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How Will the Midterm Elections Affect Environmental Health, Clean Air, and Workers’ Rights? Member Scholars Offer Expert Insights

Public Protections Responsive Government Air Climate Workers

It’s all over but the shouting. 

The results of this year’s much-discussed midterm elections are finally (almost fully) in: the U.S. House is now controlled by a Republican from California, President Biden now faces a divided Congress, control of several state legislative chambers switched hands, and voters in 32 states weighed in on 137 ballot measures on issues ranging from abortion to voting rights.

We asked several of our Member Scholars how the election outcomes will affect policy going forward in our three priority policy areas. Today’s post covers the implications for public protections such as environmental health, clean air and water, and workers’ rights; in the coming days, additional posts in this series will cover implications for climate justice and regulatory democracy.

Q: How will the outcome of the midterm elections affect policy relating to public protections?

A: Likely layoffs at federal labor agency could undermine worker protections

The union affiliated with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency that oversees workers’ right to organize and addresses unfair labor practices, asserts that, with fixed costs rising by roughly 4.6 percent, the NLRB is facing “budgetary Armageddon” unless Congress increases the agency’s budget. 

The agency is already in a hiring freeze, and, for the first time in a decade, it is possible that the NLRB will have to furlough employees — at a time when caseloads are growing and the agency is attempting to develop novel workers’ rights theories. 

The NLRB’s budget has been frozen since 2014, and it is almost inconceivable the situation will improve now that  Republicans have won control of the House.

— Michael C. Duff is a law professor at St. Louis University School of Law

A: An auspicious omen for state-based climate policy

For years, addressing climate change seemed politically risky due to fears that we’d lose our way of life, our prosperity, our freedom. But these fears are hard to reconcile with California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s landslide victory this month. 

The state has responded aggressively to climate change. In 2021, less than half of California’s electricity came from fossil fuel sources, a share that has been declining for years, and electric cars are ever more prevalent on our roads.

The state has a long way to go, but Californians are well past the feeling that a renewable energy transition is hypothetical and abstract. If responding to climate change was going to stink, we’d know it by now — and we’d take out our frustrations on incumbent politicians. Instead, we just reelected a climate-conscious governor in a landslide — and that bodes well for climate law and policy in California and beyond.

— Dave Owen is a law professor at University of California Hastings College of Law

A: A ‘big boost’ for public and environmental health

The midterm results give a big boost to environmental and public health protections in the second half of Biden’s term. 

I expect turnover among top appointees, and the Democratic-controlled Senate will confirm committed progressives to senior positions at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; at the U.S. Departments of Energy, Interior, and Health and Human Services; and at other agencies.  That means momentum can continue on reducing carbon emissions, strengthening worker protections, and safeguarding water quality.

— Noah Sachs is a law professor at University of Richmond School of Law

Public Protections Responsive Government Air Climate Workers

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