While there was a lot of conjecture about a potential “Blue Wave” in the 2018 midterms, there was also hope of a “Green Wave” by Left-leaning environmentalists intent on pushing their policies through by the use of craftily-written referendums.

These so-called “green” ballot measures in Washington state, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada, were primarily focused on restricting, and eventually eliminating entirely, the use of fossil fuels within their borders.

Three out of four of these initiatives went down to a dismal defeat.

One of the most noteworthy of these proposals was Initiative 1631 in Washington, which would have enacted the first-in-the-nation carbon tax or “fee” on carbon emissions of $15 per ton. This proposal was soundly rejected at the polls by a hefty 56.3% to 43.7% margin.

Had it been enacted, the $15 fee on carbon emissions would have started in 2020, then gone up $2 per ton every single year. The Atlantic reports that in 2035, the fee was projected to reach $55 per ton. At that point state lawmakers would have had the option to either freeze the cost in place or continue to let it increase by $2 per year.

The Seattle Times quoted Dana Bieber, spokeswoman for the No on 1631 campaign, as saying the result was a “clear victory for working families, consumers, small businesses and family farmers across our state.” She also called the measure a “costly, unfair and ineffective energy tax.” This is the second time Washington voters have rejected a statewide carbon tax scheme, the first time being in 2016.

Despite these frustrations at the ballot box, those in favor of a carbon tax are not backing away. Mike Stevens, state director of the Nature Conservancy, said the next fight would be in the Statehouse for a carbon tax to be enacted via legislation as opposed to a popular vote.

Equally important to Washington State’s carbon tax referendum was Proposition 112 in Colorado. This initiative was also defeated, and would have increased 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 would have been 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.

57% of Coloradans voted no on Prop. 112, and 43% voted yes.

The Denver Post recorded the responses of two of the loudest voices on either side of Proposition 112. “Let’s be clear: the oil and gas industry spent at least $30 million to beat this measure by fear-mongering about jobs,” said Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado, a major backer of Prop. 112. “The fact remains (that) the oil and gas problem in this state has not been solved.”

On the other side the debate, Dan Haley, President and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association said “I want every Coloradan to know that we are committed to developing our resources in a responsible manner that protects the environment and keeps our employees and communities healthy and safe.”

In Arizona, voters soundly rejected Proposition 127, which would have amended the state constitution to mandate that 50% of power derived from public utilities must come from renewable sources by 2030. 70% of voters said “no” to Prop. 127, while 30% voted yes. Nuclear power was not counted as a renewable option under the measure.

According to ABC 15 Arizona, D.J. Quinlan, spokesman for Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, which was in favor of Arizona’s Prop. 127, claimed there was “corrupt behavior” on the part of Arizona Public Service Electric Company (APS). APS opposed the Arizona ballot measure.

“By standing up to the bully that is APS, we have altered the course of our politics for the better. Future change is impossible until APS’s stranglehold on our politics is broken — and we’re proud to have made the first crack in their wall of corruption that has held Arizona back for too long,” Quinlan said.

Don Brandt, Chairman, President and CEO of APS commented in a statement that: “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.”

Finally, in Nevada, the greens saw their only major success on a measure known as Question 6, which is similar to that which was proposed in Arizona. By a 59.26% to 40.74% margin, Nevada voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that requires 50% of the electricity sold by providers to be from renewable sources by 2030. What exactly is meant by “renewable” however, is less certain.

According to the Nevada Office of the Secretary of State, “Renewable energy resources is not specifically defined in the ballot measure; however, the language of the ballot measure indicates that renewable energy resources include solar, geothermal, wind, biomass, and waterpower.”

While nuclear is not expressly prohibited from the measure, this referendum result does not bode well for the future of nuclear in Nevada. This is because it was not included as a renewable option, despite nuclear having zero emissions.

The Daily Caller reports that Tom Steyer, the billionaire from California with a special interest in environmental initiatives, devoted nearly $6 million to support the Nevada measure through his NextGen Climate Action organization.

Katie Robbins, campaign manager of YES on 6, said in a statement: “Tonight the people of Nevada confirmed what we’ve known all along: We have a right to clean air and clean energy.”

The fight in Nevada is far from over, however. Nevada requires constitutional amendments to be passed twice. Expect this question to face Nevada voters once again in 2020.


  • Adam Houser

    Adam Houser coordinates student leaders as National Director of CFACT's collegians program and writes on issues of climate and energy.