New York voted to protect the planet. California doesn’t

But in a move that confused many of the state’s progressives, Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, joined the California Republican Party to oppose the measure over Lyft’s involvement. He called it “a special-interest spin-off” and a “cynical scheme devised by a single corporation to funnel state income tax revenues to its corporation.” The governor and his office argued that higher taxes are not necessary to fund electric vehicles. This year’s state budget, Newsom told voters, includes $10 million for electrification, including car subsidies and charging stations. Opponents also feared the measure would set a bad precedent and allow companies to make policy through the vote, not lawmakers. Others argued a tax hike would push wealthy residents to flee California to tax havens like Florida and Texas. (Proponents of Prop 30 say this has never happened.) With 42 percent of the vote counted and 59 percent of the California vote, the AP predicts Prop 30’s defeat.

Eventually, residents and businesses in the state need to figure out how to pay for electric vehicles. In 2021, the California Air Resources Board mandated that by 2030, 90 percent of Uber and Lyft miles would be driven by electric vehicles. Then in August the Board decided that the sale of Everyone gas-powered cars in the state must be phased out by 2035, noting that California’s transportation sector is responsible for more than half of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Proponents said Prop 30, aimed at reducing the cost of switching to electric vehicles, would have helped drivers meet California’s goals, particularly low- and middle-income residents.

With or without Prop 30, it was a pivotal year for climate action. Just three months ago, Congress passed the largest climate law to date, the Inflation Reduction Act. As my colleague Arianna Coghill wrote at the time, the law envisages nearly $370 billion in climate spending that will help fund efforts like renewable energy and electric cars. According to independent analysis by two non-partisan research firms, the IRA could reduce the country’s carbon emissions by about 30 to 40 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. President Joe Biden has promised to cut the country’s emissions by about 50 percent over the same period.

But overall, surprisingly, the environment has not been a talking point this election cycle. In a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in October, the economy, the future of democracy and education were the top three issues voters named most importantly. While “energy policy” ranks fifth, climate change ranks at the bottom fourteenth on Pew’s list, after “the size and scope of the federal government.” Similarly, a recent AP VoteCast poll found that about half of voters see jobs and the economy as the top issues facing the country today, while just 9 percent cited climate change. Climate coordination measures were also sparse, at least at state level. “It’s unusual that there aren’t more conservation initiatives,” Nick Abraham, state communications director for the League of Conservation Voters, told Grist in October.

Voting actions, of course, offer only one route to change. As my former colleague Rebecca Leber notes at Vox, governments can play an important role in enacting clean energy bills. With Democrats now apparently taking control of state legislatures and the governor’s office in Michigan, Maryland, Massachusetts and possibly Minnesota, four more states could “gain an upper hand to push through new climate targets,” she writes, even with one Split or Republican-dominated Congress at the national level.

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