Green Ballot Initiatives Meet Massive Resistance From Big Oil

Greenpeace’s Janet Redman tells Marc Steiner that a carbon tax in Washington, drilling limitations in Colorado, and other initiatives were struck down by fossil fuel industries—but environmentalists did see some wins

Green Ballot Initiatives Meet Massive Resistance From Big Oil

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Story Transcript

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you with us on our post-election day coverage.

Our conversation right now is going to be with Janet Redman, who is the Greenpeace USA’s climate and energy director, and we’re going to cover some of the referendums and more in our conversation with her. And Janet, welcome, good to have you with us here at The Real News.

JANET REDMAN: Thanks so much. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

MARC STEINER: So the referendums around climate change were touted as some of the most important pieces that are happening across states. Colorado, Washington, New Mexico, and California, all across the country. They didn’t fare so well, by and large, right?

JANET REDMAN: That’s fair to say, yeah.

MARC STEINER: So- and you’ve been in this a long time.

JANET REDMAN: Yeah.

MARC STEINER: So what’s your analysis of overall why these things did not pass? And we can talk about some specifics.

JANET REDMAN: Yeah. I think there are kind of two groups of ballot initiatives, amendments, referendum that we saw kind of playing out across the country. The two that have been the most, I think, widely followed are Washington’s Ballot Initiative 1631, which would have put a small carbon tax in place. And the revenue of that would have gone to fund all kinds of different activities, including things around building new clean energy, and specifically directing some of that money to low-income communities, underinvested-in communities. And then the other piece that many people were watching was Colorado Proposition 112, which would have put a public health setback in place for oil and drilling. It would have given about a half mile between drilling and people’s homes, schools, parks, waterways, sensitive areas. Those two both failed in fairly big margins.

MARC STEINER: Like 70-30 in Colorado [crosstalk].

JANET REDMAN: Colorado was 40-60, but still a pretty big spread. And Washington was about 45-55. So significant numbers. The Washington tax has been in play before a couple of times. It was different this time in part, and I think did did better overall, and in fact was more important for the overall national climate conversation because it was a coalition of 250 groups from across the political spectrum- across the progressive spectrum, I should say- from environmental justice groups, to indigenous groups, to environmental groups, to labor groups. And so it was a really interesting coalition. And they went the route instead of saying it’s going to be revenue neutral to saying, actually, we’re going to collect some revenue, and we’re gonna put it toward this new vision of a green economy.

I think what went badly for both of these initiatives is that the oil and gas sector outspent them by large, huge margins. So I think what we’ve seen this morning is $70 million was spent on these two initiatives by the oil and gas industry. That shows us that our people power is not strong enough to overcome quite that much money.

MARC STEINER: So let’s examine that for a minute, and then we can talk about some of the other referendums around the country, and ballot measures. Washington State and Colorado are states that people think of as having huge progressive populations, especially in urban areas, and where you’d think these resolutions would have passed. So, one, you talked about the power of money to oppose these, and the power of oil and gas money to kill it. So what is that, what do we know about that population of people that is swayed by that kind of propaganda, and those that are not? And what does that say about where the environmental movement has to go, the energy movement has to go, to kind of really push the idea of clean energy? Because there’s something amiss here.

JANET REDMAN: Sure, that’s fair. I mean, I think we know that in those states there are some very progressive pockets, and then there are broad swaths of more red places; purple and red. I think what we’ve been learning in our work at Greenpeace is that while there are a lot of people who know that climate change is a critical issue right now, the idea of how we transition away from fossil fuels to whatever comes next, to renewable energy, is a little bit harder for people to really … Not conceptualize, but think about how we actually get there. So I think what the fossil fuel industry is doing a good job of is playing on that fear; saying, gosh, if we have these public health setbacks that will leave a lot of oil and gas in the ground, and that might leave jobs behind.

