2020 Climate and Energy Ballot Initiatives

Posted by Brad Johnson Mon, 26 Oct 2020 15:09:00 GMT


Columbus' ballot initiative would give Ohio's largest city 100% renewable electricity.
Although there are fewer climate ballot initiatives than in 2018, there are some important local measures on the ballot this November. In particular, Columbus, Ohio has an initiative to confirm AEP as its monopoly electricity provider as part of a plan to rapidly reach 100% renewable electricity.

The only major statewide initiatives are in Alaska and Louisiana, both of which have ballot measures to increase oil drilling taxes.

Here is a review of climate and energy initiatives, measures, and state constitution amendments on the ballot this November 3, drawn from Ballotpedia and Earther's Dharna Noor:

Statewide

Alaska Ballot Measure 1, the North Slope Oil Production Tax Increase Initiative: The campaign Vote Yes for Alaska's Fair Share proposed the ballot initiative to increase taxes on oil production fields located in Alaska's North Slope that exceeded certain output minimums. According to Robin Brena, chairperson of Vote Yes for Alaska's Fair Share, three oil production fields—Alpine, Kuparuk, and Prudhoe Bay—met those criteria. BP ($4.54 million), Conoco Phillips ($4.70 million), Hilcorp Energy ($4.3 million), and ExxonMobil ($3.74 million) are funding the campaign to defeat Measure 1.

California Proposition 15, the Tax on Commercial and Industrial Properties for Education and Local Government Funding Initiative, would require commercial and industrial properties, except those zoned as commercial agriculture, to be taxed based on their market value, rather than their purchase price, overturning part of 1978's Proposition 13.

"Oil and gas companies are among the biggest forces lobbying against this measure because they could stand to lose out on a lot of money if it passes," according to Noor. For example, Contra Costa County, the home of Chevron's oil refinery in Richmond, would gain about $400 million a year in property taxes.

Opponents are falsely claiming Prop 15 would harm California's solar industry.

Louisiana Amendment 2, the Include Oil and Gas Value in Tax Assessment of Wells Amendment: This amendment would allow the presence or production of oil or gas to be taken into account when assessing the fair market value of an oil or gas well for ad valorem property tax purposes. It is supported by Louisiana's oil and gas industry.

Louisiana Amendment 5, the Payments in Lieu of Property Taxes Option Amendment: amends the state constitution to authorize local governments to enter into a cooperative endeavor agreement with new or expanding manufacturing establishments -- such as the oil and gas facilities -- and allowing the manufacturing establishments to make payments to the taxing authority of whatever amount instead of paying property taxes.

This amendment is widely opposed by environmental, religious, and other civic organizations.

"The main lobbying force behind this measure is Cameron, a liquified natural gas firm," writes Noor. "Last year, based on a payment in lieu of taxes agreement, the company paid just $38,000 in taxes. But if it had to pay their full taxes, it would have paid $220 million. The company’s agreement is now expiring, so it’s fighting to make it—and other agreements like it—last forever."

These kinds of industry tax breaks are why Louisiana stays poor forever, explains Together Louisiana:

Michigan Proposal 1, the Use of State and Local Park Funds Amendment: makes changes to how revenue in the state's park-related funds can be spent, including (a) making projects to renovate recreational facilities eligible for grants and (b) requiring that at least 20% of the parks endowment fund spending be spent on park capital improvements, and (c) removing the cap on the size of the natural resources trust fund. The initiative has split the climate movement in the state, as the measure "would allow Michigan’s Parks Endowment Fund to sell off oil and gas leases on public lands," Noor writes. "After that fund is full, any additional oil and gas money would go into a Natural Resources Trust Fund, which is also used for natural resources protection and recreation."

The Michigan Democratic Party, conservation organizations, and the Michigan Oil and Gas Association support the measure, but the Michigan Sierra Club and the Environmental Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party stands in opposition.

Nevada Renewable Energy Standards Initiative Question 6 (2020) is the required second vote on the initiative, passed in 2018, to add language to the Nevada Constitution requiring the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard to increase to 50 percent by 2030. In 2018, this ballot initiative was approved as Question 6, and therefore needs to be approved again in 2020 to amend the Nevada Constitution. On April 22, 2019, Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) signed Senate Bill 358 (SB 358), which was designed to require the same RPS percentage by 2030 as the amendment on the ballot.

New Mexico Constitutional Amendment 1, the Public Regulation Commission Amendment: changes the utility-oversight Public Regulation Commission (PRC) from an elected five-member commission to an appointed three-member commission. New Mexico's PRC is currently dominated by fossil-fuel supporters. Climate organizations overwhelmingly support the amendment.

"Supporters of the measure say that New Mexico is unlikely to meet its 100% clean energy target under its current system because the commissioners’ elections are so often riddled with corporate money," Noor writes. "Under the new system, a bipartisan nominating committee, which would include at least one representative from a local Indigenous group, would come up with a list of environmental experts from the state, and the governor could choose which ones to appoint."

Local

Albany, California, Measure DD, Utility Tax: A “yes” vote supports authorizing an increase to the utility users tax from 7% to 9.5% and application of a 7.5% tax on water service, generating an estimated $675,000 per year for general services including disaster preparedness, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, emergency response and environmental services.

