Greens beaten back but not broken after election

Environmental groups see the results of the midterm elections as a major loss for their priorities, but they haven’t completely lost hope.

As Republicans took control of the Senate, only two candidates with major green support won close races: Democrats Gary Peters in Michigan and Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire.

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“Let’s be clear, we lost some champions last night,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters (LCV). “It wasn’t the best night for us.”

“There’s no desire on any of our parts to spin this, to try to throw some sunshine into a story that has some pretty disturbing elements,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

Karpinski, Brune and other environmental advocacy leaders gave a postmortem Wednesday of the election. Major green groups put $85 million into the midterms, a new record for environmental campaign spending.

But it wasn’t enough to hold back the widely predicted Republican Senate takeover, nor to save environmental allies like Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) or to elect green-backed Senate candidates like Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) and Georgia Democrat Michelle Nunn.

“There’s no way to dance around the issue that in too many races, we lost good allies, climate champs, clean energy champions, and we’ll see those people being replaced by folks who stand against our values,” Brune said.

The advocates largely deflected responsibility for the losses, resisted blaming environmental causes for the election losses and doubled down on the need to fight climate change and pollution.

“Yesterday was not a referendum on climate or rejection of environmental protections that Americans overwhelmingly support,” said Elizabeth Thompson, president of the Environmental Defense Action Fund, an affiliate of the Environmental Defense Fund. “It was a really, really bad day for Democrats.”

“There was a map that was very difficult for Democrats in particular on the Senate and an overall public that was disgusted in Washington … and wanted change,” said Karpinski.

Brune said the environmental movement should be proud of the fact that it changed the conversation on climate.

“The climate of climate is rapidly changing,” he said. “Climate denialism is an endangered species.”

Heather Taylor-Miesle, director of the NRDC Action Fund, said her group and allies “elevated climate change as a mainstream political conversation.” The NRDC Action Fund is the campaign affiliate of the Natural Resources Defense Fund.

The green leaders were also proud of the amount of money they spent this year.

Taylor-Miesle said this sets up a good situation for the next election for president.

“All of this sets the stage for 2016, and the fact that a climate denier cannot hold the White House,” she said. “We intend to be there to make sure that that happens.”

NextGen Climate, a new player in the environmental campaign spending scene, which spent $65 million in this cycle, did not send a representative to the Wednesday event.

That group, founded by billionaire activist Tom Steyer, was successful in electing only two of the four Senate candidates it supported.