CLIMATE OF CHANGE: Despite a near absence from the national political campaigns, climate change has proved a campaign issue in New Hampshire and Washington State governors' races. Image: Flickr/David Colarusso
In a year when climate change is low on the national political radar, two states are bucking the trend.
In New Hampshire and Washington state, governors' races are incorporating climate change into party platforms and discussing the issue openly.
"We know we have to deal with climate change. I'm a person who believes in science," said Washington Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee, a former congressman, in an October interview with the Washington State Public Affairs Network.
Beyond rhetoric, the results in both state races could determine the fate of proposed ports that would send coal to Asia, changes to state renewable standards and the status of the nation's first operating cap-and-trade program in the Northeast.
The two states also stand out this year because they, along with Montana, are the only races ranked as tossups by political analysis firms like The Cook Political Report.
There are 11 governor's races this year in total, and in the handful of cases like New Hampshire and Washington where the political party could flip, Democrats are defending turf, said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at The Cook Political Report.
Green versus green in Wash.
Washington voters are restless partially because the unemployment rate is higher than the national average and "they've had a Democratic governor for so long," said Duffy.
There, Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire is retiring, setting up a battle between state attorney general Rob Mckenna (R) and Inslee.
If McKenna wins, it would be the first Republican win of the governorship since 1980, noted Duffy.
As is typical for Washington, the race is further to the left than typical Republican-Democrat debates over energy.
Additionally, Inslee is known for the 2007 book "Apollo's Fire," which outlines an aggressive plan to curb greenhouse gases. Among other ideas, the book describes using state pension fund money to boost energy businesses.
Inslee's official energy plan calls for construction of a new biofuels research center and increasing tax credits for renewable energy development.
His green credentials prompted the League of Conservation Voters to make a rare endorsement -- its backing of Inslee was its first stance on a gubernatorial race in 30 years.
McKenna also has received praise from some environmentalists. As attorney general, he led Washington as a co-petitioner in Massachusetts v. U.S. EPA, a 2007 Supreme Court case that determined the agency's power to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants.
When asked about climate change in a media interview this fall, McKenna said "we should be combating it" and promoted his plan for incentivizing electric cars.
Coal port a burning background issue
Even though both men make similar statements on climate, the differences between the candidates on the issue could be huge, said Ross Macfarlane, a senior adviser at the group Climate Solutions, which is not endorsing either candidate.
Washington is the site of several proposed ports to link coal from Montana and Wyoming to Asia.
The next governor -- via appointments to the state Department of Ecology and directives -- will influence the scope of an environmental reviews of those ports conducted jointly by Washington and the federal government.
The governor could determine whether the upcoming environmental review of Gateway Pacific Terminal in Cherry Point, Wash., for example, considers the effect of global greenhouse gas emissions from shipping coal overseas from the project, and not just local effects such as coal dust from trains, explained Macfarlane.