November 7, 2018 / 4:08 PM / 6 days ago

Voters in 3 U.S. states reject initiatives to curb fossil fuel use

Nov 7 (Reuters) - Voters in Colorado, Arizona and Washington states have rejected ballot initiatives that sought to curb fossil fuels use by restricting drilling, putting a fee on carbon emissions or mandating wider use of renewable energy.

While polls have indicated rising concerns among Americans over carbon emissions and water quality, initiatives to rein in oil-and-gas activities were soundly rejected in several states on U.S. Election Day on Tuesday.

The results showed “voters reject policies that would make energy more expensive and less reliable to them, their families, and the larger economy,” said Thomas J. Pyle, president of free market advocacy group American Energy Alliance.

In Colorado, an initiative to limit new drilling near populated or vulnerable areas received 43 percent of the vote, less than the majority required to pass. The Washington state measure, which garnered 44 percent of the vote, would have imposed a fee on carbon emissions, mostly at the expense of the state’s oil refiners.

Groups defending the oil industry spent a combined $66 million to defeat the two measures, with much of the contributions coming from large energy companies. Washington state’s measure was supported by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and an alliance of environmental groups.

In Arizona, voters defeated a proposal backed by billionaire activist Thomas Steyer that would have required electricity providers to use renewable energy for half of their needs by 2030, up from the current 15 percent.

The measure was opposed by Arizona Public Service Co , the state’s largest utility, which argued it would be forced to shut coal and nuclear plants, and pass along those costs to customers.

Shares in oil producers operating in Colorado rallied on Wednesday, with Anadarko Petroleum Corp gaining 6.6 percent and Noble Energy Inc up 5.7 percent.

“We think the wide margin of victory matters and that it will serve as a deterrent to those who might otherwise decide to fund another round of opposition to the industry in the next election cycle,” Capital One Advisors wrote in a Wednesday note.

Colorado’s proposal would have required new oil wells to be at least 2,500 feet (762 m), five times the current minimum separation, from occupied or sensitive areas, effectively placing much of the state off-limits to new drilling.

“We are proud of our thousands of volunteers who fought ‘til the very end to protect their communities,” said Russell Mendell, of anti-fracking group Colorado Rising, which backed the measure. “We will not stop until our Colorado neighborhoods are safe from this dangerous industrial activity.”

But opponents, including Colorado municipal officials, warned that the measure would have cost the state’s economy billions of dollars, and would have reduced funding for roads, schools and public safety.

“The oil and natural gas industry and its employees look forward to discussing concerns with reasonable people looking for reasonable solutions,” said Karen Crummy, communications director for Protect Colorado, a group backed by oil companies that opposed the measure. (Reporting by Liz Hampton and Gary McWilliams in Houston; Writing by David Gaffen; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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