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Five energy and environment ballot questions to watch


Voters in various states will be weighing in next month on high-stakes ballot initiatives that seek to implement major changes to environment and energy policies.

From banning offshore drilling to levying what would be the country’s first tax on carbon dioxide emissions, the Nov. 6 ballot measures aim to push back on dominant forces at the state or federal level.

{mosads}Millions of dollars have been spent on both sides in some of the fiercest battles, with some being viewed as test cases for policies that could be enacted by other states or on a national scale.

Here are five of the most consequential initiatives facing voters on Election Day.

Washington state carbon tax

Initiative 1631 has attracted international attention, and contributions from across the country, with more than $25 million spent in opposition and $12 million in support, according to state records.

The measure would charge companies $15 for each metric ton of carbon dioxide they emit, increasing by $2 each year until Washington meets its 2035 climate goal of 25 percent below greenhouse gas emission levels from 1990. The money would go toward clean air and water projects, as well as to community health initiatives.

Supporters see the vote as a crucial test of the most strongly supported methods for charging polluters for the environmental harm caused by greenhouse gases.

“Initiative 1631 is the sensible step Washington needs to hold big polluters accountable and invest in real solutions [to] help make clean energy more affordable for more people,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), a leading proponent of the proposal, said in a statement. “Here’s the thing — big oil companies, the same industry trying to destroy our federal environmental protections, are doing everything they can to stop this Initiative from winning in November.”

Opponents counter that it would raise costs for families and businesses.

“Initiative 1631 is an ineffective, costly and unfair energy tax that would force Washington families and small businesses to pay billions in higher costs for gasoline, electricity and natural gas — costing households $440 in the first year alone, increasing every year with no cap,” said Dana Bieber, spokeswoman for the official No on 1631 campaign. “All the while exempting the state’s largest polluters, providing no specific spending plan and no real accountability.”

Colorado oil and natural gas drilling restrictions

Proposition 112 would require oil and natural gas wells be at least 2,500 feet from homes, schools, hospitals, waterways and other areas deemed “vulnerable,” more than double the current 1,000-foot threshold.

That would put as much as 95 percent of the state off-limits to drilling, according to industry estimates. That’s a big deal in the state that ranks No. 6 in the country in both oil and natural gas production, and it’s why the proposal is opposed by the oil industry, Republicans and even some of the state’s high-profile Democrats: gubernatorial candidate Rep. Jared Polis, Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

“Coloradans need to know exactly what is at stake: private property rights, more than 100,000 good-paying jobs, more than $1 billion in taxes for schools, parks and libraries, and our nation’s energy security,” said Dan Haley, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. “A half-mile setback is a blatant attempt by activists to ban oil and natural gas in Colorado and put working families on the unemployment line.”

But the proposal’s backers are optimistic about their chances, especially after a poll this month by the University of Colorado found that 52 percent of voters support the ballot initiative.

Anne Lee Foster, an organizer with Colorado Rising, said the proposal grew out of frustrations in the state’s oil and gas areas, where some people felt companies and state regulators weren’t sufficiently protecting residents.

“We’ve decided to take the power back into our own hands and run a ballot initiative to create our own protections for our communities,” she said.

Florida offshore drilling ban

Amendment 9 would enshrine in Florida’s constitution a ban on offshore oil and natural gas drilling in state waters, which extend out 3 nautical miles on the Atlantic coast and 9 nautical miles in the Gulf of Mexico.

The drilling restrictions are already on the books, so the amendment would make it harder to reverse them. The state’s House voted in 2009 to repeal the offshore drilling ban. And even though the Senate never took up the measure, it nonetheless spooked drilling opponents who now

“We need further protection in the state constitution, because we cannot risk the potential for drilling and the oil spills and the pollution that always come with drilling,” said Susan Glickman, Florida director at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The oil industry argues the amendment is unnecessary because the restrictions have been in place for years. They also say it will make it harder to start drilling if it’s necessary in the future.

“The amendment is redundant to a state law that prohibits oil and gas exploration in state waters and has remained in place for more than 30 years,” said David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council.

“Changing the constitution is filled with time constraints that are not practical should a major global situation occur that exploration could become necessary for national security.  A law change is not constrained this way.”

A vote in favor of the amendment is also seen as a symbolic move against the Trump administration’s proposal to allow drilling in federal jurisdiction in the Gulf of Mexico. A handful of other states opposed to the Trump administration’s drilling ban have also recently implemented bans on drilling within the waters they oversee, including New Jersey, California and Oregon.

Due to a decision by Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission, the drilling ban amendment also would ban vaping in restaurants and other enclosed workplaces.

California fuel tax repeal

Voters in California, a state where ballot initiatives are commonplace, will consider a Republican-backed measure to repeal a 2017 law that boosted gasoline and diesel taxes by 12 cents and 20 cents per gallon, respectively. Last year’s law also began annual, automatic increases that would stop if the initiative passes.

With California’s notoriously high cost of living and some of the highest fuel taxes in the country, supporters think Proposition 6 has a good chance of passing.

“The gas tax is a real symbolic catch-all for the myriad of failures in California government,” said Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego city council member and leader of the organization supporting the proposition. “It really does reflect that in California, we have a legislature that has no care, no regard, no understanding of the cost-of-living impacts of the policies that they are enacting.”

Opponents of the measure have accused its supporters of using the initiative as a way to boost turnout among GOP voters, thereby helping Republican congressional candidates in districts where they’re at risk. They note that Republicans in the California House delegation helped fund the signature drive for the measure.

“I don’t care why someone joined our coalition,” DeMaio said. “I just care that they’re here and we’re dedicated to the same common goal, which is provided tax relief to working families by repealing the gas tax.”

Opponents also say the proposal would deprive the state of badly needed infrastructure funds.

“The fact is, Prop 6 doesn’t lower gas prices and will end up costing California drivers more in the long run,” Michael Quigley, executive director of the California Alliance for Jobs, said in a statement. “The only guarantee is that Proposition 6 will immediately eliminate $5 billion annually in existing transportation funds dedicated to transportation improvements – making our roads, bridges and transportation system less safe and more congested.”

Nevada renewable energy mandate

Nevadans will be voting on Question 6, a proposal that would double the Renewable Portfolio Standard — the minimum portion of electricity that utilities must get from renewable sources — to 50 percent by 2030.

That would make the sunny Silver State one of the top in the nation for renewable mandates.

“We spend more than $700 million on fossil fuels that we import to be burned in our power plants every year,” said Kyle Roerink, spokesman for the Yes on 6 campaign. “What we’re saying is that’s not good enough for one of the sunniest and most geothermal-rich states in the nation. We could be doing a lot better.”

Eugene Hoover, a representative of the No on 6 campaign, told KRNV there’s no need to change the state’s energy mix.

“Natural gas is our largest use of generating power in the state right now; currently, I think we should continue with that,” he told the station. “It is very affordable for us and it is very affordable for the families across Nevada.”

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