even more hostile to climate policy than the last one. And those things will matter a lot.

    Congress’ indifference is a big problem for climate policy

    In the short term, the election’s impact might seem negligible. After all, the action in Washington over the next few years will center on the Environmental Protection Agency, which is crafting rules to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from US power plants. These regs don’t need congressional approval (they’re being done under the existing Clean Air Act), and President Obama is expected to veto any attempts by Republicans to block them.

    But congressional indifference is a huge problem for future climate policy. The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that global greenhouse-gas emissions would need to fall 42 to 71 percent below 2010 levels by mid-century if we wanted to fend off the worst impacts of global warming and prevent average temperatures rising more than 2°C (or 3.6°F). That’s an astoundingly difficult task. But it gets harder and more expensive the longer that countries delay.

    Obviously the United States can’t solve climate change on its own. China, India, Europe, and a whole bunch of other nations would also need to get on board. But as one of the world’s biggest emitters, the US would have to make sweeping cuts of its own to help meet that goal. That would mean tripling or quadrupling the amount of clean energy we use and getting radically more efficient in the way we use energy by 2050.

    The EPA simply can’t make all that happen on its own. It just doesn’t have that much power. In theory, Congress could help get there — through policies like carbon pricing or incentives for cleaner energy. But lawmakers would need to act soon: Even though US greenhouse-gas emissions fell between 2005 and 2012, they’re starting to rise again. And the window to stay below 2°C — or even 3°C — keeps getting smaller with each passing day.

    Without a major global shift on climate policy — and soon — the IPCC was clear on what would happen. At current emission rates, the world is on pace to warm between 3.7°C and 4.8°C by the end of the century, compared with pre-industrial levels. (That’s 6.6°F and 8.6°F.) That greatly raise the risk of drastic sea-level rises, crop failures, the flooding of major cities, mass extinctions. Some scientists now worry that a world that hot may not be “able to support society as we currently know it.”

    The report’s bottom line was that countries need to get moving today if they want to stop the planet from heating up drastically. Not tomorrow. Not the day after. And definitely not 10 years from now. But the bottom line of this election is that Congress isn’t going to give much thought to climate change these next two years. Maybe not the two years after that. And it doesn’t seem to be in the power of either committed billionaires or Mother Nature to get them to do so.

    Which means that if anything’s going to change, it may have to happen outside Congress. Maybe new technologies will come along to shake things up (cheaper solar, say?). Or states or cities may need to gin up their own novel ideas for curtailing emissions and adapting to a warmer world. But the 2014 election made clear that Washington, at least, isn’t going to be much help on climate policy anytime soon.