From salmon in Alaska to a carbon tax in Washington, voters will take state environment and energy issues into their own hands this week.
People in 37 states will decide on 155 state ballot measures, according to the website Ballotpedia, which tracks political candidates and other election issues nationwide.
Energy is a standout theme, with six measures in six states related to fossil fuels and promoting renewable energy generation.
Voters in both Arizona and Nevada will have to decide if half of the electrical power used by utilities should come from renewables by 2030.
The measures are backed by Tom Steyer via NextGen Climate Action and opposed by utilities. If the measures pass, the states would be on par with neighboring California’s renewable portfolio standard.
“It turns out Nevada is the Saudi Arabia of solar energy in the United States, and Arizona is number two,” Steyer, the founder of NextGen, told The Nevada Independent. “Between the two of them, they could actually produce enough energy to produce enough electricity for the whole United States.”
Washington state will try for a third time to pass a carbon tax, which could have sweeping ramifications for climate policy across the country. If the measure passes, it would make Washington the first state to adopt a carbon price from an initiative on the ballot.
Alaskans will vote to decide if the state Department of Fish and Game should be required to grant permits for activities and development projects that could harm fish habitat.
Ballot Measure No. 1 could impose tough salmon habitat controls on major construction projects related to state waterways. It would not affect existing projects that have state and federal permits.
“So far, we’ve gotten lucky,” says the Yes for Salmon campaign on its website. “Despite a vague law protecting salmon habitat, Alaska has avoided any catastrophic project or disaster on a salmon stream big enough to wipe out a major salmon run.
“But the legal provision is so ambiguous that is it’s vulnerable to political interference – whereby pet projects could be legally permitted despite good science and common sense saying they shouldn’t.”
Opponents of the measure say that the state has enough regulations to help fish habitat and that it would cost Alaskans jobs.
Stand for Alaska-Vote No on One has accused Yes for Salmon and other pro-initiative groups of flouting campaign finance laws (Greenwire, Sept. 21).
The opposition group said “the proponent’s failure to disclose campaign donors could cause ‘irreparable harm’ by denying voters vital information they need to know before they vote November 6.” It petitioned the Alaska Public Offices Commission to hold an emergency hearing on its accusations.
The Anchorage Daily News editorial board also opposed the measure.
“Imposing an overreaching system of regulation such as the one proposed by Ballot Measure 1 won’t help fish, and it will hurt our state’s recovering economy,” it wrote.
Arizona voters will get to decide if electric utilities should increase their usage of renewable resources.
Proposition 127 would require utilities to get half of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. It would require the utilities to steadily increase their renewable energy use each year.
Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, which is backed by NextGen, is leading the campaign.
“This measure protects our air and water and creates thousands of good-paying jobs for Arizonans and ensures future generations have access to clean reliable energy,” the groups says on its website.
The proposition is opposed by several national and state Republican lawmakers, including Reps. Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar and Debbie Lesko. It is also opposed by several utilities, including the Grand Canyon State Electric Cooperative Association and Tucson Electric Power Co.
Opponents say the measure could increase utility bills because of language on the ballot that says “irrespective of cost to consumers” (Energywire, Oct. 15).
The group Arizonans for Affordable Electricity says passing the measure would mean the Palo Verde nuclear power plant would have to prematurely close by 2025.
Supporters have disputed these claims, saying it would save the state money in the long run without closing Palo Verde early.
Not unexpectedly, California’s ballot has a handful of environment- and energy-related proposals.
Proposition 3 would authorize nearly $9 billion in bonds for water infrastructure, groundwater storage, surface water storage, dam repairs, watershed protection and habitat restoration.
The money would come from the state’s general obligation bonds. Proposition 3 is supported by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) and Democratic Reps. Jim Costa and John Garamendi.
Sierra Club California, Restore the Delta and other environmental groups have opposed the measure. They say that it would let the public’s tax money pay for water supply projects that benefit industrial agricultural operations.
Several newspaper editorial boards opposed the measure, including the Los Angeles Times. “Especially when money is flowing and water isn’t, it’s easy to be seduced into spending on the wrong water projects at the wrong time and for the wrong benefits and beneficiaries. Proposition 3 would lead us into exactly that kind of trap,” it wrote.
Also on the ballot is Proposition 6, which would repeal 2017’s fuel tax and vehicle fee increases and require a public vote on future increases.
The measure would add an additional step to a proposed tax increase, which requires a two-thirds vote of each state legislative chamber and the governor’s signature.
It would repeal the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017, which increased that gas tax by 12 cents per gallon, the diesel fuel tax by 20 cents per gallon and increased the sales tax on diesel fuels by an additional 4 percentage points, among other things.
The issue could push higher Republican turnout. State Sen. Josh Newman (D) was recalled in June after a campaign against him focused on his support of the RRAA.
Around $50 million has been raised for and against Proposition 6.
It has gained support from a number of GOP elected officials, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), and California Reps. Doug LaMalfa, Devin Nunes, Ken Calvert and Mimi Walters.
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has opposed Proposition 6, tweeting that the “measure pushed by Trump’s Washington allies jeopardizes the safety of million of Californians by stopping local communities from fixing their crumbling roads and bridges.”
The Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote that it’s “hard to overstate how destructive Proposition 6 would be for California,” adding that it would eliminate $5 billion a year from the state budget that could be used to “fill potholes on local streets, smooth highways and stabilize bridges.”
California residents will also vote on Proposition 12 to establish a minimum space requirement for calves raised for veal, breeding pigs and egg-laying hens. The measure is supported by some animal rights groups and opposed by farming groups.
Controversy has surrounded a duo of energy-related ballot initiatives in Colorado.
Proposition 112 would require new oil and gas drilling to be at least 2,500 feet away from occupied buildings and any vulnerable areas like parks and water.
Vulnerable areas would be defined by the initiative as “playgrounds, permanent sports fields, amphitheaters, public parks, public open space, public and community drinking water sources, irrigation canals, reservoirs, lakes, rivers, perennial or intermittent streams, and creeks, and any additional vulnerable areas designated by the state or a local government.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) recently endorsed the measure on Twitter. “Given the crisis we face with climate change, in my view we should move toward a total ban on fracking. At a minimum, it seems obvious that we must protect communities from the environmental damage that fracking causes,” he said.
One Colorado county has put a temporary moratorium on new permits for oil and gas drilling because of the pending proposition. The Adams County Board of Commissioners passed the measure because of concerns that a flood of new applications would come if the measure passes, with developers hoping to get approval before it takes effect (Energywire, Nov. 1).
Protect Colorado is the leading campaign against the proposition. It says it would hurt the economy, wipe out jobs and endanger the environment.
“Proposition 112 is backed by extreme out-of-state groups and increases energy setbacks to five times the distance of what is currently requires, which effectively bans oil and natural gas development in Colorado, costing tens of thousands of jobs, hundreds of millions in tax revenue, and devastating large segments of our economy,” the campaign says on its website.
Voters will also decide on Amendment 74, which would require that property owners be compensated for any reduction in property value caused by state laws or regulations.
Boulder’s Daily Camera editorial board opposed Amendment 74, saying that if the pair of measures both pass, “oil and gas companies could make legal claims that the new setbacks decreased the value of the minerals they own.”
Sanders said the measure “seems to be one of the most dangerous propositions in the country.” He tweeted: “It would open the flood gates for oil, gas and other corporate interests to bankrupt the state.”
Sponsor of the amendment and executive vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, Chad Vorthmann, said in a statement that the measure is “about protecting Colorado’s farmers and ranchers from extremist attempts to enforce random setback requirements for oil and natural gas development.
“While these setbacks may on their face sound reasonable, they would essentially eliminate oil and natural gas development in Colorado and strip away Colorado landowners’ right to use their land the way they wish.”
Amendment 2 on Connecticut’s ballot would require public hearings on all legislation to authorize the transfer, sale or disposal of state-owned properties, including state parks, forests and conserved lands.
It would also require a two-thirds majority vote in the General Assembly to authorize the sale, transfer or disposal of the public lands. It is supported by the Connecticut Forest & Park Association.
“Every year, the [Connecticut] General Assembly considers a ‘Conveyance Bill’ to sell, swap, or give away state-owned public lands. Valuable public lands like State Parks, Forests, Wildlife Management Areas, and Agricultural lands are included in this process, and changes are often made to the Conveyance Bill at the very end of the Legislative session when no debate or public input is possible. How would you feel if your favorite public lands were lost, and you had no opportunity to provide input?” the group said in a statement.
Voters in the Sunshine State will decide this week whether or not to ban offshore drilling for oil and natural gas on all lands under state waters. Also tied into Amendment 9 is a ban on the use of e-cigarettes in indoor workplaces.
This odd combination has drawn criticism. The Tampa Bay Times editorial board said “this strange juxtaposition of issues has no place in Florida’s Constitution.”
The offshore drilling ban would not affect federal waters, which start beyond 3 nautical miles on the Atlantic coast and 9 nautical miles on the Gulf Coast.
The amendment was one of six challenged in court, but it ultimately stayed on the ballot (Energywire, Oct. 18). It is opposed by the Florida Petroleum Council and Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, told E&E News that this combination of issues could mean the loss of younger voters but that “public health voters are generally public health voters” across the board (Greenwire, Oct. 31).
Georgia residents will vote tomorrow on two land conservation measures.
Amendment 1 would create a land conservation trust fund with up to 80 percent of the revenue from sales and use taxes on outdoor recreation equipment.
The amendment does not appear to have any vocal opponents. It is supported by the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Coalition, which is comprised of the Conservation Fund, Georgia Conservancy, Nature Conservancy and others.
Amendment 3 would revise the method for calculating taxes on forest land and creates a timberland property class.
Question 2 on Maine’s ballot would authorize $30 million for wastewater infrastructure improvements.
The majority of the funds – about $27 million – would go to a local wastewater treatment facility and hydrographic modeling in coastal wetlands. The rest would go to replacing malfunctioning septic systems and assisting homeowners to do the same.
Question 3 would authorize $106 million for transportation infrastructure projects. Most of the money would pay for the construction, reconstruction, and rehabilitation of highways and bridges.
