America Votes on Environment and Energy Ballot Initiatives

While control of Congress and the gubernatorial races garnered the most attention, the 2018 midterm elections also provided voters in several states the opportunity to craft environmental and energy policy directly through ballot initiatives. Carbon taxes, offshore drilling restrictions, renewable energy, and hydraulic fracturing limits were among the issues put to a vote in certain states on 6 November.

Successful Ballot Initiatives
Florida, Amendment 9: 
Florida voters amended their state constitution to ban offshore drilling for oil and natural gas beneath all state waters. The ban prohibits drilling for either exploration or extraction purposes. The initiative will not affect the transportation of oil and natural gas products that were produced outside the state’s waters. Amendment 9 builds upon existing statutory limits on offshore drilling in Florida waters. Amendment 9 also added a constitutional ban on the use of e-cigarettes in indoor workplaces.

Nevada, Question 6: Nevada voters endorsed a plan that will mandate electric utilities to acquire 50% of their electricity from renewable resources by the year 2030. In Nevada, initiatives that propose constitutional amendments must be approved in two successive general elections. Thus, voters must approve Question 6 again in 2020. This initiative would supplant current Nevada law under which electric utilities must acquire 25% of their electricity from renewable resources by 2025. This initiative is similar to Proposition 127 in Arizona, which was not passed in this election.

Failed Ballot Initiatives
Alaska, Ballot Measure 1: After months of intense debate, voters rejected Ballot Measure 1 by a wide margin. The measure would have prohibited any projects or activities determined to cause significant and irreparable damage to selected fish habitats and was aimed primarily at providing additional protection for salmon by creating a significantly more onerous permitting process for mines, dams, oil projects, and other developments in salmon habitats. Critics contended the initiative would have made additional development in Alaska difficult, if not impossible, particularly for oil and gas, infrastructure, and mining projects.

Arizona, Proposition 127: Arizona rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have mandated electric utilities to acquire 12% of their electricity from renewable resources by 2020. The percentage would have increased each year, reaching 50% by 2025. With the rejection of Proposition 127, the floor for renewable energy sourcing remains at 15% by 2025.

California, Proposition 3: California voters rejected a proposal to authorize $8.877 billion in general obligation bonds for water-related infrastructure and environmental projects. Most of the money would have gone to agencies devoted to improving the state’s water quality. Additionally, the initiative would have allocated $640 million to groundwater sustainability agencies and $500 million to help the state meet safe drinking water standards. Opponents derided the initiative’s cost—it was estimated that California would have spent $17.3 billion over 40 years when taking interest payments into account.

California, Proposition 6: With the rejection of this initiative, California will not repeal fuel tax and vehicle fee increases that were passed in 2017. The initiative also would have required voter approval to impose, increase, or extend future fuel taxes or vehicle fees. The failure of this initiative gives the left-leaning California legislature flexibility to modify these taxes and fees to address its policy priorities going forward.

Colorado, Proposition 112 and Amendment 74: Voters rejected a pair of initiatives that would have mandated that all new oil and gas development projects be a minimum distance of 2,500 feet from occupied buildings and other areas designated as vulnerable (Proposition 112) and would have compensated private property owners for any reduction in fair market value of their properties as a result (Amendment 74). Had it passed, Proposition 112 had the potential to make enormous portions of state land off-limits to oil and gas exploration. Voters were not ultimately persuaded by supporters’ arguments that the initiative was necessary to limit the expansion of hydraulic fracturing projects.

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