Voters in several states will be casting ballots Nov. 6 on a variety of
environmental and energy issues both at the state and local levels, including
labeling of genetically modified foods and financing of green infrastructure and
alternative energy projects.
California will be voting on a statewide initiative on specific labeling of
genetically engineered foods, while voters in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and a
number of other cities will be asked to decide on various local issues.
Voters in Connecticut, Michigan, North Dakota, and Rhode Island will be
casting ballots on both statewide and local questions, including water
pollution, renewable energy, and modern agricultural practices.
In California, Proposition
37, or the Genetically Engineered Foods, Labeling, Initiative Statute, has
pitted organic farmers and natural foods advocates against some of the biggest
names in crop science and food production, including Monsanto Co., DuPont,
Pepsico Inc., Coca-Cola Co., and Kraft Foods Global Inc.
If the measure is adopted, California would be the first state to require
labeling of genetically modified foods. Although there is no federal regulation
of such products, the U.S. Department of Agriculture imposes some restrictions
on the use of genetically engineered crops that can alter other crops.
The California measure targets food sold in retail stores, not in
restaurants. Beginning July 1, 2014, any raw food produced from genetically
engineered crops, like corn or soy, would have to be clearly labeled with the
words “Genetically Engineered” on the front package or label. If not separately
packaged, “Genetically Engineered” would have to appear on the store shelf or
bin where the product is sold.
Processed foods containing ingredients from genetically modified organisms
would have to be labeled as “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering,” or
“May be Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.”
Retailers, specifically grocery stores, would have to ensure that all food
products are correctly labeled, according to a review of the initiative by the
California's Legislative Analyst's Office. Grocers, farmers, and food
manufacturers would have to be able to document why a product is exempt from the
California campaign finance data show that Monsanto and other opponents had
contributed over $40 million to defeat the labeling measure. Meanwhile, the
state data showed that the “Yes on 37” campaign had raised nearly $7 million
from the organic food industry, alternative health groups, consumers, and
The “Yes on 37” campaign argues there have been “no long-term health studies
that have proven that genetically engineered food is safe for humans.” Opponents
of the measure argue it would trigger “shakedown” lawsuits against grocery
stores, family farmers, and food companies to enforce the labeling
Also on the statewide ballot is Proposition 39, a corporate tax measure that
would initially help fund clean energy projects. If passed, Proposition 39 would
require multistate businesses to pay taxes based on a percentage of their sales
in California. For the first years, the estimated $1 billion raised annually
would go to alternative energy and energy efficiency programs.
At the local level, voters in San Francisco will weigh an $8 million bond
measure, Proposition F, to study the possible draining of the Hetch Hetchy
Reservoir in Yosemite National Park and identify how to replace the city's key
water storage facility.
Proposition F is backed by the long-standing movement to tear down the
city-owned O'Shaughnessy Dam on the Tuolumne River and restore the
glacier-formed Hetch Hetchy Valley to its natural state. Hetch Hetchy water
resources and the dam are a key source of drinking water and electricity for 2.4
million people in San Francisco, Alameda County, San Mateo County, and the San
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee (D) and other city officials oppose the measure,
saying it “would be a disaster” for the city, according to voter materials.
The “Say No on F” campaign called the measure “misguided and misleading” and
said it would result in “a huge loss of clean, hyrdoelectric energy.” The “plan
has been studied at least eight times in the last 25 years,” opponents said.
Federal and state lawmakers, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) and Rep. Nancy
Pelosi (D), also oppose the bond measure.
Proponents of Proposition F argue that smaller dams downstream and water
conservation efforts would ensure adequate water supplies. Destruction of the
dam would right an environmental wrong, according to the Restore Hetch Hetchy
In Los Angeles County, voters will consider extending a temporary
one-half-cent sales tax another 30 years to expedite construction of public
transit and highway improvement projects. The projects are key to implementation
of a long-term transportation and sustainable communities plan required under
legislation to cut carbon emissions.
Voters approved the initial half-cent tax in 2008, and it is scheduled to
expire in 2039. Proponents of the measure say a longer revenue stream would
enable projects to begin now, when the cost of financing and construction is low
and the need to create jobs is crucial.
Other local environment-related measures in Californa include:
of Berkeley Measure B, which would authorize a $30 million in bond revenue to
fund street improvements and integrated green infrastructure, including
permeable payment, rain gardens, and bioretention cells to capture and treat
Clara County Measure B, which would approve a parcel tax to help finance water
quality improvement projects, including efforts to manage stormwater runoff;
Cruz County Measure P, which would authorize construction of a desalination
Luis Obispo County Measure B, which would require the Ocean Community Services
District to hold an election before it can sell water supplies to entities
outside the district; and
of Rialto Measure V, which would impose a tax on city businesses that produce
petroleum products and generate an estimated $5 million in new revenues
Although the Connecticut ballot does not contain statewide questions except
under extremely specific circumstances, a question that will appear before voters in
eight communities Nov. 6 would allow for the appropriation of $800 million to
fund the second phase of a clean water project required by court order.
The purpose of the ballot question is to appropriate funds for the Clean
Water Project, which formally responds to a consent agreement on sanitary sewer
overflows with the federal Justice Department and Environmental Protection
Agency, as well as a state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection
consent order. Both require the state Metropolitan District Commission to
achieve certain federal Clean Water Act goals by 2021.
The Clean Water Project will address approximately 1 billion gallons of
combined wastewater and stormwater currently released each year to waterways.
