November 4th's environmental initiatives

How did voters nationwide decide on their states' green ballot initiatives?

By Jessica A Knoblauch

On Election Day most green-spirited voters across the nation enthusiastically cast their ballots for Obama. Some voters were able to take matters into their own hands by voting on state-specific initiatives and referendums. Here’s a roundup of how the proposed green laws fared.


California Proposition 1A: Passed

Californians supported a bond measure of almost $10 billion for an 800-mile train that's expected to relieve 70 million car and plane trips a year. The high-speed rail network, of a type common throughout Europe and Asia, will link downtown stations in San Diego, Los Angeles, Fresno, San Jose, San Francisco, and Sacramento.

California Proposition 2: Passed

A big win for animal welfare activists and environmentalists alike, California’s Prop 2 will require farmers (beginning in 2015) to provide living conditions for livestock that allows them to turn around freely, stand up, lie down, and fully extend their limbs and wings. That means no cruel quarters such as veal crates for calves, tiny cages for egg-laying poultry, or gestation crates for sows-- which should have positive effects on clean air, clean water, and greenhouse gas emisisons.

California Proposition 7: Failed

Groups including the Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists opposed this measure, which would’ve required all utilities (both government- and privately-owned) to get 20 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2010, 40 percent by 2020, and 50 percent by 2025. They argued that Prop 7 “doesn’t do enough to save our state and our planet from fossil fuel dependence” and cements “loopholes that would hold back the growth of the renewable energy industry.” A majority of California's voters agreed.

California Proposition 10: Failed

Even the financial support of Texas energy-industry billionaire T. Boone Pickens couldn’t carry this plan to victory. Though it sounded good on paper, with more than $5 billion in bonds to help consumers purchase high fuel economy vehicles and incentives for purchasing solar and renewable energy technology, opponents like the Union of Concerned Scientists argued it would be “inefficient" and worried about it's failure to curb tailpipe emissions.

Colorado Referendum 58: Failed

This initiative was widely supported by environmentalists, higher-education advocates, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, and the Denver Post. It would have raised taxes on oil and natural gas companies for their local drilling, raising an estimated $250 million that was earmarked for college scholarships, wildlife habitat, and clean energy projects. The amendment lost 59-41; proponents blamed the result on the souring economy.

Florida Amendment 4: Passed

This amendment requires the state to provide a property tax exemption to those who’ve placed land in permanent protection (known as conservation easements). Advocates argue it will protect green spaces from development by providing economic incentives to preserve land. “A developer willing to forgo a strip mall surely deserves something in return,” argued the Suwannee Democrat, a local newspaper.

Georgia Amendment 1: Passed

Similar in intent to Florida Amendment 4, the Georgia Forest Preservation Amendment gives tax credits to people who own 200 acres or more of forest property and don’t develop it for at least 15 years. If they do develop, the landowner would have to pay the back taxes. 

Missouri Proposition C: Passed

Also known as the Clean Energy Initiative, Prop C was overwhelmingly supported by Missourians on Tuesday. It requires investor-owned electric companies to get 15 percent of their electricity from renewable resources by 2021 (the current rate is about one percent). The law smartly defines renewables as clean sources of energy like wind, solar, landfill gas, biomass, and small hydroelectric projects-- leaving out nuclear and obviating any possible "clean coal." 

Ohio Issue 2: Passed

The Clean Ohio ballot initiative was kind of a shoe-in: It extends a program that's been around since 2000, has a good track record, and enjoys bi-partisan support. The measure will continue a $400 million bond program that aims to preserve and improve the state’s environment. According to a local university newspaper, Clean Ohio has protected so far 26,000 acres of wildlife habitats and 24,000 acres of family farms; built 216 miles of recreational trails; and cleaned up 173 abandoned and polluted industrial sites.

Rhode Island Question 2: Passed

This initiative will allow the state to borrow $2.5 million in order to provide funds to “purchase, or otherwise permanently protect through the purchase of title to, development rights, conservation easements and public recreation easements, greenways and other open space, recreation lands, agriculture lands, forested lands and state parks.” This success of the initiative is no surprise considering that Rhode Islanders have historically voted in favor of open space, land conservation, and recreation development bonds, according to a local paper.

Washington Proposition 1: Undecided (leading at post time)

This proposition is the largest sales tax increase ever to be on the ballot in the Puget Sound area. The increase will fund an $18 billion road and transit program that will help put a light rail service from downtown Seattle into the nearby suburbs. The measure pitted a coalition of environmental groups against the Sierra Club, which argued that the rail will only encourage urban sprawl.

Apart from Colorado's tax hike on oil companies, the results of the state initiatives were highly encouraging,  showing that when given the choice Americans will vote for clean air, clean, water, preserving open space, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. But many of these measures are bond initiatives-- meaning the bill will eventually come due. It will be interesting to see down the road how enthusiastic voters remain about these initiatives once they have to be paid for. 


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