Three initiatives are on the ballot this November in Colorado, Arizona, and Washington State, all aimed at severely restricting fossil fuel use and development within these states’ borders.
With the Trump administration putting a stop to aggressive action on climate change at the federal level, environmentalist groups across the nation are trying to achieve their goals through action on the state level.
In Colorado, Proposition 112 seeks to increase the “setback” requirement for new oil and gas activity on non-federal land – increasing it from 500-ft to 2,500-ft from designated structures and vulnerable areas. In laymen’s terms, this means that there can be no new drilling within 2,500 feet of essentially any structure – whether it is a house, fire station, garage, or whatever — on non-federal land.
Colorado Rising, the group pushing for the enactment of Proposition 112, says that the 2,500 feet setback is necessary “…based on peer-reviewed health studies indicating that health impacts are greatest within a half mile of a ‘fracking’ site.” In fact, the group even hints that this distance is not far enough. “Some studies indicate that a more appropriate minimum setback should be 1 mile, and the average evacuation distance for a well blowout is 0.8 miles.”
But such statements are rebutted by numerous other studies, including a four-year long one carried out by President Obama’s EPA which found that fracking created no adverse impact on water quality.
The Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Coalition (COGCC), a Colorado State government agency, also provided a report showing that at least three of the top five oil and gas producing counties in Colorado would be significantly impacted by the measure. The initiative would make it almost impossible to develop oil and gas east of the Rockies.
Also, according to an analysis performed by a coalition of the Colorado Association of Realtors, the Colorado Bankers Association, Colorado Concern, Common Sense Policy Roundtable and Denver South Economic Development Partnership, the definitions of what the language in the measure refer to is very unclear. Proposition 112 says that there will be no new drilling within 2,500 feet of an “occupied structure and any area designated for additional protection.”
The analysis states that “it is likely that ‘Occupied Structure’ would encompass far more buildings than ‘High Occupancy’ thus increasing not only the distance of new oil and gas activity from structures but also increasing the number of structures subject to setback.”
Bob Schaffer, a former congressman from the state, wrote an op-ed in the Coloradan against Proposition 112, formerly known as Initiative 97. He said, “85 percent of Colorado’s non-federal land would be off-limits to new natural-gas harvesting. A restriction of Initiative 97’s magnitude, according to a June analysis released by the Colorado Alliance of Mineral and Royalty Owners, could cost our state an unfathomable $26 billion in lost revenues, and legal takings claims.”
In Arizona, Proposition 127 would amend the Arizona State Constitution to mandate that 50% of power derived from public utilities must come from renewable resources by 2030. Nuclear power is not counted as a “renewable” option under the measure.
Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona Committee claims passage of this initiative will create “thousands of good jobs.” They claim that the number of jobs in Arizona’s solar industry is diminishing when compared to the national average, and Proposition 127 is needed to reverse that trend. Few specific data are referenced.
In contrast, analysis performed by the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University paints a starkly different picture. Their research found that Proposition 127 would hardly be an economic boon to the Grand Canyon State – in fact it would cause disposable personal income to plummet by a hefty $23.0 billion in the coming decades (2018-2060). In addition, the study also found that Prop 127 would cause some 305,000 “job years of employment” to be lost, and the Arizona economy as a whole would lose a whopping $36.8 billion in Gross State Product.
Added to this are other concerns. According to group “NO on 127,” the ballot measure would also cause the Palo Verde nuclear power plant to close by 2025, costing the State $55 million in property tax revenue annually.
In Washington State, Initiative 1631 proposes to enact a “fee” on carbon emissions of $15 per ton, starting in 2020, which then goes up $2 per ton every single year. The Atlantic reports that in 2035, the fee is projected to reach $55 per ton. At that point state lawmakers will have the option to either freeze the cost in place or continue to let it increase by $2 per year.
The reason proponents are calling this a “fee” and not a “tax” is because the revenues generated by this Initiative can only be spent on projects relating to climate change, carbon emissions, and transitioning from fossil fuels. Lawmakers would thus be unable to use the money generated for other purposes. A 15-member board would be in charge of deciding how to spend the funds. It remains unclear, however, exactly how this roughly $1 billion in new revenue every year would be spent by the board.
Dana Bieber, spokeswoman for the “No on 1631 Coalition” said, “This very powerful 15-member panel will be responsible for doling out billions upon billions of dollars … I think when we are talking about the greatest challenge of our time — and that’s climate change — I don’t think we should leave it in the hands of 15 unelected people.”
The Atlantic further explains that supporters of Initiative 1631 claim the measure will only cost residents $10 a month in a “worst-case scenario.” But opponents say this is unrealistic.
The Seattle Times reports that Puget Sound Energy, which relies on coal and gas for 60% of its power generation, would be hit much harder by this policy than Seattle City Light, which is supported by hydroelectricity in the region. When utilities pass the cost of the fee onto consumers, some ratepayers will be hit much harder than others.
Monty Anderson, the Executive Secretary of the Seattle Building & Construction Trades Council, which represents some 20,000 workers, is opposed to Initiative 1631. “It’s just a large gas tax. That’s the way we see it, and that’s the problem,” Anderson said. “And I don’t think they are going to stop investing in alternative energy just because we don’t have a special gas tax here.”
The voters of Colorado, Arizona, and Washington State will be making important choices this November. Their decisions will either inspire, or deflate, future efforts by environmentalist groups to continue pushing radical green policies at the state level.