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Voters reject most state energy initiatives, including anti-drilling, carbon fee

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Voters reject most state energy initiatives, including anti-drilling, carbon fee

In a dramatic 2018 midterm election, voters gave Democrats control of the U.S. House of Representatives and rejected high-profile state ballot measures that would have limited oil and gas drilling in Colorado and created a fee on carbon dioxide emissions in Washington state.

On the federal level, Democrats won the majority of seats in the House, meaning they will control that chamber for the first time since the 111th Congress that ended in early January 2011.

A Democrat-controlled House could bring heavy oversight of the Trump administration's efforts to roll back air and water quality rules and other regulations affecting the energy sector. Democrats may also pursue an infrastructure bill that includes energy-related provisions, although lawmakers will be challenged to agree on how to fund the legislation.

But Republicans held onto control of the U.S. Senate and even expanded their majority in that chamber. Continued leadership of the Senate will allow the GOP to more easily confirm Republican nominee Bernard McNamee to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is currently split between two Republican and two Democratic members.

The midterms displaced some key members of Congress on energy and climate change policy. U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., the Republican co-founder of the House Climate Solutions Caucus, was defeated by Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in the race for Florida's 26th congressional district near Miami. In the Senate, Heidi Heitkamp lost her re-election bid to Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., an early supporter of President Donald Trump and, like Heitkamp, an advocate for the state's coal industry.

But other energy-focused lawmakers held onto their seats in Congress. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., fended off a challenge for his Senate seat from West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. And in the House, Republican Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee's energy subcommittee, won a tight re-election race, while hydropower champion and high-ranking Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers kept Washington's 5th congressional district.

State ballot measures

The Nov. 6 elections included some crucial energy-related ballot measures.

Washington state voters rejected by a 56.3% to 43.7% vote a ballot initiative that would have established the first direct tax on carbon in the country.

Supported by Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, and various environmental groups, Initiative 1631 would have levied a $15-per-metric ton fee starting in 2020. But Energy companies Andeavor, BP PLC, Chevron Corp. and Phillips 66 were lined up against the initiative, collectively pouring millions into the "No on 1631" campaign sponsored by the Western States Petroleum Association.

Turning to Nevada, voters rejected an initiative to amend the state's constitution to establish an energy market in place of NV Energy Inc.'s near-statewide monopoly on electric power supplies. But 59.5% of the state's voters approved a measure that will require half of Nevada's electric power to come from renewable resources by 2030. Nevada voters, however, will need to approve that constitutional amendment a second time two years from now in order for it to take effect.

Despite Nevada's support for a higher renewable portfolio standard, Arizona voted against a similar measure that would have required investor-owned utilities and cooperatives in the state to obtain 50% of their power from renewable energy by 2030. The proposal was vociferously opposed by Pinnacle West Capital Corp. subsidiary Arizona Public Service Co., which spent more than $22 million to defeat the initiative.

In Colorado, voters rejected Proposition 112, which would have barred new oil and gas exploration and production within 2,500 feet of occupied buildings in the state.

Advocates said the measure was needed to ensure public safety. But opponents of Proposition 112, who spent more than $30 million to defeat it, said the proposal would have closed off as much as 85% of the state's nonfederal land to future oil and gas production.

Alaskans on Nov. 6 defeated a ballot measure that would have increased protections for the state's salmon habitat. The law sought to define activities that have "significant adverse effect" on the habitat of anadromous fish, which swim from the sea up freshwater water bodies to spawn; potentially broadened the definition of that habitat to include nearly every waterway in the state; and altered the process for securing permits for projects that may affect that habitat.

Companies including BP, ConocoPhillips, Donlin Gold LLC and Hecla Mining Co. contributed millions to a campaign that spent more than $10.5 million opposing the measure, an amount greater than five and a half times what proponents of the measure spent, and argued the law's tightening of project permitting requirements would have led to project delays and increased costs.

Outcome of key state races

In Colorado, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat who represents the state's 2nd congressional district, defeated Republican Walker Stapleton, the state's treasurer, in the race to replace outgoing Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Polis made reaching a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2040 a key part of his campaign. Moving away from fossil fuels, Polis argued, will save consumers money, create jobs and limit climate change. Polis' victory also may mean continued support for limiting the oil and gas sectors' methane releases; in his campaign, he prioritized policies aimed at combating climate change.

In Ohio, state Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican, will serve as the state's next governor after defeating Democratic candidate Richard Cordray in the contest to succeed Republican John Kasich. DeWine did not offer a specific energy plan, but his economic plan included eliminating "burdensome regulations" to encourage job growth. As attorney general, DeWine has challenged Obama-era environmental regulations, including the Clean Power Plan.

During the campaign, Cordray proposed to double Ohio's renewable energy and energy efficiency targets by 2025 and do away with wind setback regulations, set in 2014, that are seen as slowing wind farm development in the state.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf won reelection and likely will continue the state's focus on limiting methane emissions from oil and gas drillers. Wolf has said he sees the state as "uniquely positioned" to lead the nation on climate change issues, and Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection under his leadership set up general permits in June for shale gas wells and compression, processing and transmission facilities aimed at controlling methane emissions.

A similar trend could play out in New Mexico, where Democratic U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham's victory in the state's gubernatorial election could mean oil and gas producers there face tighter scrutiny of their methane emissions. Lujan Grisham has a history of supporting methane oversight and has emphasized her stance that methane emissions standards can help protect public health, fight climate change and prevent natural resource waste.

In Maine's four-way race to succeed outgoing Republican Gov. Paul LePage, Democratic state Attorney General Janet Mills defeated the other top contender, Republican businessman Shawn Moody.

Renewable developers are anxious to see the end of LePage's administration and its unfriendly policies towards renewables. Mills, who vocally supported offshore wind development during her campaign, said she would rescind LePage's January moratorium on new onshore wind developments in the western and coastal areas of the state. Mills also supports continuing to subsidize biomass power plants in an effort to save Maine's uneconomic logging industry.

In Vermont, incumbent Republican Gov. Phil Scott won his re-election bid by defeating Democratic opponent Christine Hallquist, who served as CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative Inc. for 12 years. Had she been elected, Hallquist would have been the first transgender governor in the United States.

Scott's and Hallquist's energy platforms converged somewhat, with each opposing large-scale wind development on ridgelines within Vermont. Both candidates also endorsed achieving the state's goal of procuring 90% of its electricity from renewables by 2050 through a mix of solar energy, out-of-state wind generation and Canadian hydropower imports. Notably, Scott came out against a carbon tax, while Hallquist said she would not take a position on the issue before studying its impacts on low-income Vermonters.

Also at the state level, a former Deloitte executive and solar entrepreneur running as a Democrat forced a runoff against a two-term incumbent Republican on the Georgia Public Service Commission. Democrat Lindy Miller fielded a strong challenge against GOP Commissioner Chuck Eaton, and Peach State voters will go to the polls again in December to decide who will serve on the regulatory body.

If ultimately elected, Miller would break up Republicans' 11-year total control of the PSC and disrupt Georgia Power Co.'s reliable regulatory support. Although she has not called for abandoning the troubled Vogtle nuclear plant expansion, which the PSC oversees, Miller has pledged to take a more skeptical approach to the Southern Co. subsidiary.

Kelly Andrejasich, Colby Bermel, Amanda Luhavalja, Mark Passwaters, Andrew Coffman Smith, Sarah Smith, Jeff Stanfield and Everett Wheeler contributed to this article.

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