Even if Democrats -- currently entirely out of power in Washington -- win back control of the House next week, little will change when it comes to federal energy policy.
President Trump will still reside in the White House. His deputies across the federal government will pursue policies promoting the growth of the fossil-fuel sector and ignoring the buildup of climate-warming gases in the atmosphere.
But in the states things may be different for Democrats. Voters across the western United States will be voting on progressive ballot measures poised to stymie the use of coal, oil and natural gas, and bolster solar and wind energy.
Here is a rundown of four of the most consequential:
Arizona’s Proposition 127 and Nevada’s Question 6
What’s on the ballot? In both states it is the same thing. Arizona and Nevada voters will separately decide whether to require utilities to acquire at least half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
What are the implications in these states? If passed, the renewable mandates stand to curb air pollution in a Southwest desert climate where smog likes to stick around while better harnessing some of the best solar energy opportunities in the country.
"You could not find a better state for solar in the U.S." than Arizona, said Bill Holland of the League of Conservation Voters, which supports the renewable measure.
But opponents, which in Arizona include the state’s Republican leadership and its electric utilities, say such stringent requirements will raise electricity prices and force the early closures for coal and nuclear plants, including Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, the largest nuclear station in the country.
And enacting the change via a difficult-to-undo constitutional amendment is "a terrible way to set energy policy in any state,” added Matt Benson, spokesman for the opposition campaign.
What are the implications nationally? Besides being a small step toward reducing the nation’s carbon footprint, the pair of ballot measures will test the extent to which states are willing to buck the Trump administration to prop up cleaner energy. In September, California pledged in September to get all of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045.
Where do Arizonans and Nevadans stand? The largest electric utilities in each state diverge on the respective ballot measures there. NV Energy in Nevada has not taken a position on the renewable proposal there, focusing most of its political firepower on a separate ballot measure that threatens to dismantle that utility’s electricity-generation monopoly.
Across the Colorado River, the parent company of Arizona Public Service, that state's largest utility, has spent about $22 million to defeat the renewable energy mandate there while environmentalist financier Tom Steyer has pumped over $18 million to convince Arizonans to support the constitutional mandate, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
That infusion of cash has created a “different dynamic in the two states,” Holland said. “In Arizona, it is a really tough battle.”
Colorado’s Proposition 112
What’s on the ballot? Colordans will decide whether to ban drilling for oil and natural gas in any area at least half a mile from a home, schools, business and waterway.
What are the implications in Colorado? Since state officials have concluded that such a prohibition would put 85 percent of state- and privately owned land off limits to energy development, the implications would be sweeping, Jennifer Oldham reports for The Post.
Oil and gas is a $31.4-billion-a-year business in the state, according to the American Petroleum Institute. A significant chunk of the industry’s revenue goes toward funding towns, cities and school districts.
But a ban would give many residents something difficult to put a price tag on: the peace of mind of knowing that the places where they live and work are away from toxic oil and gas emissions linked by peer-reviewed research to health risks like as cancer, respiratory problems and congenital birth defects
What are the implications nationally? Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, told Oldham that she considers Colorado to be “a bellwether.” If the proposition passed, “we are certain we would see it pop up in a couple years in other oil-and-gas-producing states,” she said.
Where do Coloradans stand? The usual alignment of industry players and Republican officials, including gubernatorial candidate and state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, oppose the ban. But so does Stapleton’s opponent, Democratic Rep. Jared Polis. Both hopefuls for the governor’s mansion do not want to lose the tax revenue from energy extraction.
Washington’s Initiative 1631
What’s on the ballot? The state of Washington will decide whether to impose a first-in-the-nation fee on the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
What are the implications in Washington? As just one state, Washington can do very little per se to stop climate change, which locally is fueling the state’s forest fires and damaging its oyster farms. Oil lobbyists point to that minimal impact to argue for voting “no.” The Western States Petroleum Association said the state-level policy “would have a negligible impact on mitigating climate change but could have a significant negative impact on our state’s businesses,” according to The Post’s Steven Mufson.
What are the implications nationally? With many Democrats and even a handful of Republicans in the other Washington agitating for a federal carbon tax, the precedent the state of Washington sets will be important for determining what is politically possible. “Going first is never easy,” Bill Gates wrote in an open letter of support this month, “but Washington has a history of pioneering new ideas.”
Where do Washingtonians stand? Several oil companies operating in the state oppose the ballot initiative. Notably, BP, which does refining in the state, has given $9.6 million in cash to defeat it.
But a broad coalition of political, business and nonprofit heavyweights —including environmental groups, unions, Native American groups, communities of color, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and Gates — support the fee.