I think the way we need to really understand this from a climate movement perspective is how we’re doing a better job of articulating what we’re doing instead of taking oil and gas out of the ground. That, of course, means renewable energy; moving renewable energy forward. But it means other kinds of sustainability jobs. It means investing millions of dollars, billions of dollars into clean infrastructure like waterways, clean infrastructure like drinking water in Flint. It means investing in roads.

So I think we need to we need to start articulating in a more clear way with a broader progressive alliance. What kinds of investments we want and the kind of economy we want. We’ve been talking about that a lot on the left, a new economy. We’re starting to think about that now as kind of a Green New Deal; how are we actually talking about creating jobs right now by investing money in public infrastructure as a way to move people out of that zone of being really afraid of what we’re going to move away from.

MARC STEINER: I’ve had this conversation locally, and different conversations as well, here in the state of Maryland and around. People are kind of deeply concerned about what happens to their jobs. When you look at salaries in solar, salaries in some of the clean energy, they’re clearly not as high as they are in oil and gas, or in coal. And that’s a big fear factor for people whether they’re in West Virginia or Colorado, wherever they are.

So strategically, as we kind of- I want to go into these ballot measures we haven’t talked about, because I want you to go through them all for us. But I mean, so I’m very curious about where the conversations are going; how you begin to change that the mindset around the green economy and build, create this kind of New Deal wave of understanding about how we have to build on government investment, which seems to be an anathema to a lot of people. Right?

JANET REDMAN: Yeah. I mean, I think there’s some pretty clear steps that we’ve been talking about for a while. This just shows how important they are. Again, I think the environment community needs to really start building in a more serious way with the labor community. It’s true, many of the renewable clean energy jobs are not unionized jobs. If we look at the EV sector we see Tesla being being charged with union busting, for example. That’s not a really good look for the environment movement. It’s not very promising in terms of where we’re moving.

I think what we could also look at, though, are ways that the environment community could be advocates for unionizing the sectors. Not to disparage people working in the fossil fuel sector, but we should also be honest about the costs to families who are dealing with the consequences of working in their destructive industries.

MARC STEINER: Health consequences.

JANET REDMAN: Their own health consequences and the consequences for the places where they live; drinking water, air quality consequences. Larger public health consequences, as well. I think also we look at some of the oil and gas fracking booms and busts we’ve seen. While those are very high-paying jobs when they exist. They also tend to go away and come back again. So it’s a it’s not as stable as I think some folks would have us believe in terms of that sector. That’s not to say that construction jobs et cetera those are designed to come to to be on a cycle and that’s totally reasonable. But those kinds of construction jobs can be done constructing renewable energy infrastructure as well. So of course there isn’t just a one to one fossil fuel job to renewable energy job. But I think we need to think more creatively about how we as environmentalists and progressives are really championing the idea that jobs have to be good jobs. I think we need to have the labor sector. See us as credible partners in that. So that’s part of it that’s part of the path. And then I think the other piece of the path is actually laying out exactly what this would look like what are we. What kinds of things are we talking about building out and where do we have to do them. And then at the same time have the hard conversation about what we have to dial down. It doesn’t mean pulling the plug on Tuesday it doesn’t even necessarily mean. Pulling things out early stopping. So I think we’ll have to stop some oil and gas extraction early but it really means not building new stuff out. That’s very different than saying we’re taking people’s jobs away tomorrow. I think that’s a bill to communicate that better.

So let’s talk about the other referenda that you’re following around the country and what happened.

JANET REDMAN: Yeah, there- I think just to maybe keep going with the bad news for a minute, and then we’ll shift to the good news, end on a positive note.

So the other the other kind of bad news was I think you were alluding to the Arizona Proposition 127, and that was a renewable energy standards initiative. It would have taken Arizona’s renewable energy portfolio standards to 50 percent by, I believe, by 2050. That- 2030, apology. That lost with 30-70 split. It also had massive influx of money from the utilities. And so again we see kind of corporate money influencing the way that decision went.

