Pale Blue Dot: Ballot propositions will impact environmental policy across US

It’s been a rough couple of months for people concerned about the environment. Natural disasters have been hitting states with unceasing ferocity, wildfires tore through the West Coast and, of course, at the beginning of October, humanity was given a dire reality check on its impact via the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. Hopefully, 2018 has shown just how much climate change is already affecting our world and the drastic changes that need to be made to effectively combat it.

We as a species have already witnessed some of the effects of climate change, habitat destruction and pollution. It’s bleak, and it certainly doesn’t help that the United States is currently under a political administration that delights in repealing the few laws that were reversing the damage. But tomorrow is Election Day, and as citizens of a democratic republic, we have the power to turn the tide, at least a little bit. One particularly exciting thing about this midterm election — not quite as exciting as Texas senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke on a skateboard, but nothing can really top that — is the wide range of environment and conservation-based legislation that is up for voting in various states.

I will always believe that voting is the most powerful thing a citizen can do to effect necessary policy changes; luckily for America, there are a lot of measures that, if passed, would have major implications on the future of our nation’s environmental policy. If you are a citizen of any of these states and haven’t voted yet, I highly encourage you to think about the environment when you fill out your ballot.

The most radical — and possibly most revolutionary — piece of legislation up for voting this year comes from my home state of Washington. Washington Initiative 1631 seeks to levy a $15 tax per metric ton of carbon emission on big polluters beginning 2020, and to increase that tax by $2 per ton every year until the state reaches its emission goals. The policy takes a refreshingly hard line against the biggest carbon offenders, and would make Washington the first state government ever to introduce a carbon tax through public referendum. If Washington voters say yes to 1631, it could set a trend of aggressive carbon taxing throughout the United States.  

In Nevada, the Renewable Energy Standards Initiative requires electric companies to acquire at least 50 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2030. The initiative was set up by an interest group called NextGen Climate Action, which pushes for renewable energy policy in southwestern states. Nevada is one of the most sun-drenched states in the country. NextGen founder Tom Steyer referred to it as “the Saudi Arabia of renewable resources,” and is using this initiative to push for heavier reliance on solar energy in the state. Voting yes on the measure will set a precedent for states to embrace renewable energy.

NextGen also pushed for a similar policy in Arizona. Arizona’s Prop 127 would also require 50 percent of energy to come from renewable sources by 2030, but slowly works up to that target, beginning with a 12 percent requirement in 2020 and incremental increase annually. Voting yes on Arizona’s Renewable Energy Standards Initiative (yes, they have the same name) will not only increase the attention on renewable energy, but also provide an interesting experiment in environmental policy design when compared to Nevada’s almost-identical policy.

Georgia’s Amendment 1, the (not-very-aptly titled) Portion of Revenue from Outdoor Recreation Equipment Sales Tax Dedicated to Land Conservation Fund Amendment, introduces a truly novel concept to funding conservation efforts: using sales tax from recreation gear to fund stewardship and habitat rehabbing projects. Essentially, every time someone buys outdoor sporting goods like tents or boots, 80 percent of sales tax would be diverted to the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund. So when people are purchasing outdoor gear and paraphernalia, they are also donating to conserve the habitats they’re venturing into. It’s such a simple and ingenious idea, and if enough Georgians vote yes, I hope it catches on.

Of course, I would be remiss to not mention California’s Prop 6 and Prop 12, which address a repeal of the gas tax and improving farm animal conditions, respectively. Environmentally conscious Californians should vote no on 6 and yes on 12, as discussed in two Daily Trojan editorials published last week as well as in our endorsements.

There are a few other races to watch: Florida is voting on the legality of wagering on dog races; Rhode Island has a huge bond up for election to protect and restore its coasts; North Carolina has a repulsive act that would declare hunting and fishing to be a constitutional right; and Alaska is voting on the regulation of industrial projects in salmon habitats. Americans could very well wake up on Nov. 7 to a country that is far more invested in conservation than it was just days before, but they absolutely must vote in their respective state to see this change. These acts feel like tiny rays of hope in a swirling cloud of bad news, and I encourage you to watch out for the results as the returns come in Tuesday evening.

Kylie Harrington is a junior majoring in journalism. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Pale Blue Dot,” runs every other Monday.