- The Washington Times
Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Environmental advocacy groups believe they have discovered a missing piece of the puzzle to passing climate-friendly policies: challenging state political maps.

The contentious legal battles that so often ensue every 10 years when states redraw local and national districts using census data is largely unfamiliar territory for environmental organizations to wade into.

But two environmental groups — the North Carolina chapter of the League of Conservation Voters and the Ohio Environmental Council — have seen resounding success in recent months. In separate legal challenges brought by the organizations, the state Supreme Courts in North Carolina and Ohio tossed out maps by state Republicans that were found to improperly favor the GOP.

As a result, these organizations are encouraging similar climate-focused groups to realize that mounting legal challenges in the name of fairer elections that could help Democrats get elected might one day soon lead to more environmental legislation.

“Environmental groups need to recognize that the work that we do is intersectional. Our issues don’t occur in a vacuum,” said Chris Tavenor, a staff attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council, during a call with reporters Tuesday. “Our democracy is an underpinning for all the work that we’re trying to do, whether it’s pass environmental policy or oppose bad legislation.”

Mr. Tavenor said a lack of Democrats in power equals a lack of action on climate change, a notion he contended that they could not overlook as an entity pushing for specific policies.

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“To ignore that as an organization that advocates for a healthy environment is essentially ignoring one of the fundamental realities that determines whether or not we can even do that advocacy in the first place,” he said.

Both political parties are notorious for gerrymandering. But Republicans currently control 30 state legislatures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Ohio and North Carolina are two of them. Republicans control nearly two-thirds (62%) of state legislative chambers.

That means climate groups won’t see their environmental policy wishes in states across the country come to fruition anytime soon, unless a seismic shakeup occurs in many states across the country.

To Republicans, their dominance at the state level means they can prevent sweeping and far-reaching climate policies from infringing on Americans’ personal lives and their wallets. For Democrats, they view it as a pass for the GOP to favor the interests of the fossil-fuel industry and policies that ignore the disproportionate impacts that pollution has on poor and minority communities.  

To that effect, a key argument to progressives’ legal victory in North Carolina was that the Republican-drawn map unconstitutionally disempowered minority voters, said Sam Hirsch, a partner at the law firm Jenner & Block that represented the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters.

The Ohio Supreme Court invalidated a fourth attempt at redrawing a map last week, forcing a redistricting commission to go back to the drawing board yet again, despite early voting already underway for a May 3 primary.

In North Carolina, a state court ruling replaced a gerrymandered Republican map with one drawn by outside experts.

“First, we have to make sure that we hold the line and prevent Republicans from regaining a supermajority in either chamber,” said Dustin Ingalls, director of strategic communications for the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters. “Then, over the rest of this decade, we can make incremental gains until we hopefully have a majority that can give voters more power over map drawing.”

• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at rtouchberry@washingtontimes.com.

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