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October 23, 2020; Gizmodo

In this year’s election, along with voting for candidates, voters in many states and localities will also be making decisions about a number of ballot measures. These “up/down” votes can be important, but they are also imperfect instruments. Unlike a legislator, a voter casting a ballot can’t propose amendments; the vote is either “yay” or “nay,” with no opportunity for shades of gray. As NPQ’s Debby Warren observed in April, because many states require in-person signatures, COVID-19 made qualifying measures for the ballot more difficult.

Nonetheless, there are 120 measures on state ballots this November—down from 158 two years ago—as well as many local items. Many of these ballot measures, as Dharna Noor writes for Gizmodo, address climate matters. Some aim to mitigate the effects of the climate emergency, some are defensive measures advanced by industrial groups to retard action, and one is just plain weird.

Attempts to Boost Efforts to Address the Climate Emergency

  • Nevada’s Question 6, notes Noor, would “require the state’s utilities to get 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030.” The measure actually passed in 2018, but under Nevadan law, voter-approved constitutional amendments must pass twice to be enacted. The measure would phase in the requirement for additional renewable energy generation over 10 years.
  • Alaska’s Ballot Measure 1 would implement a fuel production tax. According to Noor, current oil taxes in Alaska total some $400 million a year, but the measure would raise an additional $1 billion a year. Proponents have labeled their measure a “Fair Share” tax.
  • Local measures: Climate action funds to support clean energy and climate adaptation projects are on the ballot in many communities, with a variety of funding mechanisms. In California. Berkeley’s Measure HH and Albany’s Measure DD would tax utilities (with low-income users exempted). Voters in Long Beach, California, a city long home to oil production, will vote on Measure US, which would tax oil production to support the clean energy. Denver Colorado’s Measure 2A would raise sales tax by a quarter-cent, which would raise $36 million annually.

Also on the ballot in Columbus, Ohio (Issue 1) and East Brunswick, New Jersey (Measure 4) are proposals for community choice aggregation, which enables local officials to use community market power to purchase energy in bulk from local renewable sources.

Measures to Floor the Gas Pedal on Climate Change

  • Property tax exemption for oil in Louisiana: Sometimes you can’t make things up. Yep, Louisiana’s long-suffering oil industry—to the tune of billions of dollars in subsidies—might get yet another break if Amendment 5 passes, which, notes Noor, “could exempt the fossil fuel industry from having to pay property taxes. Forever.” The actual text of this initiative would allow oil companies to negotiate local agreements to frontload funding—which leads to backing by the police and school boards—but in exchange, as Noor writes, property tax liability would fall to zero. New Orleans public radio reports that, “Community groups, such as Together Louisiana, a grassroots coalition of 250 religious congregations and civic organizations, also strongly oppose the amendment, saying it gives preference to private businesses and would result in less funding for education and infrastructure because it will allow local politicians to negotiate the terms of tax payments.”
  • An effort to block municipal renewable energy in Boulder, Colorado: Boulder has a pair of initiatives on the ballot this year, 2C and 2D that would lock the city into a 20-year franchise agreement with Xcel Energy, a utility company that gets 59 percent of its energy from fossil fuels, and which would force the city to abandon its decade-long effort to municipalize its utilities. There is a long history to this one. Boulder voters approved municipal power in 2011 and have been fighting Xcel Energy ever since.

And the Weird

Michiganders love their parks, but they also love their cars. (Detroit was once the “Motor City,” after all.) But can you combine the two into one initiative? It would seem you can, and the result is Proposal 1, a measure to pay for the state’s conservation and land trust fund through the sale of oil and gas leases. Apparently, according to Michigan Radio, most environmental nonprofits support the measure, except for the Sierra Club, which fears that the measure by freeing up funds for maintenance will reduce available funds for acquisition. The state’s Green Party, however, also opposes the measure, noting that it opposes the dependency of parks funding on “continued oil and gas drilling—including fracking.”—Steve Dubb