DENVER | Global warming met with a cool reception from voters Tuesday as ballot initiatives targeting fossil fuels went down to defeat in several Western states, defying environmental groups who are raising alarms about catastrophic climate change.
Voters rejected a near-ban on hydraulic fracturing in Colorado, a tripling of the renewable-energy standard in Arizona, and a landmark tax on carbon emissions in Washington, underscoring the climate movement’s difficulty in convincing voters that costly government policies are needed to save the planet.
“What we learned from this election, in states like Colorado, Arizona and Washington, is that voters reject policies that would make energy more expensive and less reliable to them, their families, and the larger economy,” said American Energy Alliance President Thomas J. Pyle.
“There is little doubt that those who authored the defeated initiatives will try again, but we hope they have finally learned their lesson,” he said. “The voters have spoken.”
He may have been referring to San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, whose NextGen America sunk $22 million into Arizona’s Proposition 127, which would have raised the renewable-energy standard from 15 percent by 2025 to 50 percent by 2030.
Proposition 127 lost resoundingly, with only 30 percent of voters in support and 70 percent against.
Mr. Steyer did notch an interim win in Nevada with Question 6, which would double the state’s renewable-energy standard to 50 percent by 2030. The measure passed 59-41 percent, but must be approved again by voters in 2020 to take effect.
In Colorado, voters defeated Proposition 112, an anti-fracking proposal backed by 350.org and Food & Water Watch, with 57 percent voting no. The measure would have cordoned off 85 percent of the state from oil-and-gas development by increasing setbacks to 2,500 feet from the current 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools.
The oil and gas industry sunk $41 million into defeating Proposition 112, outspending proponents by nearly 50 to 1.
“We’re grateful Coloradans saw this for what it was, which was an attempt to run oil and gas out of the state,” Dan Haley, Colorado Oil and Gas Association president, told The Denver Business Journal.
Still, 350.org’s Bill McKibben was optimistic about the future of climate initiatives. “This fight will pay off big in years to come!” he tweeted.
In Montana, Trout Unlimited’s anti-mining Initiative 186 was defeated by 41-59 percent. Alaska’s Ballot Measure 1, called “Stand for Salmon,” lost by 35-62 percent after foes argued it would hamstring the oil and mining industries, according to KTOO.
Washington’s Initiative 1631, which would have established the nation’s first carbon tax, was declared dead Wednesday by The Seattle Times after trailing by 44-56 percent with 64 percent of the vote counted.
The loss of the “Green New Deal” hit climate advocates hard. “If climate policy can’t win in the Evergreen State, can it win anywhere?” asked the Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer.
Added the New Republic’s Emily Atkin: “There was no green wave whatsoever.”
Voters were in the mood Tuesday for election reform, approving more than a dozen measures aimed at expanding voter access, improving ballot integrity and taking politics out of redistricting.
Four states — Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio — approved redistricting measures, continuing the trend by state legislatures to take the map-drawing out of the hands of politicians and under the purview of independent commissions and demographers, according to Ballotpedia.
It was a good night for felons: Florida passed a measure automatically restoring the voting rights of felons who complete their sentences. Louisiana prohibited felons from running for public office for five years, instead of 15 years.
Maryland and Michigan made it easier to vote with same-day registration — Michigan also approved straight-ticket voting and automatic registration — while North Carolina passed a photo ID requirement. North Dakota clarified that only U.S. citizens may vote, and Montana banned election-ballot collecting, with a few exceptions.
Voters split on taxes
Arizona, Florida and North Carolina voters approved measures designed to hold the line on taxes, including Arizona’s Proposition 126, which prohibits state and local governments from imposing or increasing taxes on services.
It was another story in Oregon, where voters rejected measures to bar taxes on groceries and requiring a three-fifths vote of the state legislature for tax increases.
And in California, birthplace of the 1978 Proposition 13 property-tax revolt, voters took a stand in favor of taxes by defeating Proposition 6, which would have repealed the 10-year, $54 billion tax increase on gasoline and diesel. The measure lost by 45-55 percent.
Former San Diego City Council member Carl DeMaio, the initiative’s sponsor, blamed the measure’s state-approved wording, which warned that the repeal would eliminate funding for road and transit projects.
“We were hampered by a misleading ballot statement,” he told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “This shows the politicians have been stealing our gas taxes, and now they’re trying to steal our votes.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed the bill into law, took a victory lap.
“People know you get what you pay for,” he said.