California's Prop 26 Would Let Big Polluters Off the Hook


Photo: Neubie, Flickr, Creative Commons BY 2.00

In California, most of the green movement's energy and effort has gone towards fighting Proposition 23, an initiative funded by the Texas companies Tesoro and Valero to effectively turn back the state's clean energy law of 2006. California voters, along with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, weren't buying it, and support for the issue waned -- they turned against Prop 23, recognizing how it keeps the state competitive in the clean tech industry and blazes an important trail in addressing climate change. But many insiders are now saying that the drive for Prop 23 was part of a bait and switch; that the real danger -- and where oil companies have sunk real money in backing -- is in fact the prop three notches up: Proposition 26.
In California, greens and clean energy advocates praised the bigger oil companies like Chevron and Shell for not supporting Proposition 23 -- and even voicing opposition to it. Californians figured that the oil companies were either embracing the progressive values of the state, or sensing a losing battle and bowing out. Yet, as Araceli Ruano notes in a report at Climate Progress,

the truth has shown to be much uglier. It appears that Chevron, Shell and ConocoPhillips were staying out of the 23 battle because they had set their sights on 26 instead. Prop 26 raises the voting requirement from a majority to 2/3 for the legislature to authorize a fee. While this sounds good (voters thinking of car registration fees, or parking fees), really it is simply a way to make it harder to assess fees for pollution. While minor fees would be harder to assess, the main driver of 26 is the large-scale high-dollar fees for releasing toxic waste, spilling oil or any other social danger.
Ruano explains that if Prop 23 passes, it would have the end effect of transferring the "burden to pay for pollution from the offending company to the general public." That's because if the fees for things like toxic waste and oil spills aren't authorized or assessed, tax dollars must be used to clean them up.

As of right now, oil and manufacturing companies spend an estimated $1 billion a year paying for clean up required to right the environmental ills they bring upon California. If Prop 26 passes, that could be transferred to the taxpayer.

So while Prop 23 started to decline in the polls as Election Day nears, Chevron is privately celebrating that they may still pull a fast one on voters. While they stayed "neutral" on 23, they poured almost $4 million into Prop 26. This is the ultimate misdirection and hide-the-ball trick. California voters appear to have tackled Prop 23, only to see Prop 26 with the ball, running a reverse to the opposite field.
Don't get me wrong -- Prop 23 is still important, and poses a very real threat to California's trailblazing clean energy laws. But Prop 26, which lets big polluters off the hook for messes they've made, may now pose the greater danger to California's environmental health.

More on Prop 23
California's Proposition 23 : A Cunning Effort to Kill Clean Energy
Schwarzenegger Blasts "Black Oil Hearts" of Prop 23 Backers
Spread the Word on Prop 23 With These Compelling Videos From SHFT ...
Activists Head to World Series: "Beat Texas, Vote No on Prop 23"

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