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Fossil Fuel Industry Defeats Multiple Environmental Measures—And Other Key Ballot Initiative Results

Fossil fuel industry interests spent millions on campaigns to defeat measures that would have advanced policies to fight climate change and protect the environment. They largely prevailed.

In the state of Washington, a tax on fossil fuels and electricity to reduce greenhouse emissions was rejected by 56 percent of voters. It would’ve raised at least $1 billion to fund clean energy projects.

More than $31 million was spent by major oil corporations to defeat Initiative 1631 in Washington, which the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported was a record for initiative spending. BP America spent over $11.5 million to defeat the initiative, Valero spent nearly $1 million, and Koch Industries spent nearly $1 million to mobilize opposition to the measure.

Chevron spent at least a half million dollars, with the support of former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna whose private firm represents the oil corporation.

Building trades and refinery workers came together with big energy corporations to fight the measure, even though it had the support of the Washington State Labor Council, which helped draft the initiative.

Colorado voters rejected Proposition 112, which would have required new oil and gas developments, especially fracking wells, to be 2,500 feet or more from homes, schools, hospitals, and “vulnerable” areas, such as “playgrounds, permanent sports fields, amphitheaters, public parks, public open space, public and community drinking water sources, irrigation canals, reservoirs, lakes, rivers, perennial or intermittent streams, and creeks.”

Several Democrats, including Democratic Representative Jared Polis, who was elected governor, opposed the environmental measure, viewing it as too extreme. Governor John Hickenlooper fomented panic, suggesting days before the election that he would consider calling a special session of the legislature if it passed.

“You want to minimize the unintended collateral damage,” Hickenlooper said. “This is a big part of state’s economy. You’re talking 15 percent, some people say as much as 20 percent, of the state’s economy. And suddenly it goes to half? That is how you spell recession.”

However, voters in Colorado rejected Amendment 74, a fossil fuel industry-supported measure to neutralize Proposition 112. It said property owners must be compensated if state laws or regulations result in a reduction in property value and would have been a way to frighten state officials into still approving fossil fuel projects.

Florida voters approved a ballot measure to ban offshore drilling. Oddly, it was included in the same measure with a prohibition against vaping in indoor places.

A ballot measure in Montana to regulate pollution of water from mining was defeated

In Alaska, 64 percent of voters opposed a measure to increase protections on salmon and fish habitats. Nevada voters approved a measure to require utilities to provide 50 percent of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. Arizona voters rejected a similar renewable energy measure.

Voters in Portland, Oregon, approved a clean energy initiative that imposes a one percent surcharge on major retail companies. The initiative will allow the city to raise millions that can be used for renewable energy projects and clean energy jobs for those most impacted by climate change.

As former mayor of Portland, Sam Adams, wrote, “That’s only fair. Many of these retail companies, with their heavily-packaged items and transportation-intensive global-supply chains, are disproportionately responsible for polluting our air and water. Their local-business-killing business models are part of the reason we have so much local income inequality in this country.”

Amazon, Comcast, Home Depot, JC Penney, Kroger, US Bank, and Walmart backed a political action committee, “Keep Portland Affordable,” to advance a disingenuous campaign, where they promoted the importance of “social responsibility.” Despite their efforts, the initiative still passed.

The Democratic Party establishment has shown little interest in pursuing an aggressive agenda to fight climate change, even though there is widespread evidence that the global population has until 2030 to prevent the most catastrophic effects of warming. Though they won the House, there are no plans to more openly call for action on climate issues.

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When it comes to other ballot initiatives that passed in the United States, Florida passed Amendment 4, a constitutional amendment to end voter disenfranchisement for many convicted felons. Yet, as the Sentencing Project noted, no other state singles out citizens by the offense they committed, and since those who committed murder or sex offenses were excluded, Florida became one of the only states to enshrine discrimination in their state constitution.

Amendment A in Colorado, which removes an exception to the prohibition of slavery in the Constitution that has allowed officials to force prisoners to perform unpaid labor, won with broad support—the first time any state has undone this language in the 13th Amendment.

Louisiana voters overwhelmingly backed a measure to end the state’s non-unanimous jury verdict scheme, which was declared unconstitutional by a district court in October. The scheme perpetuated racial discrimination by making it possible to convict defendants without unanimous agreement and strip the ability of minorities to influence the outcome of cases.

Voters in Ohio had an opportunity to pass Issue 1 to make drug possession and use offenses misdemeanors and spend funds saved from reducing incarceration on addiction treatment. Sixty-four percent of voters opposed the measure.

Missouri and Utah voters passed measures to legalize medical marijuana. Fifty-five percent of Michigan voters supported a measure to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. But a similar measure in North Dakota, which would have allowed for the expungement of records for those guilty of marijuana offenses, was rejected by nearly 60 percent of voters.

Washington voters overwhelmingly backed an initiative to ensure de-escalation is emphasized in law enforcement training and to create a “good faith test” for determining when police may justify the use of “deadly force.”

Voters in Oregon rejected an effort to repeal the state’s sanctuary law, which had imposed some limits on how local law enforcement may work with federal immigration agents in order to protect immigrants.

In an election where numerous Democratic candidates promoted Medicare for All, expanding the Affordable Care Act, or pledged to protect Medicare and Medicaid from attacks by President Donald Trump and Republicans, Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah voters backed measures to expand Medicaid coverage.

In Alabama and West Virginia, anti-abortion measures were passed that will make it harder for pregnant women to pay for and obtain a procedure that may be medically necessary in some cases.

Arkansas voters backed a measure to raise their minimum wage to $11 by 2022, and Missouri voters backed a measure to raise their minimum wage to $12 by 2023. (Although, these amounts will be well below a living wage in 2022 and 2023.)

Maine voters rejected a measure that would have created a 3.8 percent payroll tax and non-wage income tax to fund a home care program. This could have helped the state provide healthcare and social services to residents 65 years or older, who have physical or mental disabilities.

In California, voters passed initiatives to increase funds for affordable housing and improve an existing program for residents with mental illnesses. They passed a measure to ensure farm animals are not confined in a “cruel manner.” But they rejected a measure to raise funds for environmental projects and to end a law that prohibits local governments from imposing rent control on certain housing.

Massachusetts passed a referendum to uphold a law  prohibiting discrimination based on a person’s gender identity.

Multiple measures that may tamp down the influence of money in politics passed as well. In Missouri, voters approved an amendment to establishment campaign contribution limits for state lawmakers and require legislators/legislative staff to wait two years after a legislative session concludes before they become paid lobbyists.

South Dakota voters approved Initiated Measure 24 and banned out-of-state campaign contributions to ballot measure campaigns. Around $10 million was contributed to campaigns by out-of-state donors in 2016 and accounted for 75 percent of contributions.

Finally, in Massachusetts, the state approved a citizens commission that will consider how to address the issues of corporate personhood and the influence of money in politics.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."