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Washington Post: Climate Campaigns Fail To Convince U.S. Voters

Dino Grandoni, The Washington Post

Climate change initiatives were on the ballot yesterday. They didn’t fare well.

In their bid to help Democrats recapture the House on Tuesday, environmentalists emphasized what they called the Trump administration’s failure to address the biggest environmental problem facing the world: climate change.

At the same time, those same green groups failed to convince voters across a swath of resource-rich Western states to wean themselves off the fossil fuels that are contributing to climate change in the first place.

Brady Dennis and I reported last night that voters across a swath of resource-rich Western states largely rejected ballot initiatives aiming to nudge the nation away from burning fossil fuels and toward harnessing renewable sources of energy.

Voters in Arizona, one of the nation’s most sun-soaked states, handily shot down a measure that would have accelerated its shift toward generating electricity from renewables, particularly solar. Supporters and proponents poured an eye-popping amount of money, more than $54 million, into the fight over the future of energy in Arizona. Only two Senate races in the country — in Florida and Texas — saw more spending this year.

Residents in oil- and gas-rich Colorado defeated a measure to sharply limit drilling on state-owned land. Environmental advocates there failed to pass a measure that would have required new wells to be at least 2,500 feet from occupied buildings and other “vulnerable areas” such as parks and irrigation canals — a distance several times that of existing regulations. It also would have allowed local governments to require even longer setbacks.

Even in the solidly blue state of Washingtoninitial results looked grim for perhaps the most consequential climate-related ballot measure in the country this fall: a statewide initiative that would have imposed a first-in-the-nation fee on emissions of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent of the greenhouse gases that drive global warming. While voters in King County, home to Seattle, turned out heavily in favor of the measure, residents across the rest of the state largely opposed it.

One bright spot for environmental advocates came in Nevada, where voters appeared poised to pass a measure similar to the one Arizonans rejected. It would require utilities to generate 50 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2030. The proposal was leading handily with most votes tallied early Wednesday, but even then there was another hurdle. Before the measure could become law, it has to survive a second vote in 2020.

Finally in Florida, climate campaigners did win at least one victory Tuesday. Voters there, perhaps with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill still fresh in mind, overwhelmingly decided to amend the state’s constitution to ban offshore oil and gas in state waters. But even then, it was unclear whether offshore drilling alone motivated 69 percent of voters to support the measure, because it was paired with a proposal to prohibit indoor vaping.

The failure of the most ambitious ballot measures underscores the difficulty of tackling a global problem like climate change policy at the state and local level, as well as the huge sums of money any effort is likely to require from both sides.

And yet, as scientists warn that the world is running short on time to prevent devastating levels of global warming, environmental advocates and Democratic lawmakers have placed much hope in state and local governments to counter the Trump administration’s rollback of Obama-era efforts to combat climate change.

Since President Trump took office, a handful of states — notably California — have vowed to serve as a counterweight on energy and environmental policy to a president who frequently dismisses the government’s own findings that human activity is warming the globe. In September, California codified into law a commitment to produce 100 percent of its electricity from carbon-free courses by 2045.

But Tuesday’s ballot-question results demonstrate the limits to which other states are willing to follow California’s lead — particularly when campaigners against the proposals emphasize the potential impact on pocketbooks.

“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,” Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, an industry-backed, free-market advocacy group, said in a statement.

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