Wash. carbon fee goes down in setback to greens nationally

Source: Benjamin Storrow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, November 8, 2018

A proposed carbon fee in Washington state appeared headed for resounding defeat yesterday, capping off a disappointing night at the ballot box for climate hawks.

Voters also overwhelmingly rejected a renewable portfolio standard in Arizona and an enhanced oil and gas setback proposal in Colorado.

The Washington loss is the third time in three years a carbon pricing proposal has failed in the Evergreen State. It deals greens a massive setback nationally just as the idea of pricing carbon dioxide emissions has begun to gain momentum.

Initiative 1631 was trailing with 56 percent opposed and 43 percent in favor early this morning. The Associated Press had yet to call the contest with significant portions of the vote outstanding in and around the Seattle area.

Supporters of the measure said they would wait to see more votes tallied before conceding but acknowledged they face a difficult path to victory.

“We think we’re going to rise through this, but it’s a big hole to climb through,” said Nick Abraham, a spokesman for the Yes on 1631 campaign.

Washington greens had hoped to rebound from 2016, when divisions among environmentalists and Democrats sank a proposed carbon tax at the ballot. This year’s proposal was repackaged as a “fee” and won the support of Gov. Jay Inslee (D), Microsoft Corp. and Bill Gates, as well as a constellation of environmental, labor and minority groups.

It was still not enough.

Led by companies with refineries in the state, oil interests spent roughly $30 million against the initiative, helping make it the most expensive race in the state’s history. Only three U.S. Senate campaigns raised more than the total $47 million collected by both sides in Washington.

Throughout the race, the no campaign raised concerns about the cost of the fee to voters and singled out exceptions for large polluters, including for a closing coal plant and the state’s aluminum smelters.

Greens’ travails in Washington were compounded by stinging losses in Arizona and Colorado. In the Grand Canyon State, a ballot measure calling for 50 percent of the state’s electricity sales to come from renewables by 2030 was trailing by almost 70 percent to 30 percent. It was one of the country’s most expensive races, with more than $54 million raised.

“We’ve said throughout this campaign there is a better way to create a clean-energy future for Arizona that is also affordable and reliable,” said Don Brandt, CEO of Arizona Public Service Co., the state’s largest utility. The power company’s parent firm spent $30 million opposing the measure.

In Colorado, a proposal to increase the setback distance between homes and drilling rigs from 500 to 2,500 feet was trailing 57 percent to 42 percent. Climate was not an explicit part of that campaign, which instead focused on public safety and the proximity of drilling rigs to homes and businesses. But the measure had the potential to severely limit new drilling in one of America’s top oil and gas states.

In a tweet, Tom Pyle, director of the conservative Institute for Energy Research, summed up the results: “Tonight, the voters across the country rejected ballot initiatives and candidates that would have raised your energy prices. Including in deep blue states.”

If there was a bright spot for greens, it was Nevada, where a ballot measure seeking to impose a 50 percent renewable portfolio standard by 2030 passed 60 percent to 40 percent. The proposal calls for enshrining the plan in the state’s constitution. Voters will need to approve it again in 2020 for it to go into effect.

But on a night when greens saw major climate initiatives defeated elsewhere, a second chance is what passed for a victory.