Maybe we can blame COVID-19 for making it hard to hit the streets and gather signatures to get initiatives on state ballots. But this year there are markedly fewer environmental issues up for vote than in 2018.
While the number of initiatives may be down, there’s no less at stake. Voters will still have to make decisions about wildlife, renewable energy, oil companies and future elections.
Here’s the rundown of what’s happening where.
Return of an Apex Predator
Wolves are on the ballot in Colorado. Proposition 114 would require the state’s Parks and Wildlife Commission to create a plan by 2023 for the reintroduction and management of gray wolves (Canis lupus) in areas west of the continental divide.
Gray wolves once roamed across the western United States but were mostly eradicated by the 1930s. Slowly efforts are being made to bring them back. The reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1996 has been hailed as a rewilding success.
“The argument is that by putting back in wolves — an apex predator that has evolved alongside their prey species — we’re putting things back into ecological balance,” University of Colorado Boulder ecology professor Joanna Lambert told The Revelator in a February interview about the science behind wolf reintroductions.
The Colorado initiative is backed by the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Colorado Farm Bureau are two of the top donors to the opposition groups.
The measure does include compensation for losses of livestock caused by gray wolves.
“What we’re all hoping for is a landscape where we can coexist with the species that were originally here, but also acknowledging that humans need to make a living and that the costs of this initiative will be felt by some folks more than others,” Lambert said.
Confusion Over Clean Energy
In Nevada voters will take a second swing at a constitutional amendment to require that electric utility source 50% of their electricity from renewables by 2030. Voters passed the same measure, Question 6, in 2018, but state law requires that constitutional amendments be passed in two consecutive even-numbered election years.
More clean energy for the state may seem good. But there’s concern that enshrining 50% renewables by 2030 in the state’s constitution isn’t that ambitious and it will make it harder to continue the push for 100% renewables in the future. To do that would be another constitutional amendment that would again take four years and two consecutive ballot wins to move the needle.
Also, the state is already on its way to the same renewable goal.
A legislative effort to achieve 50% renewables by 2030 — but with a slightly different timeline for the increments to get there — was signed into law in April 2019 by Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak. Renewable advocates hope the state will do even better than that benchmark, but passing Question 6 would make it harder.
Paying a Fair Share
If California’s Proposition 15 passes, commercial and industrial properties will need to start paying taxes based on their current market value, instead of paying based on the purchase price from decades prior (which stems from Proposition 13 passed back in 1978). The initiative would exempt agricultural land, small businesses, renters and homeowners.
Reassessing the worth of large commercial properties could bring in between $7.5 billion and $12 billion a year that would go toward supporting local governments, school districts and community colleges.
Most of the opposition has come from big business and anti-taxation groups.
The California Teachers Association Issues PAC is the biggest supporter of the effort, but a number of environmental groups have also endorsed the measure, which would likely see oil companies and other big industrial polluters having to kick in more money.
“The oil industry has used Prop. 13 loopholes to evade tens of millions of dollars in property taxes,” wrote Victoria Lome, California legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Companies like Chevron, Exxon, Phillips 66, Shell and Tosco are paying taxes based on assessments taken prior to 2000. Prop. 15 would end this hidden subsidy to dirty energy.”
Oil companies could stand to lose in Alaska, too. Voters there will weigh in on Ballot Measure 1, which would increase taxes on big oil producers (those that have produced more than 400 million barrels overall or 40,000 barrels a day in the past year) operating in three established oil fields in the North Slope.
Taking the Wind Out of the Sails of the Electoral College
Colorado’s Proposition 113 isn’t about environmental issues directly but could cause big shifts in how presidential elections are run and what states and issues are considered important.
The initiative would add Colorado to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. That effort is aimed at ensuring the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote wins the election. It doesn’t eliminate the Electoral College, but it saps its power.
The compact needs states representing at least 270 Electoral College votes to go into effect. It’s currently at 196.
If Colorado’s proposition is passed, and if the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact eventually gets enough votes to go into effect, then Colorado’s nine electoral votes would go to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote, not to the one who gets the most votes in Colorado.