Among hundreds of citizens’ propositions on the undercard of this week’s U.S. general election, two stood out for climate and energy watchers. Washington State voters turned down a proposal to enact the country’s first carbon tax, while electors in Florida saw through and rejected a disguised effort by monopoly utilities to limit solar development in the Sunshine State.
In Washington, which voted for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and handily re-elected Democratic Senator Patty Murray, voters soundly defeated a ballot initiative that would have instituted a US$25-per-ton price on carbon beginning in in 2018, rising by 3.5% a year to reach US$100 a ton by about 2050. Claiming the tax would be “revenue neutral,” its proponents proposed parallel cuts in the state sales tax and a manufacturers’ “gross receipts” tax, along with tax refunds of $1,500 for low-income families.
Celebrity ex-NASA scientist James Hansen, former Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and actor Leonardo DiCaprio lent support of the proposal. Companies including Kaiser Aluminum, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, and Koch Industries opposed it. It ultimately failed by a vote of roughly two to one.
“While we did not pass the nation’s first carbon tax, many states around the country are looking at I-732 as a model, and we expect a nationwide movement to take root in the years ahead,” said Yoram Bauman, founder and co-chair of the group promoting the initiative, in a concession statement.
The rejection sent ripples through North American climate policy circles, with echoes north of the 49th Parallel, where the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and one candidate for the leadership of the Opposition Conservative Party of Canada are pressing for the adoption of a national carbon price.
Advocates for community and independent solar producers ended the night more happily in Florida—which went for Trump at the top of the ballot. “In what solar advocates are calling a ‘David and Goliath battle,’ a bipartisan grassroots coalition defeated a utility-supported measure to put restrictions on solar in the state of Florida,” reports Greentech Media.
The proposition “was written with language that made it seem focused on expanding solar access in the Sunshine State,” the outlet notes. “But in reality, the amendment would have simply affirmed the right to own and lease solar in Florida—a right consumers already have—[while] the ballot would also have preserved the monopoly held by utilities and continued to block third-party competitors.” The initiative was backed by more than US$28 million in advertising paid for by energy companies, including Florida’s two largest energy utilities, Florida Power and Light and Duke Energy. But it failed to win the 60% of votes it needed to pass.