“It is a small signal,” Inslee told Mufson. “But it is a signal of intent. And it does accelerate over time.”
The initiative drew 50 percent approval in a Crosscut/Elway Poll. That’s a big improvement from just two years ago, when even environmental groups were divided on an earlier iteration of the fee. The 2016 ballot measure garnered only 42 percent of the vote.
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— Interior watchdog finds BLM manager engaged in sexual misconduct: A report released Monday from the Interior Department’s internal watchdog revealed various sexual misconduct from a Bureau of Land Management manager that included sending pornographic images and sexually suggestive messages to a subordinate and using cameras in a district office to monitor employees. “All involved said the exchange of content was consensual, but the manager acknowledged that the conduct was inappropriate,” the report found.
— Energy Department no longer weighing marine capacity plan: The Energy Department is no longer considering a move to add offshore capacity as a way to move government crude oil to U.S. refineries during supply emergencies, S&P Global Platts reports. The action was initially suggested in 2016 by former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz who then called access to marine capacity a “major challenge” in case of such an emergency.
— Oil industry says voters concerned about ethanol plan: A new poll commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute found voters are worried about the president’s proposal to allow year-round sales of E15, gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol. The survey, conducted by Harris Poll, said 79 percent of voters reported being “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the proposal, compared to the 17 percent who reported being “not very” concerned or not at all concerned. Geoff Cooper, president of the Renewable Fuel Association called the poll “manipulative” and said the results are “meaningless and do nothing to objectively represent consumer opinion on E15," according to The Hill.
— WHO warns of pollutions impact on children's health: Air pollution killed more than 600,000 children in 2016, the World Health Organization said in a new report ahead of a global conference in Geneva. The report also found about 93 percent of children under 15 are breathing in polluted air that puts their health and development at risk, CNN reports. According to the U.N. agency, "children are more susceptible to pollution because they breathe more often, taking in more pollutants, and are closer to the ground, which is where some pollutants have higher concentrations,” per the report.
— How climate change is impacting mountain birds: The recreation of a 1985 study of more than 400 species of birds “has given scientists a rare chance to prove how the changing climate is pushing species out of the places they are best adapted to,” the Associated Press reports. The new findings, out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that almost all the species saw population declines and that nearly all of the bird species had moved to higher elevations. It also found eight species were gone all together. “Once you move up as far as you can go, there’s nowhere else left,” study author John W. Fitzpatrick told the AP.
— Welcome back, winter: The Post’s Capital Weather Gang pointed out that Anchorage, Alaska, saw it’s first freeze of the fall season on Monday, calling it the “latest record by a long shot.”
So weird.... Anchorage, Alaska only today saw its first freeze of the fall - latest on record by a long shot. Washington Dulles had its first freeze earlier this year... https://t.co/LmJBznVNHv— Capital Weather Gang (@capitalweather) October 29, 2018
— This is for the snow lovers in the Washington area: Meanwhile, private sector forecasters say there’s likely to be a snowier than normal winter in the region. The Post’s Jason Samenow reports that of “winter outlooks from seven organizations… all of them predicted 20 to 30 inches of snow, which is substantially more than the average of 15.4 inches.” “The primary rationale for the snowy outlook is that an El Niño event is expected to develop, and, on average, more snow falls during El Niño in Washington than during its opposite phase, La Niña,” Samenow adds.
— Study finds bitcoin is an energy glutton: New research warns that bitcoin may already be driving high greenhouse gas emissions, The Post’s Chris Mooney and Steven Mufson report.
What academics found: The study, published in Nature Climate Change, calculated "that bitcoin, today, probably releases about 69 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions — comparable with the emissions of a country like Austria, which has a population of nearly 9 million people."
However: While the high energy use needed to mine for bitcoin is known, critics warned that the new study “makes much too coarse and even wrong assumptions,” Mooney and Mufson report, writing that even the criticism shows that “estimating precisely how it is affecting the environment remains hotly debated.”
- The Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy will hold a presentation and discussion of the IEA’s Gas 2018 Medium Term Market Report.
- The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment holds an event.
- George Washington University holds a briefing and panel discussion on a project on reducing nuclear risks from weapons-usable nuclear material.
- The United States Energy Association holds a briefing on resilience in the electric power sector on Wednesday.
- Bracewell's Policy Resolution Group hosts a post-election webinar on Nov. 7.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to consider FERC nominee Bernard McNamee, Rita Baranwal to head the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy and Raymond David Vela to be director of the National Park Service on Nov. 15.
— Lightning strike: “The Anak Krakatau volcano, infamous for its extreme eruptions, is launching lava bombs and generating its own lightning this month,” The Post’s Angela Fritz reports: