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State Voters to Decide on Food Labeling, Green Infrastructure, Renewable Energy

Friday, November 2, 2012

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.

California Vote on Genetically Modified Food

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 to Ensure Proper Labeling

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 labeling requirement.

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 others.

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 requirement.

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.

Draining of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

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 Joaquin Valley.

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.

Adequacy of Water Supplies

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 group.

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 Measures

Other local environment-related measures in Californa include:

• City 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 stormwater runoff;

• Santa Clara County Measure B, which would approve a parcel tax to help finance water quality improvement projects, including efforts to manage stormwater runoff;

• Santa Cruz County Measure P, which would authorize construction of a desalination plant;

• San 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

• City 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 annually.

 

Connecticut Water Project

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 Windsor.

Michigan Voters to Decide on Renewable Energy

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 prices.

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.

North Dakota Votes on Farm Amendment

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 practices.

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.

A Role for North Dakota Courts

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 practices.

Rhode Island Votes on Clean Water, Recreation

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 grants.

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 recreation areas.

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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