Wins and losses in state clean energy, environment battles

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, November 8, 2012

Environmentalists scored a victory in the New Hampshire governor’s race last night but lost one of the biggest state energy fights of the year over a renewable ballot proposal in Michigan.

Meanwhile, the governor’s race in Washington — which could determine the status of proposed Northwestern coal ports and renewable policies — remained too close to call as of press time.

In New Hampshire’s gubernatorial contest, Democrat Maggie Hassan defeated Republican Ovide Lamatogne with more than 54 percent of the vote. The race was watched closely by climate advocates because of Lamatogne’s pledge to pull the state out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the nation’s first operating cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases.

“Thank you, New Hampshire, now let’s get to work,” said Hassan in a short victory speech

Hassan was instrumental in the state’s participation in the regional carbon trading program in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, known informally as RGGI. Lamatogne — who was named “conservative of the year” in 2011 by the New Hampshire branch of the group Americans for Prosperity — said the program raised energy costs.

Hassan’s victory could “breathe new life” into the program, which is undergoing a critical regional review that could determine whether its emissions limits are strengthened, said Barry Rabe, a public policy professor at the University of Michigan. Supporters of RGGI say it raises money for energy efficiency projects.

The Michigan ballot initiative, known as Proposal 3, would have amended the state constitution and raised the state’s portfolio standard, requiring utilities to obtain 25 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2025. The current standard requires 10 percent renewable generation by 2015.

Votes against renewables or against constitutional amendments?

The ballot proposal in Michigan gained national attention, partly because it bucked the trend of states considering bills that would freeze or reverse existing renewable standards, rather than raise them. Green groups from as far as away as San Francisco funneled money into the state campaign.

Michigan’s two main utilities spent millions of dollars fighting the measure via an umbrella group. They said the proposal would raise costs, create regulatory confusion and lead to thousands of wind turbines in congested areas. Supporters said it would jump-start the state economy, create thousands of clean energy jobs and slash emissions at the same time (ClimateWire, Oct. 12).

The state official election site showed a decisive loss for Proposal 3, despite polls earlier this year suggesting a possible victory.

The proposal failed partly because of voter skepticism about amending the state constitution, said Rabe, who did not have a position on the plan. He noted that other ballot proposals that would have amended the constitution failed last night in Michigan, as well.

The outcome shows that the idea of amending renewable standards this way is a “stretch” politically, he said.

There also was a sense in the state that the ballot proposal was not “homegrown,” considering the interest of so many outside groups, said Rabe. Heavy advertising against the proposal likely played a role in the defeat, he said.

Critics of Proposal 3 said that incorporating renewable energy standards into the state constitution would open the door to lawsuits. Many supporters said, however, they had few other options, considering that the state Legislature has not been amenable to raising standards.

Wash. ballots still ‘trickling in’

In Washington, Democrat Jay Inslee took an early lead in the gubernatorial race over Republican Rob McKenna, but the race might not be resolved by today, considering the state’s use of mailed ballots.

“Ballots will be trickling in for some time,” said Ross Macfarlane, an analyst at the nonprofit Climate Solutions.

The results could determine the fate of several proposed ports to link coal from Montana and Wyoming to Asia.

Neither candidate has taken a firm state on the issue, but the next governor will hold sway over the scope of a critical environmental review process conducted jointly with the federal government over the ports, said Macfarlane. The governor could influence whether the review considers how the ports would affect global emissions, along with local effects such as train traffic through communities.

The race also could change the state’s renewable policies (ClimateWire, Nov. 5).

New N.C. governor could influence sea-level rise report

In North Carolina, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory became the state’s first Republican governor since 1993 by defeating Democratic candidate Walter Dalton.

Climate change was not an issue in the race but could arise as a topic for McCrory because of coastal policy. North Carolina made national headlines this year after its state Senate considered a bill blocking future projections of sea-level rise in coastal planning decisions.

That bill was later discarded for one that essentially punted the issue for four years, while the state Coastal Resources Commission studies the science behind sea-level rise. Many scientists agree that global sea levels will rise at least 3 feet by 2100 because of warming temperatures.

McCrory could influence the commission’s final report on the topic, considering the governor’s power over appointing commission members, said Todd Miller, executive director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation.

The commission’s final report in conjunction with a science panel will make a big difference on how high, and where, buildings are constructed on the North Carolina coast, Miller said.

McCrory has not spoken out extensively on sea-level rise, and his past record has left environmentalists speculating. As the mayor of Charlotte, he advocated for light rail and smart growth policies.

At the same time, he barred the city’s participation in the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement because it did not include nuclear power, according to the group Local Governments for Sustainability, or ICLEI. Since then, he has aligned with tea party supporters by coming out against Agenda 21, a U.N. plan for sustainable development.

“The real question is, which Pat McCrory will show up?” said Molly Higgins, state director at the state Sierra Club.

The main thing that is known about McCrory’s energy policy, Higgins said, is that he is a big advocate of offshore drilling and wants to enter a revenue-sharing agreement with other states to get it going. McCrory formerly worked for Duke Energy Corp.

Miller said that offshore drilling, if it ever happens in the state, could play into coastal policy in the sense that McCrory has called for using some revenue from drilling for beach restoration

Pence to governor’s mansion in Ind. 

In Indiana, Republicans maintained control of the governor’s mansion with the election of Mike Pence, an Indiana congressman.

Even though there was not a change in political party, the election could affect one of the most significant projects in the United States envisioning the capture of carbon dioxide from a coal facility for later storage underground.

The Indiana gasification project is linked to a proposed Midwest-Gulf Coast CO2 pipeline that could provide a financial boost for other stalled “clean” coal initiatives that do not currently have a way to carry captured carbon dioxide to storage spots.

The project is awaiting a verdict on a Department of Energy loan guarantee and is working its way through a lawsuit (ClimateWire, Nov. 1).

Pence does not have the same “personal connection” to the initiative as outgoing Gov. Mitch Daniels, said Kerwin Olson, executive director of the environmental advocacy group Citizens Action Coalition. That raises the question of whether he will push for the Indiana gasification project with the Legislature or let things stall, according to Olson.

There were 11 governors’ races in total last night.

Sitting governors — who were in six of the contests — won all of their races. They included Govs. Peter Shumlin (D) in Vermont, Jay Nixon (D) in Missouri, Jack Markell (D) in Delaware, Gary Herbert (R) in Utah, Jack Dalrymple (R) in North Dakota and Earl Ray Tomblin (D) in West Virginia.

As of press time, the governor’s race in Montana between Democrat Steve Bullock and Republican Rick Hill remained too close to call.