Largely ignored amid the presidential and congressional races on Nov. 4 was the fact that several environmental ballot initiatives faired poorly. In California, no less than three state or local initiatives to mandate more renewable energy or subsidize alternative vehicles went down to defeat by convincing margins.

Granted, some of these measures had sparked environmental group opposition who took issue with the specifics but not the overall goals. And there are those who objected because they think such matters should be handled through legislation and not referenda. Nonetheless, it was clear that, given the experience in recent years with rising energy prices and the uncertainty over the economy, a significant number of voters are wary of anything likely to raise their energy bills. This sentiment proved to be fairly widespread even in what is arguably the greenest state in the Union.

There are lessons applicable at the federal level for 2009. Much of the agenda in these initiatives matches the things the new Congress and President have pledged to promote nationally. The public showed that they understand such environmental measures have a cost that may outweigh the benefits. At the very least, Washington will not have an easy time convincing Americans that the economic sacrifices imposed by their environmental agenda are worth it.