New York voters backed billions of dollars in climate-related spending in the US midterms, but voters in California and other states rejected other environmental policies
9 November 2022
Results were mixed for climate and environmental measures on the ballots in different states in the US midterm election on Tuesday.
In addition to congressional races and gubernatorial races in 36 states, midterm ballots included a variety of specific measures to be decided on by voters.
The biggest win was a measure in New York that authorises the state to sell bonds worth more than $4 billion to raise funds for reducing emissions, increasing resilience against flooding, improving water quality and conserving land. New York generates about 3 per cent of total US emissions.
“It’s absolutely historic that we’ve passed the largest bond act in New York state history,” says Jessica Ottney Mahar at The Nature Conservancy, a conservation nonprofit. She says the funds, alongside larger federal funding packages, will help reduce the state’s emissions by improving building efficiency, buying electric school buses and protecting natural landscapes that store carbon.
Funds will also help protect communities against climate hazards like dangerous heat and flooding, she says.
Around 70 per cent of votes were in favour of the measure, with 72 per cent of the vote recorded, according to Politico.
In California, however, a billion-dollar measure to address climate change failed, despite the state’s ambitious emission-reduction policies. These include a ban on the sale of gas cars by 2035 and a requirement that nearly all ridesharing miles be in electric vehicles by 2030.
Through a new 1.75 per cent tax on incomes above $2 million, the measure would have raised between $3.5 billion and $5 billion each year for electric vehicle tax incentives, charging stations and wildfire preparedness. Wildfires are expected to become more frequent in the state with warming under all emissions scenarios.
Mark Baldassare at the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonprofit think tank, says initial support for the measure dropped among voters of both parties after California’s Democratic governor Gavin Newsom appeared in ads opposing the measure. Newsom called the measure a handout to the ridesharing company Lyft, which spent tens of millions of dollars in support of the measure.
The state budget already includes support for electric vehicles and wildfire preparedness, says Baldassare, but it remains an open question whether that is enough for the state to hit its targets. “We’ll see what the governor has to say next about how we’re going to get there,” he says.
Outside New York and California, a $50 million measure passed in Rhode Island to improve coastal resiliency against flooding and storms and restore habitat in Narragansett Bay. A measure in Florida that would have made it cheaper to make homes more resilient to flooding failed, despite bipartisan support and the state’s ongoing recovery from Hurricane Ian. In climate-conscious Washington state, voters signalled they weren’t fans of a new tax on airplane fuel.
Overall though, the outcome of the midterm for climate policy “was better than we thought”, says David Shepheard at Baringa Partners, a US consulting firm, not only for ballot measures but for candidates. “Climate outcomes were on the ballot even if they weren’t explicitly mentioned.”
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