A carbon fee initiative failed to gain voter support in Washington StateThe failure of a carbon fee initiative in Washington State was one of many climate measures that did not gain enough voter support in Tuesday's election. Photo credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

By Dana Drugmand

The fossil fuel industry succeeded on several fronts in Tuesday’s midterm elections: working to defeat two major ballot measures it opposed in Washington and Colorado and keeping a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, which controls judicial appointments that will be steering the climate liability suits the industry is facing.

Oil and gas companies poured $30 million into opposing the carbon fee proposal in Washington state and a large majority of the $30 million spent to defeat an initiative in Colorado to require larger setbacks for oil, gas and fracking projects near homes and schools. And in Arizona, the parent company of the state’s largest utility spent big to defeat a major clean energy ballot initiative.

Initiative 1631 on the Washington ballot would have been the first in the nation to put a price on carbon emissions from large polluters based on the carbon content of fuels and electricity sold and used. The proposed fee would have started at $15 per metric ton, increasing by $2 per metric ton each year until the state meets its greenhouse gas reduction goals. Revenue would have gone to support climate and environmental projects like improving air and water quality and supporting a clean energy transition. The early vote count had it going down to a resounding defeat, although all of Washington’s vote-by-mail ballots had not been counted.

The bill’s proponents spent about half of what the oil and gas industry invested in its defeat. Opposition to 1631 was sponsored by the Western States Petroleum Association and the Association of Washington Business. BP America poured over $13 million into the campaign. Other top fossil fuel industry contributors included Phillips 66, Andeavor LLC (now owned by Marathon Petroleum Corporation), American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and Valero Energy Corporation.

Proposition 112 in Colorado called for requiring a minimum of 2,500 feet between new oil and gas development, including fracking, and occupied buildings. The siting requirements would only apply to non-federal land in the state. Opponents of the measure, led by business and industry associations dwarfed the nearly $1.2 million spent by the bill’s supporters.

Another $30 million was spent in Arizona in opposition to Proposition 127 that would mandate the state’s utilities to reach 50 percent renewable energy by 2050. Pinnacle West, the parent corporation of Arizona Public Service Co., spent about 6 percent of the $488 million in profits it made in 2017 to defeat this measure.

“The same oil and gas companies that have been sowing doubt about climate change for decades are infiltrating our democracy at every turn, from the ballot box to Capitol Hill. As we saw in Washington and Colorado, where we lost key climate initiatives, Big Oil and their allies will spend whatever it takes to protect their profits,” 350.org executive director May Boeve said in a statement.

“Despite many hurdles, organized progressive communities overcame corporate money in dozens of races around the country this November,” she said. “Candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Deb Haaland, and Ilhan Omar ran on platforms supporting a phase out of fossil fuels and toward 100% renewable energy, and won. We may never be able to outspend oil and gas executives, so it’s our job to build a political movement large enough that our voices drown out their dirty money.”

In Florida, voters did approve a state constitutional amendment to ban offshore drilling in state waters. The package amendment also bans indoor vaping.

In the race for governor in that state, Andrew Gillum, a pro-climate action Democrat, lost to Republican Ron DeSantis. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of South Florida, one of the few Republicans in Congress who favor climate action, lost his bid for re-election to Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Curbelo had recently sponsored a bill in the House that would have established a national carbon tax.

While Democrats gained control of the House and could accomplish things like reining in the Environmental Protection Agency’s steady rollback of environmental protections and investigating potential corruption in the Department of Interior, they lost ground in the Senate. That is where judicial appointments are approved and Republicans have made clear they oppose judicial remedies for climate change and would presumably appoint justices who agree.

In some cities facing imminent threats from sea level rise and flooding, voters approved bonds to finance resiliency projects like flood mitigation and sea walls. In Miami Beach, a majority of voters approved a bond measure that would use public funds to pay for $198 million in infrastructure upgrades including stormwater and flood mitigation. San Francisco’s Proposition A—general obligation bonds totaling $425 million to repair a seawall—passed by a wide margin with nearly 82 percent approval.  

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