The Environment Is on the November Ballot — Here’s Where and What’s at Stake
By Tara Lohan
Environmental issues such as polluted drinking water in Michigan and harmful algal blooms in Florida could influence which candidates voters will support in this November's midterm election, said Holly Burke, communications coordinator of the League of Conservation Voters.
"Water issues really resonate with voters in states where clean water has been a dramatic problem," said Burke.
These issues may affect certain political candidates, but in some states ballot measures will be a more direct way for residents to weigh in on environmental issues. For those hoping that statewide initiatives will help to combat environmental rollbacks at the federal level by the Trump administration, this election will be a crucial test.
The statewide ballot initiative with the greatest environmental significance will be decided by voters in Washington state, which could signal a shift in climate change strategy.
Two other western states will take on clean energy standards, and water issues will appear on the ballots in three states, including a confusing measure in Florida that pairs offshore drilling with an unrelated measure on vaping.
"We're seeing a lot of support for states to take the lead in the light of federal attacks on clean energy and climate," said Bill Holland, state policy director for the League of Conservation Voters.
A Fee on Polluters
The biggest test will be nearly 3,000 miles from Washington, DC, in Washington state. If voters approve Initiative 1631, Washington could significantly move the needle on climate action by being the first state to enact a fee on carbon emissions.
Carbon pricing bills have been proposed by a number of state legislatures, including Washington's, but none have yet to pass in the U.S. Now Washington voters will decide for themselves on the issue and if Initiative 1631 wins, it could trigger efforts in other states.
"We're super excited and see it as a potential model nationwide," said Holland.
The measure would put a fee of $15 per metric ton on carbon emissions, beginning in 2020. This fee would increase $2 every year until the state hits its 2035 greenhouse gas reduction goals and is on track to meet its 2050 goals.
There's a lot at stake, not just for Washington, but the whole country.
"If it passes, Washington will take its place as a part of a growing West Coast climate vanguard, alongside California and Oregon, representing close to 20 percent of the U.S. economy," wrote David Roberts at Vox. "If it fails, it will not only be a crushing blow to an already battered state climate community, but it will cast doubt on the larger states-will-save-us narrative, which is just about the only narrative U.S. climate hawks have left."
Just two years ago Washington voters rejected a similar measure, Initiative 732, which would have created a carbon tax. The measures, however, aren't identical. A carbon tax would have directed revenue generated by the program to the state's general fund. This year's Initiative 1631 instead uses a fee, which directs the money to specific purposes.
Money raised by Initiative 1631 would be divvied up, with 70 percent directed toward supporting clean air and clean energy investments; 25 percent invested in clean water and healthy forests; and the remaining 5 percent targeted for helping communities deal with the impacts of climate change.
The initiative was put the ballot by a coalition of community, environment, labor and climate-justice groups.
The opposition, led by Western States Petroleum Association, has raised $21 million to defeat the measure, but Holland says he still likes the initiative's chances of success. "Climate change is on the ballot and we think there is broad public support for holding polluters accountable," he say.
Montana and Alaska voters will weigh in on water protections, but of two very different sorts.
In Montana Initiative 186 seeks to protect the state's waters from pollution from new hardrock mines. It would give the state's Department of Environment Quality the ability to deny permits for a new mine if the project's plan doesn't prove that it will prevent water pollution "without the need for perpetual treatment."
The biggest financial supporter of the initiative is the fish-friendly nonprofit Trout Unlimited. Anglers have good reason for hoping to keep the state's rivers clean and its fish populations healthy. The measure is opposed by mining interests led by the Montana Mining Association, which is concerned it would result in job losses and other economic damages.
The state is still dealing with the toxic legacy of earlier hardrock mines that have resulted in one of the country's largest Superfund sites. And mining issues are still front and center. Montana's Smith River was highlighted earlier in the year by the nonprofit American Rivers in its annual survey of the country's "most endangered rivers" due to a proposed copper mine currently vying for permits.
Further north, Alaska's Measure 1 would set up stricter permitting regulations and new requirements for projects that could impact aquatic habitat for salmon, steelhead and other anadromous fish, which migrate between rivers and the ocean.
"It enhances the public process and public participation in decisions around large-scale development that would impact salmon habitat, which is a core part of Alaska's identity," said Holland. The fish have not just environmental, but economic and cultural importance in the state.
