On the ballot: Will Californians vote to build an off-ramp from the oil highway?

 

Californians will find more than a dozen initiatives on their ballot this Nov. 7, including one aimed at helping them kick the oil habit. Proposition 87 would raise $4 billion over 10 years for the California Energy Alternatives Program Authority by taxing oil produced in the state. Part of an effort to reduce oil consumption by 25 percent over the next 10 years, the tax would fund the development of alternative fuels, such as ethanol and renewable energy, and provide incentives for consumers to use them.

California leads the nation in oil use and produces about 37 percent of what it uses. The state is third behind Texas and Alaska in oil production, accounting for about 12 percent of U.S. production.

"Right now, Californians only have one choice to fuel their vehicles," says Yusef Robb, a spokesman for the Yes on 87 campaign. "Prop. 87 will bring choices to the market. Choice lowers prices. And these choices are cleaner, they’re cheaper, and they’re made right here at home in the U.S." Opponents of Proposition 87 — primarily Chevron and an ExxonMobil/Shell partnership called Aera Energy — have poured more than $53 million into fighting it. Although the measure prohibits oil companies from passing the tax on to consumers, opponents say that if it passes, Californians will pay more at the pump.

Al Lundeen, a spokesman for No on 87, says that by making oil production in California more expensive, Proposition 87 will force producers to import more oil from outside the state. Foreign oil can cost more to refine, says Lundeen, and shipping it adds expense as well. "Those are the kinds of costs," he says, "that lawfully get passed through at the gas pump." Proposition 87, he adds, is "going to make us more reliant on foreign oil, and that puts us in a more vulnerable situation."

But others say 87 is designed to do the opposite: to help California break free of reliance on oil, wherever it’s produced. With global demand — mostly from China and India — increasing dramatically, alternative fuels offer an escape from the pinch of increasing competition for oil. "The ability of the petroleum industry to come up with new supplies is not keeping pace with demand," says John Shears, the research coordinator for the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies in Sacramento.

Proposition 87’s supporters are serious about bringing more competition to the market. The biggest underwriter of the Yes on 87 campaign, by far, is Hollywood producer Stephen Bing, who has contributed some $40 million. But $2 million has also come from venture capitalists Vinod Khosla and John Doerr. Khosla is heavily invested in a company called Cilion, which plans to build three ethanol plants in California by 2008, and he and Doerr have invested in another ethanol-refining company called Altra.

Shears says that in the absence of any meaningful federal initiative to increase fuel economy, develop alternative fuels, or address global warming, it’s up to states to take the lead. And, he says, Proposition 87 "can work synergistically" with other new California laws, such as the recently passed Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020. "Not any one single pathway is going to help us deal with the climate issues," he says. "The state has to look at all of the different pathways that are available to it."

 

The author is HCN’s West Coast correspondent.

High Country News Classifieds
  • PHILANTHROPY COORDINATOR
    Wyoming Wildlife Federation - collaborates with the Executive Director and staff to ensure the effective implementation of all philanthropic activities. https://wyomingwildlife.org/hiring-philanthropy-coordinator/.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    HawkWatch International is hiring an Executive Director to lead the organization. The next leader of this growing organization must have: 1. Enthusiasm for conservation, birds...
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Home Resource is a non-profit community sustainability center. We work with, in, and for the community to reduce waste and build a more vibrant and...
  • COUNTRY ESTATE NEAR KINGS CANYON AND SEQUOIA PARKS
    Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • BRN DEVELOPMENT & COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    Borderlands Restoration Network 501c3 is hiring a full-time Development Director. Description and job details can be found at https://www.borderlandsrestoration.org/job-opportunities.html
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST NEW MEXICO
    Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921
  • ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING MANAGER
    The City of Fort Collins is seeking an Environmental Planning Manager in the Natural Areas Department. The Department has an annual budget of approximately $13...
  • WEB DESIGN AND CONTENT MANAGER
    We are seeking an experienced designer to be the team lead for web development and digital media. Part creator and part planner, this person should...
  • CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
    at RCAC. See the full description at https://bit.ly/2WJ3HvY Apply at [email protected]
  • GRASSROOTS ORGANIZER
    The Utah Rivers Council is looking for an energetic individual with strong communication and organizing skills. The Grassroots Organizer works to ensure our campaigns are...
  • JOHN DEERE SNOW BLOWER 24"
    Newly refurbished and tuned. Older model, great condition. Gasoline engine. Chains on tires. Heavy duty for mountain snow. Call cellphone and leave message or email.
  • CARPENTER RANCH MANAGER
    Hiring a part-time ranch manager to live on The Nature Conservancy's Carpenter Ranch property in Hayden, CO. Responsibilities include: facility maintenance of historic ranch house,...
  • STRAW BALE, ADOBE, TIMBER FRAME, HEALTHY HOME, NEAR LA VETA PASS, CO
    unique custom home in Sangre de Cristo Mountains of CO near La Veta Pass, 3 bed, 2 1/2 bath, private gated park, two hours from...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, KANIKSU LAND TRUST
    Kaniksu Land Trust, a community-supported non-profit land trust serving north Idaho and northwest Montana, is in search of a new executive director. The ideal candidate...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Flathead Lakers are seeking a dynamic, self-motivated and proven leader to be our next Executive Director (ED).
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Blackfoot Challenge, a renowned collaborative conservation org in MT, seeks our next ED.
  • COPPER CANYON MEXICO CAMPING & BACKPACKING
    10-day tour from Los Mochis airport, 2/nyts El Fuerte, train, 2/nyts canyon rim hotel, 5/nyts camping. 520-324-0209, www.coppercanyontrails.org.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, ALASKA
    Earthjustice is hiring for a Staff Attorney
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    to lead an organization that funds projects in National Parks. Major gift fundraising and public lands experience critical. PD and app details @ peopleinparks.org.