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Mixed Bag for State Environmental Ballot Initiatives

I seemed to have overlooked an important constitutional amendment passed in Minnesota that established a funding mechanism for conservation programs. My apologies to our friends in the North Star State. See comments for more.]For many Americans, participatory democracy means choosing between the people who will choose for you. But for voters in 36 states, electoral democracy exists beyond the parameters of representative government. In the states where the tools of direct democracy like referendums and ballot initiatives are employed, preferences of voters are gauged directly on amendments to state constitutions, specific policy questions, budgeting issues and more. Of the 153 measures at stake across the country in yesterday’s election, about a dozen dealt with energy and the environment. Below are the results and analysis of eight of the more notable measures (in no particular order):

Missouri Proposition C: Yes - Passing with a robust 64% of voters in favor, Proposition C will require investor-owned electric utilities to generate or purchase 2 percent of their electricity renewable and clean energy sources like wind, solar, landfill gas, biomass, and small hydroelectric projects by 2011 and 15% of their electricity from. Supporters of the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) initiative, Missourians for Cleaner Cheaper Energy, pointed out that 86% of Missouri’s electricity comes from coal-fired power plants. The passage of proposition C made Missouri the 27th state to pass a renewable energy standard.

Colorado Referendum 58: No - Strongly supported by Governor Ritter, the referendum would have repealed the $300-plus million tax credit oil and gas companies get for extracting mineral resources from the state. The revenue would have funded college scholarships and renewable energy programs.

Colorado Referendum 52: No - Referendum was competed with and would have superceded 58 had they both passed. constitutional proposal that would have funneled millions of dollars from severance taxes into transportation projects — suggested they might return it to the ballot as a statutory amendment, which would erase a major stumbling block. 52 and 58 faced some very well-funded opposition in the form of $12 million worth of industry attack ads that portrayed the measures as “a tax on us.” The oil and gas industry was able to overwhelm counterclaims that it would be very hard for the industry to simply pass on the tax when oil and natural gas are sold in global markets based on supply and demand.

Florida Amendment 4: Yes - Approved by a margin of 68%-32%, the amendment provides a property tax exemption for perpetual conservation easements or other perpetual conservation protections. Conservation easements allow the development rights of a parcel of land to be separated from the title and put into permanent conservation and provide a tax benefit for it. The conservation mechanism has been successful throughout the U.S., though there have been cases where the tax benefit has been abused.

Washington Proposition 1: Still undecided - A regional transit proposal that would extend light rail service from downtown Seattle into the surrounding suburbs was headed for passage behind solid support in Seattle’s King County.

Ohio Issue 2: Yes - With 69% voting in favor and 31% voting against, Ohio’s Issue 2 was a clear favorite. The measure authorizes the state to borrow $400 million for environmental conservation, preservation and revitalization purposes. The amendment is identical to the bond issue passed by the voters in 2000 and will add funding for The Clean Ohio Program.

California Proposition 1A: Yes - Voters on Tuesday approved the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act by a margin of 52 percent to 47 percent. The proposition permits the selling of about $10 billion in state bonds to fund the planning for a system of high-speed rail linking San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento.

California Proposition 2: Yes - Proposition 2 creates a new state statute that prohibits the confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. The proposition passed by a robust 63%-37% majority despite strong opposition was from industry groups (’big ag’ if you will) that argued the measure would drive up the cost of food, specifically eggs.

California Proposition 7: No - The Clean and Solar Energy Act of 2008 would have increased the renewable energy portfolio standard for utilities including government-owned utilities to 20% by 2010. It also would have ratcheted up that standard for all utilities to 40% by 2020 and to 50% by 2025. Leading the opposition were two utility companies, PG&E and California Edison that argued the proposal was poorly written and so complicated that it could hurt the cause of renewable energy in the state. The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the state’s Republican, Democratic and Green parties said the measure would actually hurt the growth of renewables in the state.

California Proposition 10: No - Called for the state to raise $5 billion in bonds to fund rebates for the purchase and retrofitting of vehicles to run on alternative fuels including natural gas. 60% of Californians voted against the measure despite the more than $17 million spent to promote the measure. Texas oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens was a chief supporter of the proposition and is a board member of Clean Energy Fuels Corp., the company which sells natural gas as transportation fuel.
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