Missouri voters will decide this week if they should increase their gas tax to give more money to the state highway patrol.
Proposition D would increase taxes on gasoline, diesel, natural gas and propane by 10 cents per gallon. For gasoline and diesel, the increase would be phased in over four years.
The amendment would also increase the tax on alternative fuels like compressed natural gas, liquid natural gas and propane. Gov. Mike Parson (R) supports the measure.
A measure on Montana’s ballot would add requirements for new hardrock mine permits.
Montana I-186 would require new mines of hard rock materials like gold, diamond, copper, silver, nickel, platinum and zinc to have plans for reclamation or rehabilitation and restoration.
If the measure passes, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality can only give out permits to new hard rock mines if their reclamation plans are “sufficient to prevent the pollution of water without the need for perpetual treatment.”
Supporters of the measure want tougher pollution standards for mines, while opponents say the measure could effectively end mining in Montana (Greenwire, Oct. 18).
Montana Trout Unlimited and Earthworks say that taxpayers bear the burden of water quality problems and cleanup costs.
The Montana Mining Association has said new mines shouldn’t be judged against events in other places that occurred decades ago.
Question 6 on Nevada’s ballot would require electric utilities to get half of their electricity from renewable sources like solar, geothermal, wind, biomass and hydroelectric by 2030.
The state’s renewables standard now is 25 percent by 2025. If approved, the measure would have to return to the ballot in two years.
Opponents of the measure argue that it will raise energy costs and hurt the economy, but it hasn’t received the same level of backlash from utilities as the similar proposal in Arizona (Greenwire, Aug. 30).
Question 3 would amend the Nevada Constitution to guarantee that energy customers have the right to choose their energy provider and generate their own power for resale.
It would require the state Legislature to pass laws to establish “an open, competitive retail electric energy market” and protect “against service disconnection and unfair practices” by July 1, 2023.
Voters approved the measure in 2016, but they must approve it again for it to become constitutional law.
NV Energy, which is part of Warren Buffett’s portfolio through Berkshire Hathaway Energy, controls about 90 percent of the state’s retail electricity market and has spent millions of dollars opposing Question 3 (Energywire, Oct. 1).
Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign also opposes Question 3 over concerns that changing the power market would stall progress on clean energy and solar.
The North Carolina Right to Hunt and Fish Amendment would create a state constitutional right for residents to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife.
The measure would also state that hunting and fishing are the preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife in the state.
The National Rifle Association supports the bill. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and the state Democratic Party oppose the measure.
A SurveyUSA poll from October found that 64 percent of voters support the measure with a 4.8 percent margin of error.
A measure in North Dakota would provide volunteer emergency responders with a special license plate that would give them free access to state parks. Measure 4 doesn’t face any substantial opposition.
State Question 800 would set aside 5 percent of the state’s oil and gas revenue into the Oklahoma Vision Fund.
The money would be appropriated starting in July 2020, and after that fiscal year, the percentage would increase by two-tenths percentage points each year.
The measure would also transfer 4 percent of the fund’s capital to the state’s general revenue fund. It has bipartisan support from state senators.
However, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association has opposed State Question 800.
“Simply put, this state question is vague, filled with unknowns and could erode millions of dollars in dedicated funding for public schools,” said Shawn Hime, the executive director of school group.
Question 3 on Rhode Island’s ballot would issue $47.3 million in bonds for environmental, water and recreational projects. Money would go to coastal resiliency projects, wastewater treatment, dam safety, dredging and other projects.
Voters will decide if there should be local property tax exemptions for flood abatement, mitigation or resiliency.
Virginia Question 1 would authorize local governments to provide a partial local property tax exemption for real estate that has improvements to stop flooding or long-term damage from flooding. Climate change and rising sea levels have been a hot issue for coastal Virginia races (Greenwire, Oct. 29).
Fredericksburg’s Free Lance-Star editorial board opposed the measure.
“Given that waterfront property generally commands higher prices on the real estate market than similar properties located inland, approving this amendment would in effect provide a kind of flood insurance that is paid for by people who do not own, or cannot afford, waterfront property themselves,” it wrote.
Washington state this week will try for a third time to get a carbon tax implemented. Initiative 1631 would impose pollution fees on large emitters of greenhouse gas pollutants starting in 2020.
The fees, which would be based on rules determining carbon content, would be $15 per metric ton of carbon in 2020 and increase $2 per metric ton every year until 2035 carbon reduction goals are met. Revenue from the fees would fund various environmental programs and projects.
Washington voters rejected a similar idea in 2016 by a 59 to 41 percent margin. Environmental groups and oil companies have pumped money into the campaign (Climatewire, Oct. 4).
The carbon tax isn’t the only energy issue on the ballot. Advisory Question 19 would ask residents whether or not a state Senate bill that applied a tax on crude oil and petroleum products that came through pipelines should be repealed.
“The legislature expanded, without a vote of the people, the oil spill response and administration taxes to crude oil or petroleum products received by pipeline, costing $13,000,000 over ten years for government spending,” the questions states.
S.B. 6269 passed the state Senate and House in March. All no votes were from Republicans.
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