Amid the national focus on the composition of the U.S. House and Senate after this midterm election, you may not have noticed that many states had ballot initiatives that are central to the energy and environmental policy debates going on across the country. Life: Powered has been tracking these initiatives, and here is our breakdown of the results.
1. Washington: Statewide Carbon Tax, FAILED
For: 952,647 (43.6%)
Against: 1,230,422 (56.4%)
Initiative 1631 would have imposed a fee (fee being the official wording instead of tax) of $15 per metric ton of CO2, beginning in 2020, and increased the fee by $2 annually until the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals are met. Carbon tax bills have appeared in seven states, but none of those measures became law. Washington defeated a similar initiative in 2016, and now the state’s citizens have spoken again that they will not dramatically raise their energy costs to make a purely symbolic and ineffective effort to mitigate climate change by reducing their CO2 emissions. A record $45 million was poured into the fight, with about 2/3 of the spending going towards the effective opposition effort.
Although many economists favor carbon taxes as a “free-market” solution to climate change, the fact is that, even in a state like Washington that derives much of its electricity from hydroelectric power, the amount of the tax required to make a significant dent in CO2 emissions is astronomical. Even this relatively modest tax, which is far less than what the IPCC proposes, was estimated to cost close to $1 billion over the projection period and may have imposed an average cost of more than $300 per household per year.
Carbon taxes also open the door wide for blatant cronyism, in this case with much of the proceeds going to fund pet projects of the environmental groups supporting the measure. True “free-market” policies, instead of forcing development of one energy source over another, create competitive markets that lower energy prices, improve reliability, and increase economic prosperity. Without the real benefits of affordable, abundant, and reliable energy, the supposed benefits of reducing climate change are meaningless.
2. Colorado: Limits on Oil and Gas Drilling, FAILED
For: 918,867 (43.5%)
Against: 1,191,252 (56.5%)
This initiative, listed as Proposition 112 on the ballot, called for a ban on oil and gas drilling within 2500 feet (about half a mile) of “occupied structures” and “vulnerable areas”, which was estimated to make nearly 85% of non-federal land off-limits to drilling, including 94% of non-federal land in the top five producing counties. As such, the initiative would effectively shut down almost all new oil and gas development in the state, costing the state thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic value.
The 2500 feet rule was primarily derived from a set of controversial studies linking health problems to proximity to oil and gas wells, especially babies being born with lower than average birth weights. The problem with many of these studies is that they begin with the assumption that oil and gas wells raise pollution to dangerous levels nearby and then go searching for effects in health records. They don’t actually measure pollution levels near oil and gas wells and observe a real cause and effect relationship on health outcomes. Most studies that actually measure air pollution near oil and gas wells find that the levels are well below the safe limits set by the EPA. Adequate regulations are already in place to ensure the air and water near oil and gas wells remains safe, and more regulations would provide no discernable health benefits.
This ballot measure was simply another way for activists to slow down the incredible rise in U.S. oil and gas production, which has brought about tremendous economic and geopolitical benefits. Life: Powered studied this fight closely and it is clear that the more the public was educated about the benefits of fossil fuels in their lives, the less likely they were to vote for the measure. It is imperative that Coloradoans continue to be educated in order to fight off the rise of senseless environmental alarmism in their state.
3. Arizona: Higher Renewable Portfolio Standards, FAILED
For: 507,054 (30.2%)
Against: 1,172,471 (69.8%)
Proposition 127, also called the Renewable Energy Standards Initiative, would have required electric utilities in Arizona to procure a certain percentage of electricity from renewable resources each year, rising from 12 percent in 2020 to 50 percent in 2030. The measure was supported primarily by NextGen Climate Action, founded by California hedge fund magnate Tom Steyer, which is also supporting a similar measure in Nevada (see below). Thanks to an effective opposition effort, Arizonans rejected this attempt to export California’s disastrous energy policies to their state. The Navajo Nation, who own and rely upon fossil fuels, including coal-fired power plants impacted by the Proposition, were also staunch opponents and waged a compelling awareness campaign against the measure.
Renewable portfolio standards (RPS) not only ignore the economic and technical challenges of achieving high renewable penetration [link to fact], but also the incredible amount of land and resulting environmental destruction required to produce the majority of our electricity from wind and solar. These standards take a “build it and they will come” approach, setting mandates for transforming the entire electric grid without a clear means to achieve that transformation and without considering the impacts to communities that benefit from fossil fuel production or would be harmed by the side effects of wind and solar installations.
