Groups Plan Ballot Initiatives to Battle Climate Change in Washington and Oregon
While climate activists around the world are hoping that the UN climate talks in Paris, COP21, will finally spur world leaders to take bold action on climate change, two U.S. states—Oregon and Washington—are taking matters into their own hands.
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In Oregon, there are two ballot measures. One would replace coal by 2030, mandating that renewable energy (other than hydro) double by 2040, accounting for 50 percent of the state's electricity use. Oregon still gets one-third of its electricity from coal, according to Renew Oregon, the group behind the initiative. They say that combined with hydro, Oregon would have 90 percent clean energy by 2040 if the measure passes. The second measure "attempts to make sure utilities comply by linking executive salaries with referendum goals," says Sustainable Business.
In Washington, an initiative would cap greenhouse gas emissions and put a price on carbon pollution, though many other details have not yet been determined, reports The Columbian. The measure "would build on the state’s recently announced Clean Air Rule by enforcing existing global warming pollution reduction targets, charging the largest emitters a fee for each ton of carbon pollution they emit," says the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, the group behind the initiative. "The funds will be invested in accelerating the transition to a clean energy economy and addressing the impacts of carbon pollution on our air, land and people."
“The solutions to climate change are opportunities to lift people out of poverty, create stable jobs in a resilient economy, protect our communities from extreme weather and invest in clean air for our families,” said Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson.
The coalition plans to gather the necessary signatures to put the measure on the 2016 ballot after the turn of the year. The Columbian reports there is a "competing effort," Initiative 732, which would also tax carbon pollution. Organizers have collected 270,398 signatures of the 330,000 needed to put I-732 before the 2016 Legislature. "If lawmakers don’t act, it would go on the 2016 ballot," says The Columbian.
Both the Washington and Oregon groups cite the urgent threat of climate change for the ballot initiatives. "We're already feeling the effects of climate change," says Renew Oregon.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just announced that September 2015 "blew away the margin for Earth's warmest month on record," as Mashable puts it. And the Pacific Northwest has been hit especially hard. Washington and Oregon had their warmest summers ever as the Pacific Northwest battled record heat and Washington dealt with its largest fire in state history. The two states, along with California and Nevada, recorded their warmest January to August, and are poised to see their hottest years ever, according to the NOAA.
According to Renew Oregon:
"If we don’t lead, wildfires, extreme weather, heat waves and drought will become our new normal. These measures would make Oregon the first state to have a public vote to go coal free. Oregon has always been a leader on protecting the climate. By transitioning to clean energy, we join other states like Colorado, Hawaii, California, Vermont and New York with aggressive standards for renewable energy."
This summer, Hawaii became the first state in the nation to enact a 100 percent renewable energy standard. Earlier this month, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that mandates the state get 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.
Colorado has a renewable energy standard of 30 percent by 2020 for investor owned utilities—Xcel Energy and Black Hills Corporation. New York and Vermont have set up aggressive renewable energy plans as well. Three U.S. cities—Aspen, Colorado, Burlington, Vermont and Greensburg, Kansas—have all gone 100 percent renewable and several more cities in the U.S. have set renewable energy targets as well.
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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