Groups like the Alaska Center, Wild Salmon Center and Alaska Conservation Foundation are supporting the measure. It's opposed by numerous oil drilling and mining companies, including BP Exploration Inc. Alaska, ConocoPhillips and Hecla Mining Company.
Drilling off Florida
One of the most confounding ballot initiatives will appear before Florida voters.
When voters get to Amendment 9 on this year's ballot, they will decide whether to ban offshore oil and gas drilling in state waters. At the same time, they will vote on whether to allow vaping (the use of "vapor-generating electronic devices") in indoor workplaces.
This odd confluence stems from the state's strange initiative process. Florida's Constitution Revision Commission only convenes every 20 years to decide which constitutional amendments to place on the ballot. In some cases they are grouped together.
The dual measure makes for odd bedfellows (and potentially voter confusion). A yes vote means a voter is in favor of banning both offshore drilling and indoor vaping. A no vote would be in support of drilling and vaping. If you're in favor of one, but not the other, you're out of luck.
Supporters of the measure are largely environmental groups opposed to drilling, while opponents are a mix of petroleum companies and the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association.
Vaping aside, offshore drilling is gearing up to be a key issue. The Trump administration has worked to reverse offshore drilling moratoriums and safety regulations issued by Obama administration, and has sought to open most of the country's waters to drilling.
Clean Energy Standards
Washington won't be the only state voting on issues related to energy and climate.
Nevada's Question 6 and Arizona's Proposition 127 are both measures that would increase the state's renewable portfolio standards, which is the minimum amount of electric power that utilities need to get from renewable sources. Both would bump the standards to 50 percent by 2030.
Nevada's current renewable portfolio standard is 25 percent by 2025, but the state is already almost there. In 2016 it had 21.6 percent of electricity generation coming from geothermal, solar, wind, biomass and hydroelectric power sources. Of that mix of renewables, 44 percent came from geothermal. But solar could be huge for the state. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said Nevada has the "nation's best solar power potential."
Question 6 could force Nevada to realize some of that potential. If it passes, the renewable portfolio standard would gradually step up each year to 50 percent by 2030.
Last year the Nevada legislature passed a bill (Assembly Bill 206) that would have upped the renewable portfolio standard to 40 percent by 2030, but it was vetoed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.
In Arizona the current renewable portfolio standard is a more modest 15 percent by 2025. In 2016 renewables provided 12 percent of net generation in the state, about half of which came from hydroelectric power at Glen Canyon and Hoover dams on the Colorado River. Solar made up only 5 percent.
"Arizonans are going to actually vote on having the ability to tap a resource that they have an abundance of, which is the sun," says Art Terrazas, who leads Vote Solar Action Fund's efforts in Arizona.
The state is second only to Nevada in solar potential.
Both ballot initiatives are being bankrolled by billionaire and climate activist Tom Steyer's NextGen Climate Action. The group has raised $2 million for the effort in Nevada, where opposition has been slim. However, in Arizona, NextGen has raised $8 million and its opposition, Pinnacle West Capital Corporation, which owns the state's largest utility, has raised $11 million.
"There has been a history of utilities in the state wanting to maintain the status quo," says Terrazas.
Among other western states, California and Hawaii currently lead clean energy efforts. Both have committed to get 100 percent of electricity generation from renewables by 2045. Oregon's standard is 50 percent by 2040 for larger utilities, and Washington's is 15 percent by 2020. Neither Utah nor Idaho has renewable portfolio standards.
Solar energy is an issue that draws big public support and is beginning to bridge the divide between red and blue voters, says Holland.
"Voters over and over are seeing that clean energy is increasingly cheaper than sources of energy like coal and want to make sure that their states aren't left behind," he said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
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By Governor Jay Inslee
Climate Week this year coincides with clear skies in Washington state for the first time in almost two weeks.
In just a few days in early September, Washington state saw enough acres burned – more than 600,000 – to reach our second-worst fire season on record. Our worst fire season came only five years ago. Wildfires aren't new to the west, but their scope and danger today is unlike anything firefighters have seen. People up and down the West Coast – young and old, in rural areas and in cities – were choking on smoke for days on end, trapped in their homes.
Fires like these are becoming the norm, not the exception.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Bill McKibben
To understand the planetary importance of this autumn's presidential election, check the calendar. Voting ends on November 3—and by a fluke of timing, on the morning of November 4 the United States is scheduled to pull out of the Paris Agreement.