Another fatal flaw of domestic renewable mandates is that they seek to bring U.S. CO2 emissions to zero under the guise of addressing a global climate change crisis when the growth in world energy demand renders nearly meaningless a complete elimination of CO2 emissions from American power plants. The Obama EPA’s calculator for global ambient CO2 estimates that eliminating emissions from the U.S. power sector will only reduce 2050 ambient levels by 0.4%. The doomsday hype from environmental groups, who blindly assume that the world is heading toward disaster unless we dramatically change our way of life, needs to be resisted in favor of policies that continue to improve upon the energy system that has brought us tremendous prosperity along with a clean, livable environment.
4. Nevada: Higher Renewable Portfolio Standards, PASSED
For: 562,514 (59.3%)
Against: 386,223 (40.7%)
Nevada’s newest push to expand its RPS also comes courtesy of Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action, which provided almost all of the $10 million in support for the measure. The amendment to Nevada’s state constitution, posed as Question 6 on the ballot, requires Nevada utilities to procure 50% of their electricity from renewable resources by 2030, up from the current standard of 25% by 2025.
In contrast to Arizona, where a broad coalition mounted an effective opposition campaign against an identical ballot measure, there was almost no opposition to the measure in Nevada. Thankfully, Nevada requires a ballot measure to pass twice before becoming law, which might explain why an organized opposition campaign was not conducted. This means that opponents of this measure have until 2020 to properly educate Nevada voters about how this attempt by California activists to export their ideology could have disastrous impacts on the affordability and reliability of their grid.
5. Florida: Ban Offshore Drilling, PASSED
For: 5,393,032 (68.9%)
Against: 2,436,293 (31.1%)
Florida might have had the strangest energy ballot measure in recent history, with a ban on offshore drilling for oil and natural gas on lands beneath all state waters was combined with a ban on vaping indoors. A lawsuit was filed, and turned down by the Florida Supreme Court, that would have prevented two unrelated measures such as these from appearing together on the ballot. Why the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, comprised mostly of Republican appointees, decided to combine these measures into Amendment 9 remains a mystery, but in the absence of any organized opposition, the measure passed.
This story is a subchapter in a long-running saga over offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast. With the exception of the western Gulf of Mexico, only limited oil and gas exploration and production in U.S. waters has been allowed or pursued. State waters extend up to nine miles from their coasts, and many states have bipartisan support to limit offshore oil and gas development due to concerns about impacts on tourism, which is especially dominant in Florida.
Outright bans on drilling ignore the particular circumstances of different locations that affect their value for tourism or conservation. While states have the right to limit energy production on their lands and waters, doing so through a constitutional amendment, especially one that is so oddly combined with an unrelated measure, is not a sound policy. Legislation is a better means to enact such restrictions, allowing for a more informed and nuanced debate, especially a debate that considers the benefits of domestic energy production, rather than a blanket “yes or no” vote buried deep in a poorly constructed election ballot.
6. California: Repeal of $0.12 Gas Tax, FAILED
For: 3,149,243 (44.9%)
Against: 3,866,449 (55.1%)
This measure, listed as Proposition 6 on the ballot, would have repealed fuel tax increases and vehicle fees that were enacted through the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (RRAA). Attempts by the California Legislature to impose, increase, or extend fuel taxes or vehicle fees will now require voter approval via ballot propositions. The measure received a lot of attention, including nearly $50 million from groups opposing it that stood to benefit from the extra construction projects the RRAA would fund. Once again, California has shown a continued appetite for larger government, more spending, and expanding the state’s already astronomical taxes with very little to show for it.
The problems with California’s roads stem not from how much money they allocate – their state gas tax before the RRAA was still the 8th highest in the country – but how well they spend it. The multi-billion dollar high-speed rail project from Los Angeles to San Francisco is a commonly cited boondoggle, but the real problem lies in CalTrans itself, which is overstaffed to the tune of several hundred million dollars a year, saddled with pension liabilities, and reluctant to outsource work.
Throwing more tax money at problems and expecting governments that have not spent it wisely to magically do better is not a solution. More taxes simply create more entrenched constituencies that ask for more money and don’t seek to change the flawed systems. Californians need to do the hard work of reigning in government spending and demanding reforms if they want to see their state proposer again.
7. Alaska: New Permitting Requirements for Development Near Fish Habitats, FAILED
For: 147,106 (63.4%)
Against: 84,928 (36.6%)
Measure 1 was the only statewide ballot measure in Alaska this election and sought to require additional permitting for any project that could potentially affect the habitat of salmon or any other fish that spawn in fresh water but live in salt water. The broadly worded measure would have greatly increased the regulatory burden for many types of development, especially oil and gas pipelines and roads that extend across large distances.
As usual, environmental groups, in their reductionist drive to restrict economic development, tried to redefine what constitutes “safe” development of energy and water resources, roads, and buildings. Alaskans have a tremendous respect for their incredible natural environment and have done an excellent job protecting it with the current laws and regulations in place. In this case, a strong majority of Alaskans recognized this fact and voted down this measure.