A Democratic Senate Would Be Groundbreaking for the Climate

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Jan. 6 2021, Published 11:57 a.m. ET

ossoff warnock democratic senate
Source: Getty Images

The nail-biter runoff election for Georgia’s two Senate seats has all eyes on Peach State, as the results will determine which political party will gain control of the Senate. As of Wednesday, Jan. 6, the Democratic Rev. Raphael Warnock has defeated Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler, and Democrat Jon Ossoff is inching closer to beating Republican incumbent David Perdue. 

Democrats gaining control of the Senate would change the American political landscape — but what will a blue Senate mean for the climate?

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The Georgia Senate race results so far are history-making.

Major news outlets including the Associated Press and The New York Times called the race for Warnock over Loeffler overnight on Jan. 5, making Warnock the first Black senator to ever be elected to the Senate from Georgia, or any Southern state.

Now following Warnock’s victory, Americans are anxiously awaiting the results of the Ossoff-Perdue race.

A victory for Ossoff, who is holding onto the lead as of Wednesday morning, would evenly split the two parties in the Senate. The vice president then has to cast the tie-breaking vote for Senate control. 

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As reported by NPR, this vote will happen after this month’s inauguration, meaning Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will get to cast the final vote, giving Democrats control of the Senate. This would bump Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell from Senate majority leader down to Senate minority leader, with Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer being promoted to majority leader.

Democrats will retain their control of the House, so a majority in the Senate will mean a majority in both houses of Congress.

A blue Senate could mean so much for the climate.

democratic senate climate
Source: Getty Images

The Senate’s majority party holds a tremendous amount of voting power. Keep reading to see how a blue Senate could help fight the climate crisis.

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A Democratic Senate could help even out the Supreme Court.

The Senate votes to confirm Supreme Court Justice nominees, and due to the Republican Senate majority that has been in place since 2014, the Senate was able to confirm three Republican Justices during Donald Trump's four-year term (after controversially blocking Barack Obama's nomination during the entire final year of his presidency and rushing to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the final months of Trump's presidency), bringing the Supreme Court to a 6-3 conservative majority. 

A Democratic majority in the Senate would ensure that any judge President-elect Biden nominates to SCOTUS would be approved. 

Major climate change lawsuits occasionally pass through the Supreme Court, and Democratic judges are far more likely to vote in line with science on climate issues than Republican judges are. (For instance, Justice Amy Coney Barrett stated she does not “have firm views” on climate change during her confirmation hearings.)

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So, having a Democratic president and Senate majority pretty much guarantees that should any SCOTUS seats open up in the next few years, a judge who understands the severity of the climate crisis would be appointed to the nation’s highest court.

A Democratic Senate will confirm Biden’s Cabinet nominees.

As of now, all the Cabinet appointments announced by Biden are merely nominees — they still need to be approved by the Senate

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Biden’s Cabinet nominations are stacked with history-making environmental advocates, including the first Native American to join a presidential Cabinet (Rep. Deb Haaland), the first Black man to be named EPA administrator (Michael Regan), and the first openly gay person to be confirmed by the Senate (Mayor Pete Buttigieg) — assuming the Senate actually does confirm all of these picks, which would be far more likely if we have a blue Senate.

The Senate votes on major climate bills.

The Senate constantly votes on bills, and every federal bill must be approved by both the House and Senate before it's approved by the President (with the exception of executive orders). And occasionally, bills relate to climate change, environmental protections, drilling for fossil fuels, pollution, environmental justice, and other eco issues.

A notable example occurred in 2015, when the Republican-majority Senate voted to force Obama to approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline

Again, Democratic lawmakers have been more likely to acknowledge climate science and vote for pro-climate bills. And, as noted by Science, with a Democratic majority in Congress (both the House and the Senate), Congress will have an easier time both passing new bills that fight the climate crisis and — excitingly — rolling back some of the environmentally-destructive laws set by the Trump administration.

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