But there was some good news. Maybe I’ll kind of go across the country. Florida Amendment 9 passed. It was kind of a wacky amendment. It was seen as an environmental amendment that took offshore drilling and vaping inside, and put them in the same amendment. It passed, so there we see a ban on offshore drilling in Florida, which people saw really as a, you know, both a review of Trump/Zinke’s attempt to really open Atlantic offshore drilling, and local coastal communities saying being able to preserve this landscape is key to our economy. So it’s both an economic, I think, and an environmental amendment, in that sense. We saw California Proposition 6 be rejected, which was going to repeal the gas tax. Californians said nope, we know that this gas tax is important, we need to keep it in place.

MARC STEINER: That was amazing; people voted to have this huge tax on gasoline, which … I wasn’t sure how that was going to go.

JANET REDMAN: Yeah. I mean, it was designed, as we’ve kind of, we’ve talked about in the progressive circles, it was really designed in a way to bring Republicans to the ballot box. There was no other reason for them to come if you weren’t, you know, the idea that Governor Newsom was probably going to win as a Democrat. He’s a climate champ. He’s taken the no fossil fuel money pledge, he’s not taking money from the fossil fuel industry. I think that the Republicans were honestly looking for a way to get people to the polls so that they could influence the House district races.

And so it was exciting that that lost. I think that really says that people value the way we, that Californians use that revenue to protect and cover the kinds of public infrastructure that they need that they use every single day. So that was a positive. Going back to Colorado, while we saw this public health setback lose, which was a real, I think, a real defeat for many people who want to see their health protected and really have daily impacts from that industry, we also saw Amendment 74 go down. And that amendment would have passed.

MARC STEINER: This was in Colorado as well?

JANET REDMAN: This is in Colorado. Yeah. And this amendment would have made it functionally impossible for the state to regulate oil and gas drilling. It would have said that any time state regulation or laws devalues your personal property, the state has to compensate you for that. So what that means in many functional terms is if Colorado had tried to pass rules or pass regulations that would have devalued property by saying you can’t drill for oil or gas on it, the state would have to basically pay corporations, pay the property-

MARC STEINER: And that did not pass.

JANET REDMAN: And it did not pass. And I think that’s really important. So while it says that Coloradans were not running to the polls tell oil and gas to stop drilling, it also says we don’t want them undermining our ability to make rules to protect ourselves. So I think that’s, I think that’s a little more positive than than maybe just focusing on Proposal 112.

We also saw the Nevada Question 6 pass, which was saying, which was increasing the 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. And we saw a smaller measure in Portland pass that’s called Measure 26, too, won. It was a clean energy benefits initiative, and it puts a small- it puts a fee on basically big box stores, and raises money for the Portland climate action plan. So that was kind of, that was kind of neat to see, too.

MARC STEINER: So as we conclude this piece, where do you see- given the work that you do, and you’ve been in this work for a long time now, organizing around climate issues and our planet and energy- how does this change you strategically, your organization strategically, Greenpeace and others, and where do you take this from here?

JANET REDMAN: Yeah. I think what this tells me, and I think what we’re we’re going to be thinking about at Greenpeace for the next couple of weeks, and certainly as we move forward to the 2020 election, is how we articulate the Green New Deal, how we articulate the vision that allows people to see the future that’s not fossil fuel based as a good future; as a future that means we’re healthier, we’re more economically stable, our climate’s more stable. And we have, we have a stronger economy. We have good jobs. So I think that’s a critical piece.

I think what this really showed us is that people are coming out and voting for climate champions. They are coming out and voting against climate denial. It’s hard to imagine that future right now. We need to help make that much more clear for people.

MARC STEINER: We’re here talking with Janet Redman, who is the Climate and Energy director for Greenpeace USA, and I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News. We’re going to take a break and come back and have more with Janet Redman, looking at what this new change in the House means for the future.