The 2018 midterm elections set an unprecedented amount of campaign spending, with one cause taking a surprising lead. In their November 5, 2018, article in E&E News titled “4 States Have Ballot Measures That Could Shape U.S. Climate Policy,” Benjamin Storrow writes that “among congressional races, only the Texas and Florida Senate races have seen more money spent.” The four states in question, Arizona, Nevada, Washington, and Colorado, are proposing ballot initiatives that signal both the past and future of climate policy.
“In some ways, these four ballot propositions might tell us more about the future of climate policy than who controls the House or Senate,” Ford professor Barry Rabe is quoted. The Arizona and Nevada measures pushed boundaries of the respective states’ willingness to pursue vigorous renewable energy advances. Nevada approved the measure, while Arizona rejected it. Washington, a state already noted for its environmental consciousness, voted on a policy that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions via carbon pricing, which did not pass. And in Colorado, residents decide on a referendum to increase distance between residential areas and oil and gas drilling rings. The measure was defeated. “This shows the range of policy approaches that are out there,” says Rabe, “...my goodness, for two of these to go back to the energy mandate model, and throw in one that effectively bans fracking in parts of Colorado, it’s an amazing compilation of policy.”
In an interview with the Associated Press about the results of the Washington initiative, Rabe noted that the results exemplify the political challenge of carbon taxes.
Both the initial proposals of such measures and the notably contentious (and expensive) campaigns signal a cultural move toward making climate policy a more-costly factor. Rabe echoes the sentiments of many who say these races are exceptional in their attention to climate issues, stating that “It really underscores the fact that there are some groups hugely affected by this.”
Barry Rabe is the J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Professor of Public Policy and the director of the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) at the Ford School. His research examines climate and energy politics and his newest book, “Can We Price Carbon?” was released in spring 2018.