Election 2012: 5 State Ballot Measures Environmentalists Should Know About

A state constitutional amendment would give Arizona sovereign authority over the Grand Canyon (above)  and 19 other national park units.


After a record-spending campaign season, Election Day is finally here. While much of the national focus will be on the Presidential race and which party will end up controlling the Senate, voters in several states are voting on measures that are of interest to any environmentalist. Here’s a look at five of these, which could affect everything from foods lining grocery store shelves, to iconic landmarks, to renewable energy development. We'll report back tomorrow with the results. UPDATE: The results are in. Of the five measures, four were defeated. Scroll down for details.


ARIZONA: Declaration of Sovereignty (Proposition 120)

Update: DEFEATED 67.6% voted against Proposition 120

Summary: The state constitutional amendment would declare Arizona's "sovereign and exclusive authority and jurisdiction over the air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural resources within its boundaries."

What it means: The change would pave the way for Arizona to claim millions of federal acres—public lands that it gave up the rights to when it became a state. That includes 20 national park units, six national forests, and more within its borders (federal buildings, reservations, forts, arsenals, and dockyards are exempt).

Pro:  "Opponents have said we want to strip mine the Grand Canyon," legislation sponsor Rep. Chester Crandell (R) told Greenwire. "No. What it would do is let the people of Arizona decide. But it doesn't automatically open it up and allow development helter-skelter."

Con: "We think it's pretty irresponsible," Sandy Bahr, conservation director for the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club, told Greenwire. "And clearly our Legislature would have no capacity to manage these public lands. The thought of the Legislature having any control over places like the Grand Canyon frankly scares us."



CALIFORNIA: GMO labeling (Proposition 37)

Update: DEFEATED 53.1% voted against Proposition 37

Summary: “Requires labeling of food sold to consumers made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways. Prohibits marketing such food, or other processed food, as ‘natural.’”

What it means: If it passes, the law would likely force food companies to change their labels across the country, since it would be expensive and difficult to have California-only labels for foods that are sold nationwide. There are several exemptions (e.g., alcoholic beverages, foods processed with or containing only small amounts of genetically engineered ingredients). When it comes to the environmental risks of genetically engineered crops, no one knows exactly what will happen when transgenic products are released into the environment, though problems with pesticides have been cropping up.

Pro/Con: The differing opinions between Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum and Tom Philpott on the issue show just how complicated it is:   

“As with so many initiatives, [it's] sloppily written; it can't be changed after it's passed; and it imposes expensive state labeling burdens on interstate commerce, something that I'm increasingly leery of," writes Drum.  Philpott counters: “At the national level, the GM seed/agrichemical giants, with their well-heeled lobbying efforts, have managed to stymie all other democratic means for reining them in.”



OREGON: Salmon fishing (Measure 81)

Update: DEFEATED 66.2% voted against Measure 81

Summary: “Prohibits commercial non-tribal fishing with gillnets in Oregon ‘inland waters,’ allows use of seine nets.”
What it means: Gillnets don’t just catch marked hatchery salmon specifically grown for harvest—they also kill unmarked endangered salmon. Proponents say that using seine nets would allow those unmarked salmon to be removed and released.

But wait: This one is complicated by the fact that the group that placed Measure 81 on the ballot is now urging voters to vote against it. Stop Gillnets Now is still aiming to stop commercial gillnetting in the lower Columbia River, but now they’ve thrown their support behind an alternative compromise plan promoted by Governor John Kitzhaber.

Con (former supporters): “Oregonians are now receiving their ballots and we would like to reiterate our position in support of the Governor’s compromise plan,” Stop Gillnets Now writes on its website. “The centerpiece of his plan is to restrict non-selective, indiscriminate gillnet use to off-channel areas where they do far less damage to endangered salmon and other forms of wildlife.”



IDAHO: Right to hunt, fish, and trap (House Joint Resolution 2)

Update: PASSED 73.4% voted for HJR 2

Summary: The proposed new section of the state constitution would “provide that public hunting, fishing and trapping of wildlife shall be a preferred means of managing wildlife,” and “shall not affect rights to divert, appropriate and use water, or establish any minimum amount of water in any water body.”

What it means: Idaho is just one of several states with measures on the ballot to preserve in perpetuity hunting rights; Kentucky, Nebraska, and Wyoming have similar amendments. Of course, wolf management is particularly controversial in Idaho. While 13 other states have added constitutional language aimed at protecting the right to hunt and fish, only five have extended the same protections to trapping, the AP reports.

Pro: "Things like our ability to hunt or fish or trap are being threatened every day in every state of the union," Sen. Lee Heider (R) told the AP.

Con: Greg Moore, who founded Vote No on HJR2, says that his group doesn’t have any qualms with hunting and fishing. “But he argues it's inappropriate to use the constitution to protect trapping, an activity that has been subject to changing public attitudes in recent decades,” the AP reports. “The group has attracted volunteers and donors who consider trapping an inhumane and unsportsmanlike method for killing animals”



MICHIGAN: Renewable energy (Proposal 3)

Update: DEFEATED 58% voted against Proposal 3

Summary: The proposal would “Require electric utilities to provide at least 25% of their annual retail sales of electricity from renewable energy sources, which are wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower, by 2025.”
What it means: If it passes, Michigan would be the first state to include a renewable energy mandate in its constitution.

Pro: Proponents say the initiative could create 94,000 jobs, and attract $10.3 billion in investment. “[They] have said taking the approach of including a renewable energy mandate in the constitution was necessary to ensure that popular support for green energy is not overshadowed by what they see as special interests in the state government,” Reuters reports

Con: Critics say that it’s too costly and that the state constitution isn't the place to set detailed energy policy. “Michigan already has a reasonable and affordable renewable energy standard, 10 percent by 2015,” Howard Edelson, campaign manager of CARE for Michigan and founder of the Edelson Group, writes on the Huffington Post. “Proposal 3 would cost $12 billion. And Michigan's families and businesses would get stuck paying for it.”

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