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Climate and energy measures fall flat in Colorado and Washington

A number of states had climate- and energy-related measures on the ballot yesterday. Here is how two of the most prominent measures fared:

In Washington, carbon tax fails

Voters decisively rejected, by 56% to 43%, a push to become the first U.S. state to tax greenhouse gas emissions for the second time in 2 years. The defeat of Initiative 1631 came after a nearly $32 million opposition campaign funded chiefly by some of the world’s largest oil companies. BP America, the largest donor, pumped in more than $12 million.

The initiative would have charged most of the state’s major sources of fossil fuels $15 per ton of carbon starting in 2020, with the price rising $2 per year until 2035. Washington is home to some of the largest oil refineries on the West Coast. Much of the money raised by the tax—an estimated $1 billion by the mid-2020’s—was to be earmarked for clean energy projects, climate adaptation, and offsetting the impact on low-income residents.

Initiative proponents, which included environmental and labor groups as well as Governor Jay Inslee (D), argued the initiative would help shift the state toward cleaner energy sources. Opponents charged the measure would cost Washington families hundreds of dollars, and unfairly exempted some industries, including an aluminum smelter and wood-burning power plants.

In 2017, voters turned down another plan to tax carbon. If this year’s initiative had passed, the state would have become one of the few governments in the world putting a price on carbon—a step widely considered necessary to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Canadian province of British Columbia, just to the north, already has a carbon tax. —Warren Cornwall

Colorado rejects limits on drilling

Colorado voters declined to place new restrictions on the state’s oil and gas industry. The proposition—which failed 57% to 43%—sought to limit new drilling and fracking infrastructure to locations that are at least 762 meters from “occupied” buildings, such as homes and schools. (Current laws allow fracking operations within 152 meters of homes and 305 meters of schools.)

Colorado is home to about 50,000 active oil and gas wells, many of which are located in populated areas northeast of Denver, above the productive Wattenberg Gas Field. Proponents of the ballot measure pointed to a 2012 study that documented elevated health risks for Colorado residents who live within 805 meters of wells, because of the emission of toxic gases such as benzene.

Many state politicians, including the outgoing Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper, opposed the measure because they thought it would devastate the state’s booming oil and gas industry. After the votes were tallied, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association issued a statement saying that Coloradans “stood with the energy sector to oppose this measure.” —Katie Langin