Projects will range from new sewer and drainage systems to greater wastewater
treatment capacity, and include new sewage storage and conveyance tunnels and
large sewer connecting pipes.
Funding for the first phase of the project, which was approved in November
2006, totaled $800 million. The second referendum to be voted on Nov. 6 would
appropriate funding for Phase II, also budgeted at $800 million.
The question will appear on the ballot in the towns of Bloomfield, East
Hartford, Hartford, Newington, Rocky Hill, West Hartford, Wethersfield, and
In Michigan, a mandate for increasing the use of alternative energy sources
is on the ballot. Voters will be asked whether the state constitution should be
amended to require that 25 percent of utilities' retail electricity sales be
generated from renewable energy sources by 2025.
The measure also prohibits electric utilities from increasing consumer rates
by more than 1 percent per year to cover costs associated with complying with
the standard, and requires the state Legislature to enact laws to encourage the
use of Michigan-made equipment and Michigan workers.
Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs, a coalition of labor and environmental groups
backing the plan, says it will bring jobs and investment to Michigan without
increasing energy prices. Utilities, however, say it will cost jobs and raise
Michigan currently has a requirement that 10 percent of the state's energy
come from renewable sources by 2015 under a law signed in 2008 by former Gov.
Jennifer Granholm (D). About 58 percent of the state's energy is generated by
coal, which is imported from other states.
In North Dakota, a proposed constitutional amendment could affect future
state and local environmental regulations--including the location of
concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
Don Morrison, executive director of the environmental group Dakota Resource
Council, told BNA that Initiated
Constitutional Measure No. 3 would prohibit the state and local governments
from enacting any laws or rules that would abridge the rights of farmers and
ranchers to employ agricultural technology and modern livestock production
In essence, he said, the proposed constitutional amendment could affect
state, city, and county efforts to regulate farm pollution. It could also affect
communities' efforts to limit CAFOs, he said.
Dawn Pfeifer, spokeswoman for the North Dakota Farm Bureau, the group behind
the measure, said the amendment is aimed at protecting modern agricultural
practices. She said farmers and ranchers have seen how their operations can be
affected by organizations like the Humane Society and People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals. She said such groups have lobbied other states and that
the results have been changed farming and ranching practices.
Pfeifer said the Farm Bureau considered pushing legislation for the same
purpose, but was concerned that laws can be amended and changed over time. A
constitutional amendment, she said, offers farmers and ranchers a guarantee that
modern practices cannot be legislated out of existence.
She said constitutional protection does not mean farmers and ranchers would
not be subject to new regulations. Courts would determine whether rules were
infringing on modern agricultural practices, she said, and determine whether
they could be implemented. Morrison said, however, that the proposed amendment
does not state that courts would examine proposed rules and regulations that
could affect farming.
According to Morrison, the Farm Bureau has been a proponent of CAFOs in North
Dakota. The primary reason few have been located in the state, he said, is
community opposition. Under the proposed amendment, he said, community
opposition would mean little, and CAFOs would appear to be free to locate and
operate in the state.
Elwood “Woody” Barth, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union, said his
group, the largest in the state, opposes the measure. He said the group has a
long history of viewing the State Constitution as “sacred” and that amendments
should not be added unless they are necessary. In this case, he said, the state
already has a right-to-farm law that protects farmers and ranchers. Enhancing
it, he said, could very well be done legislatively.
He said the Farmers Union also opposes the amendment because it appears to
prohibit local control over any matter that touches on agricultural
In Rhode Island, two
questions related to clean water projects and environmental and recreational
programs will appear on the statewide ballot.
The first (Question No. 5) would authorize the state to issue up to $20
million in bonds and notes. Those funds would be used to provide state matching
funds to the Rhode Island Clean Water Finance Agency to be leveraged with
federal grants to provide low-interest loans for local government units to
finance water pollution abatement projects and for local units and privately
organized water suppliers to finance drinking water projects.
Of the $20 million, $12 million may be leveraged to finance water pollution
abatement projects and $8 million may be leveraged to finance drinking water
projects if the ballot question is approved. The programs using those funds are
expected to begin in 2013 and be completed by 2017, according to a state summary
of the question.
The state expects the proceeds of the bond issuance to be used to secure up
to $100 million in federal funds.
The second measure, Question No. 6, would allow the state to issue up to $20
million in bonds and notes to finance environmental and recreational programs.
The bond revenue would be used to provide $4 million for Narragansett Bay and
watershed restoration, $2.5 million for open space acquisition, $4.5 million for
farmland development rights, and $2.5 million for local land acquisition
It also would provide up to $5.5 million for local recreation grants and $1
million for municipal renovation and development of historic and passive
By Carolyn Whetzel (Los Angeles), Martha Kessler (Boston), Nora Macaluso (Lansing, Mich.), and Mark Wolski (St. Paul, Minn.)
Whetzel reported from Los Angeles, Kessler from Boston, Macaluso from
Lansing, Mich., and Wolski from St. Paul, Minn.
California Proposition 37 is available at http://vig.cdn.sos.ca.gov/2012/general/pdf/text-proposed-laws-v2.pdf#nameddest=prop37.
More information about the Connecticut multi-community ballot question and
the Clean Water Project is available at http://www.themdc.com/.
The Rhode Island ballot questions are available at http://sos.ri.gov/documents/elections/VoterHandbook_2012.pdf.
The North Dakota constitutional amendment, Initiated Constitutional
Measure No. 3, is available at https://vip.sos.nd.gov/pdfs/Portals/BallotLanguageMeasure3-Farming-Nov6,2012.pdf.
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