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Ballot measures on conservation, clean energy, and transit did surprisingly well in 2016

Points of light.

vote (Shutterstock)

The election of Donald Trump and a GOP Congress will very likely be devastating for federal environmental policy. But that’s not the only environmental news from the election. Further down the ballot, a range of citizen initiatives focused on conservation, clean energy, and transit. How’d they do?

Turns out, pretty well. There were dozens and dozens, so I won’t run through them all, but here’s a roundup of some of the more significant ones, both wins and losses.

Climate and energy

  • The big one: I-732, which would have implemented a revenue-neutral carbon tax in Washington state, was defeated decisively, 59-41. That’s a pretty brutal margin. I wrote a long feature story on the tortured history behind this initiative, but the TL;DR version is: In attempting to lure the right (by making the tax revenue-neutral), it lost the left. And then none of the support from the right showed up! So the initiative was on its own, underfunded and outgunned. Climate groups in the state say they’re going to have another go at a ballot initiative in 2018.
i-732 (Javier Zarracina)
  • Florida’s Amendment 1, the grossly deceptive, utility-sponsored measure that used pro-solar language to conceal a pro-utility agenda, failed. The Yes side got 51 percent, but in Florida, 60 percent is required to pass a ballot initiative. (The more solar-friendly Amendment 4, exempting solar equipment from some taxes, did pass.)
  • In Nevada, where battles over rooftop solar power are long-running and intense, voters overwhelmingly approved Question 3, which would open up the state’s retail electricity markets to competition. This means utilities no longer have a monopoly on retail sales — customers can buy power from third-party sellers, which can often provide them electricity that’s both cheaper and cleaner.
  • Colorado voters approved a measure (Amendment 71) that would make it much more difficult to gather signatures for future ballot initiatives. The initiative was heavily funded by oil and gas companies, who fear citizen initiatives to ban fracking. Its success is considered a big blow to grassroots anti-fracking groups.
  • Monterey, California, voters approved Measure Z, which would ban oil and gas fracking in the county. It became the seventh California county to do so.


  • In Alabama, voters overwhelmingly (80-20) approved Statewide Amendment 2, a measure restricting the use of funds raised at state parks for the maintenance and improvement of state parks.
  • By passing Amendment 1, Missouri voters overwhelmingly (80-20) elected to continue spending one-tenth of one percent of their sales tax revenue (about $90 million a year) on conservation and state parks.
  • In Oregon, voters firmly approved Measure 100, a ban on the sale of products and parts from certain endangered species.
  • Residents of the San Francisco Bay area voted to impose a property tax on themselves to fund wetland restoration, through Measure AA.


There were dozens of transit initiatives across the country, which you can browse in this giant list from the Center for Transportation Excellence (CTE). Here’s CTE’s interactive map:

Transportation for America highlights a few of the more significant ones.

They include what is, in my biased opinion as a Seattleite, the best news of an otherwise wretched cycle: King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, which contain Seattle and its surrounding satellite cities, passed Proposition 1, otherwise known as Sound Transit 3. It is a massive, 25-year, $54 billion expansion of the Seattle area’s rail and bus capacity. By the time it is done in 2040, the system will be five times bigger than it is now. That will put the Seattle metro area in league with big, transit-served cities like Chicago and Washington, DC. (At last!)

Here’s a good video intro:

Also notable:

  • Los Angeles County voted Yes on Measure M, which will hike the county sales tax by a half cent (raising an estimated $860 million a year) to pay for a major package of light rail and bus rapid transit (BRT) projects. Behind ST3, this is probably the biggest transit win of the year.
  • In Atlanta and the surrounding county, voters approved two ballot measures. One boosted sales taxes by a half cent to pay for $2.5 billion in MARTA repairs and expansions over 40 years. The other boosted sales taxes four-tenths of a cent for five years to, among other things, finish the 22-mile BeltLine Loop, a multi-use trail and green space that will extend around the city’s central business district. Despite its reputation as Sprawl Central, the Atlanta area is actually taking strong steps to become more transit-friendly.
  • San Diego County voters declined to raise their sales taxes a half cent to fund transit. Measure A, which would have raised $18 billion over 40 years to fund transit and freeway projects, failed to get the two-thirds vote it needed (painfully close, at 57 percent).
  • Most disappointingly of all, voters in the metro Detroit area rejected the Regional Transit Authority millage, which would boosted property taxes to expand and rationalize the four-county area’s bus system and put in several new BRT spines.

The measure lost by an achingly close 18,000 votes, which means the beleaguered residents of Detroit will, amid all their other troubles, continue to wrestle with an inadequate and ineffective transit system.

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