With deep pockets, energy industry notches big midterm wins
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
The oil industry and a big utility fended off three ballot initiatives that would have been bad for their businesses after pouring millions of dollars into separate efforts across a trio of Western states.
Why it matters: The industry wins are stark examples of how money-fueled negative messaging can persuade voters. It also shows how fights over energy policy have moved to the states as the issue remains mostly off the table in Washington.
- Colorado’s proposal would have essentially banned new drilling in many parts of the state after roughly tripling the required distance between buildings and drilling to 2,500 feet, per The Denver Post.
- Washington’s proposal would have imposed a carbon fee on large emitters to then fund a range of clean-energy initiatives, per The Seattle Times.
- In Arizona, the proposal would have increased the state’s requirement for renewable-energy electricity to 50% by 2030, up from the current 15% goal by 2025, per local news outlet KGUN.
By the numbers: Collectively, incumbent energy companies spent nearly $100 million fighting the proposals.
- Oil companies including Anadarko and Noble Energy, which have big footprints in Colorado, spent $30 million there.
- BP and Chevron were among the big funders making that fight the most expensive one in Washington history.
- Arizona’s biggest utility, Arizona Public Service, put $30 million into fighting the expansion of renewable electricity in that state, per The Washington Post.
At least two big energy-related ballot initiatives did pass though.
- A ballot initiative in Nevada that increased its renewable-electricity requirement, which did not face much opposition, passed, per local outlet KTNV.
- A ballot measure in Florida that bans offshore drilling in state waters passed, per Florida Today.
What’s next: The Washington and Colorado fights were largely seen as bellwethers for whether other states could pass similar policies, so losses there are a blow to any momentum.
- This was Washington’s second time attempting to pass by ballot a price on carbon emissions. Voters also rejected the measure two years ago, and that was without much oil-industry opposition. Washington’s Democratic governor, Jay Inslee, told me earlier this summer he plans to keep trying at the state legislature.
- The fight over fracking in Colorado has been going on for years, so don’t expect this tension to go away either. Newly elected Democratic Gov. Jared Polis had been a vocal opponent of drilling close to homes, so expect activists to take their cause directly to him. Though it's worth nothing that he did oppose the ballot measure, showing the industry’s influence in the state.