Berkeley, California, Measure HH, Utility Tax: A “yes” vote supports authorizing an increase to the utility users tax from 7.5% to 10% on electricity and gas and a 2.5% increase to the gas users tax, generating an estimated $2.4 million per year for municipal services including reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Boulder, Colorado, Ballot Measure 2C, Public Service Company Franchise, and Measure 2D, to Repurpose the Utility Occupation Tax: These initiatives would allow the city of Boulder to abandon its efforts to establish a 100% renewable-electricity municipal utility and instead enter a long-term monopoly agreement with Xcel Energy with less ambitious renewable targets.

Local climate organizations overwhelmingly oppose 2C.

Denver, Colorado, Ballot Measure 2A, Sales Tax to Fund Environmental and Climate-Related Programs and TABOR Spending Limit Increase: A "yes" vote supports authorizing the city and county of Denver to levy an additional 0.25% sales tax generating an estimated $40 million per year to fund climate-related programs and programs designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, thereby increasing the total sales tax rate in Denver from 8.31% to 8.56%.

Columbus, Ohio, Issue 1, Electric Service Aggregation Program Measure: A "yes" vote supports authorizing the city to establish an Electric Aggregation Program, which would allow the city to aggregate the retail electrical load of customers within the city's boundaries, and allowing customers to opt-out of the program. If passed, the City of Columbus will develop a detailed plan for operation and management of aggregation; include in the plan a commitment to 100 percent renewable energy; and commit to encourage development of renewable-energy facilities in Central Ohio. AEP is financing the campaign in support of the initiative. If voters approve the aggregation program, AEP Energy would lock in most of Ohio’s largest city as its power customer for up to 15 years; the program would be the largest outside California, the company says. The initiative is also strongly backed by local and national environmental organizations and trade unions. The Ohio Coal Association stands against the proposal.

Portland, Oregon, Measure 26-219, Uses of Water Fund Charter Amendment: A "yes" vote supports amending the city's charter to authorize the city council to spend monies from the Water Fund and increase rates to cover expenses for general public uses, such as neighborhood green areas and community gardens.

The various other tax, policing, infrastructure, and campaign finance initiatives on the ballot have climate justice implications, as do, of course, the candidate elections.

Report: Big Law Overwhelmingly Supports Big Carbon

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 01 Oct 2020 21:11:00 GMT

The 2020 Law Firm Climate Change Scorecard is the first to detail the scale of top law firms’ role in the climate crisis. Using the best data available, the Law Students for Climate Accountability assessed litigation, transactional, and lobbying work conducted by the 2020 Vault Law 100 law firms—the 100 most prestigious law firms in the United States—from 2015 to 2019.

Their findings:

  • Vault 100 firms worked on ten times as many cases exacerbating climate change as cases addressing climate change: 286 cases compared to 27 cases.
  • Vault 100 firms were the legal advisors on five times more transactional work for the fossil fuel industry than the renewable energy industry: $1.3 trillion of transactions compared to $271 billion of transactions.
  • Vault 100 firms lobbied five times more for fossil fuel companies than renewable energy companies: for $36.5 million in compensation compared to $6.8 million in compensation.
There are four firms that have only engaged in pro-climate work in the covered period, earning an A grade:
  • Cozen O’Connor
  • Schulte Roth & Zabel
  • Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton
  • Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
The worst firms include:
  • Paul, Weiss worked on as many cases exacerbating climate change as 62 other Vault 100 firms combined.
  • Allen & Overy was the legal advisor on more transactional work for the fossil fuel industry than 78 other Vault 100 firms combined.
  • Hogan Lovells lobbied more for fossil fuel companies than 92 other Vault 100 firms combined.
  • Latham & Watkins is the only firm to be in the Top 5 Worst Firms for both transactions and litigation exacerbating climate change

The report also details the work that Latham & Watkins, Norton Rose Fulbright, Vinson & Elkins, Gibson Dunn, Baker Botts, and Greenberg Traurig did on behalf of the Dakota Access Pipeline project, including numerous efforts to crack down on the water defenders.

The group is calling on law students and firms to take the Law Firm Climate Responsibility Pledge to stop taking on new fossil fuel industry work, continue to take on renewable energy industry work and litigation to fight climate change, and to completely phase out fossil fuel work by 2025.

Top 5 Worst Firms for Litigation
  • Paul Weiss: 21 cases (7x the average)
  • Gibson Dunn: 18 cases
  • Sidley Austin: 16 cases
  • Latham & Watkins: 13 cases
  • Tie: Baker & Hostetler / Baker Botts / Munger, Tolles: 10 cases
Top 5 Worst Firms for Transactions
  • Allen & Overy: $153,365,000,000 (15x the average)
  • Vinson & Elkins: $108,217,000,000
  • Latham & Watkins: $94,815,000,000
  • Clifford Chance: $83,708,000,000
  • Milbank: $59,180,000,000
Top 5 Worst Firms for Lobbying
  • Hogan Lovells: $7,085,000 (24x the average)
  • Akin Gump: $6,820,000
  • Squire Patton Boggs: $4,755,000
  • McGuire Woods: $2,320,000
  • Steptoe & Johnson: $1,920,000

Download the full report.