President Trump announced that we would abrogate our Paris commitments during a Rose Garden speech in 2017. But under the terms of the accords, it takes three years to formalize the withdrawal. So on Election Day it won't be just Americans watching: The people of the world will see whether the country that has poured more carbon into the atmosphere than any other over the course of history will become the only country that refuses to cooperate in the one international effort to do something about the climate crisis.
By Oliver Milman
The climate crisis is set to be a significant factor in a U.S. presidential election for the first time, with new polling showing a clear majority of American voters want decisive action to deal with the threats posed by global heating.
Do you support or oppose each of the following policies as part of the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzODcyMC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNjg4MzY4OX0.B-bt9mltOhK0MHFbzK8G3_8sBkDAeUsAWm-AhNZYoxQ/img.png?width=980" id="acd43" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8724178274b9f96e27055f74a1bafe20" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
America's largest national forest, Tongass National Forest in Alaska, will be opened up to logging and road construction after the Trump administration finalizes its plans to open up the forest on Friday, according to The New York Times.
Aerial view of the Tongass National Forest. Alan Wu / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
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By Ruby Russell and Ajit Niranjan
Hamstrung by coronavirus lockdowns, frustrated school strikers have spent months staging digital protests against world leaders failing to act urgently on climate change.
Pandemic Stalls Protests<p>Last November, the head of the UN Environment Program was among the public and scientific figures to warn that 2020 offered a last chance to cut emissions. Then, few could have suspected this deadline would coincide with an unprecedented public health emergency.</p><p>The pandemic has <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/tough-times-ahead-for-climate-protesters-during-corona-pandemic/a-52978469" target="_blank">dealt climate activism a blow</a>. Niedeggen says that as a movement demanding that the world act on scientific advice, the school strikers took lockdown restrictions extremely seriously, halted public protests immediately and took their activism online.</p><p>On April 24, Fridays for Future organized a "digital strike," with Niedeggen hosting a that racked up close to a quarter of a million views. "We were not physically standing together, but we were all fighting together," she says.</p><p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-strikers-get-inventive-during-the-covid-19-crisis-fridays-for-future/a-53229262" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Activists also gathered thousands of placards</a> from across Germany to lay out in front of the German Bundestag around the central slogan: "Fight every crisis."</p>
Opportunity for a New Normal<p>Last September's Global Climate Strike drew young and old protestors around the world, with organizers estimating a global turnout of 7.6 million, including an estimated 270,000 people in Berlin. Activists have adjusted this year's event to account for social distancing and different levels of coronavirus restrictions in cities taking part.</p><p>They say COVID-19 also presents opportunities.</p><p>"The pandemic shows that we can change our normal daily life, and we are very able to adjust to a situation of crisis," she says. The key question is how economies get back on their feet: "We have the possibility to build a new normal, to build a renewable world order, and an environmentally just, climate-just normal for everybody."</p><p>In July, Jeng was among 20 female Fridays for Future activists from the Global South to sign an open letter to G20 finance ministers warning that their decisions in "exclusive backrooms" over stimulus packages and corporate bailouts would "lock in development pathways for decades."</p><p>"The system is not broken, it was built to be unjust. We don't need recovery, we need a reboot," the letter reads, stressing that "black people, indigenous peoples and people of color," have been disproportionately hit by the economic, climate and coronavirus crises. </p>
Policy 'Not Quite There Yet'<p>Figures on stimulus spending do not suggest their words had much impact. The ministers were criticized for failing to relieve the debt of poorer countries, and according to <a href="https://www.energypolicytracker.org/region/g20/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Policy Tracker</a>, G20 countries by August had pledged $169 billion (142 billion euros) to fossil fuels since the beginning of the pandemic.</p><p>Katrin Uba, associate professor of political science at Uppsala University in Sweden, is researching Fridays for Future. She says that despite the movement raising awareness and gaining access to policymakers, real policy change "is not there yet."</p><p>Still, she stresses that social movements go through waves of mobilization as public attention on their core issues ebbs and flows. And perhaps one of Fridays for Future's biggest achievements is birthing a politically active generation that will keep the fight up long after corona becomes a memory. </p><p>"We know clearly from our research that many of the people who came to the streets hadn't done any protesting before in their lives," she told DW. "And we also know that if you do one protest, you are likely to do more."</p>
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