- Trends in Energy
- Taking Initiative(s)
This Week's Trend In Brief:
When voters cast ballots in this year’s elections, it won’t just be for candidates but in many states for initiative questions and referenda that put climate and energy policy debates directly on the ballot.
Already, voters in at least six states are expected to consider more than ten ballot measures on everything from project zoning changes to the municipalization of electric power to how renewable energy projects are approved and even whether oil and gas permits should continue to be granted.
While these measures may be relatively obscure to the average voter, both environmental activists and energy industry representatives see these ballot measures as an opportunity to implement their preferred policies.
Indeed, like other state and local policy actions, these votes can have implications beyond the state or municipality in which they occur, with activists frequently touting any electoral or regulatory victory (or even close loss) as a roadmap for others to follow.
Public affairs professionals and the companies they represent must prepare now to shape the debate on these ballot measures by digging deep into who is funding the efforts, assessing where different stakeholders could engage in them, and ensuring they are prepared to ensure facts win the day as the debate unfolds.
This November, while most eyes will be trained on the candidates at the top of the ballot, many voters across the country will face initiative questions and referenda when they enter the voting booth that directly put climate and energy policy issues in their hands. While Americans will vote in 6,477 elections for federal and state offices, plus tens of thousands more at the local level, voters in at least six states will consider energy and climate related ballot measures ranging from zoning changes to the discontinuance of oil and gas permitting. While these ballot measures can fly under the radar of the average voter, they have the potential to make a significant impact on the energy industry’s ability to operate.
With plenty of time left to qualify measures for November ballots, voters in six states are already expected to consider more than ten ballot measures on critical environmental issues. For example, voters in San Diego may have a chance to consider whether or not the city will replace its current investor-owned utility with a publicly-owned entity, a longtime goal of environmental activists who see public power as a critical decarbonization strategy. In Michigan, voters may have a chance to repeal portions of a recently passed law that allows energy companies hoping to build large-scale wind or solar projects to bypass local jurisdictions and instead seek approval from the state government. Voters in Colorado may even have the chance to decide whether the state will discontinue the issuance of any new oil and gas permits. These are just several of the more than ten ballot measures expected to land in front of voters this coming November with the potential to change the operating landscape for energy companies.
Environmental activists are gearing up to leverage these ballot measures to implement their preferred policies, and industry representatives hope to use these votes to protect against damaging policies. The Environmental Voter Project argues proposing local ballot initiatives is a crucial way for environmentalists to “participate in democracy” and “allow citizens to vote directly on major issues.” For years, environmental groups have tracked and advocated for their preferred ballot initiatives across the country, seeing to implement their policy goals at the local level when national or state-level climate action falls short. Indeed, Safe & Healthy Colorado argues its ballot initiative seeking to ban new oil and gas permits by 2030 is essential because Colorado’s current climate goals are not aggressive enough. Industry representatives also see these measures as protections from policy disappointment. In Colorado, industry advocates hope a ballot measure will protect natural gas by blocking laws that restrict energy choices in heating and cooking.
These local efforts can have implications beyond the state or municipality in which they occur, as activists tout any electoral or regulatory victory (or even close loss) as a roadmap for others to follow. For example, California passed a strict emissions reporting law for companies operating in the state last October, which required certain companies to report all emissions across their supply chains. After the law was passed, activists and lawmakers immediately attempted to leverage the new law to influence emissions reporting requirements for companies countrywide, hailing the legislation as “a national bill.” Similarly, since California declared it would phase out the use of fossil fuel vehicles, at least seventeen states have pledged to follow California’s lead on climate policy. We have also observed this trend regarding bans on gas stoves, as activists continue to pressure states into adopting their own prohibitions on gas stoves despite widespread opposition to the measures. It has become increasingly clear that what happens in progressive states like California does not stay within its borders, and voters at the ballot box this November may have a chance to dictate environmental policy across the country for years to come.
Public affairs professionals and the companies they represent must get smart now to engage early on ballot measures to avoid surprises at the ballot box. That means preparing early to shape the debate by digging deep into who is funding the efforts, assessing where different stakeholders could engage in them, and ensuring they are prepared to ensure facts win the day as the debate unfolds. At Delve, we build out risk assessments and map a broad range of stakeholders to inform industry advocates’ strategy for key initiative measures, then develop a Policy & Science Factbook to ensure they can successfully educate the voters before activists mislead them. It’s all part of our proven playbook to assess risks and anticipate potential concerns so energy public affairs professionals can stay two steps ahead of the opposition.
Trends in Energy is your weekly look at key trends affecting the energy industry, brought to you by the competitive intelligence experts at Delve. As the political and regulatory landscape continues to shift, reach out to learn how our insights can help you navigate these challenges.