Environmental Issues Feature Prominently on State Ballots

Published December 14, 2016

Ranging from constitutional amendments guaranteeing the right to hunt and fish, to ballot initiatives proposing statewide plastic bag bans and imposing a carbon tax, environmental issues featured prominently on several states’ ballots during the November elections.

Questions about wildlife management were on the ballots in Indiana, Kansas, and Montana.

Affirmed Right to Hunt, Fish

Despite opposition from animal rights organizations, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States, constitutional amendments guaranteeing the right to hunt and fish were passed by substantial majorities of voters in Indiana and Kansas.

Both measures guaranteed, in the words of Kansas’ amendment, “The people have the right to hunt, fish and trap … subject to reasonable laws and regulations that promote wildlife conservation and management and that preserve the future of hunting and fishing.”

The Kansas amendment, passed with more than 81 percent of those voting, also designated hunting and fishing “a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.” Indiana’s amendment passed with a vote of 78 percent in favor versus 19 percent against.

Animal rights activists also failed to restrict trapping on public lands in Montana. In 2015, the state’s legislature passed a constitutional amendment adding trapping to the state’s previously enacted constitutional provision guaranteeing the right to hunt and fish in the state. Animal rights activists garnered enough signatures to put a provision on the 2016 ballot to limit trapping on state lands. Voters rejected the amendment by a vote of 63 percent against trapping limits to 37 percent in favor of the ban.

Ben Carter, executive director of the Dallas Safari Club, applauded the results, saying they upheld America’s successful traditional wildlife management regime.

“Glad to see sound management of species by state wildlife agencies is being maintained, informed by scientific wildlife management principles, as opposed to emotional decision-making encouraged by those that don’t understand how wildlife management works,” said Carter. “The North American Model of wildlife management has a proud, effective history of keeping nature and wildlife in balance.”

No Change to CA Bag Ban

By a narrower margin than was expected based on pre-election polling data, California voters approved Proposition 67, upholding a state bill banning single-use plastic grocery bags. Fifty-two percent of voters favored maintaining the bag ban, with 48 percent opposing.

Also on the ballot was a referendum, Proposition 65, to shift the revenue grocery stores collect, a fee of 10 cents per paper grocery bag, from grocers to fund environmental programs in the state. Based on pre-election polling, the bag fee referendum seemed to have even more popular support than the bag ban referendum, yet on Election Day, the public voted down Proposition 65.

Pamela Villarreal, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, whose research has found plastic bag bans neither save money nor reduce waste, was surprised by the Proposition 65 result.

“Curiously, the progressive voters of California have agreed to let the money spent on bag fees go to big corporations, not environmental programs,” Villarreal said. “This is not what one would typically expect from such an environmentally conscious state.”

WA Voters Reject Carbon Tax

Washington State voters rejected Initiative-732 (I-732), which would have imposed a $25-per-metric-ton tax on carbon dioxide emitted by fossil fuels used in the state. Approval would have made Washington the first state in the nation to impose a so-called carbon tax.

The business community fought against the initiative, saying it would raise energy prices and make it more difficult for businesses in the state to compete with out-of-state companies.

Many national environmental groups also opposed the initiative because rather than using the funds generated to support environmental causes, I-732 was characterized as revenue-neutral; it would have also reduced the state sales tax and provided up to $1,500 per year for 400,000 low-income working households.

Carbon-Dioxide Politics

Todd Myers, director of the Center for the Environment at the Washington Policy Center, says the results show the political difficulties in enacting a carbon tax.

“The failure of the revenue-neutral carbon tax in Washington [State] exposes the policy and political problems of cutting carbon emissions,” Myers said. “First, even though the policy would have actually been a net tax cut, energy-intensive jobs and industries would have paid more and might, ironically, have moved overseas, where they would have increased [their] emissions.”

The debate running up to the vote on I-732 also exposed hypocrisy among the environmental community, Myers says.

“Second, the hypocrisy of the environmental community was exposed,” said Myers. “They opposed the initiative because it didn’t expand government and increase taxes.

“When it came down to the question of what the greens are more afraid of, climate change or tax cuts, the answer was that they care more about government,” Myers said. “It is an important lesson that when faced with environmental policies, conservatives should call the greens’ bluff and make it clear to the public that government, not the environment, is their true agenda.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute.


H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., “Do Bans on Plastic Grocery Bags Save Cities Money?,” National Center for Policy Analysis, December 11, 2013: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/do-bans-on-plastic-grocery-bags-save-cities-money

Pamela Villarreal, “California’s Bag Ban: A Wealth Transfer from Customers to Big Grocers,” National Center for Policy Analysis; September 7, 2016: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/californias-bag-ban-a-wealth-transfer-from-customers-to-big-grocers