California's Energy Alchemists

A proposal to use oil taxes for green energy is kicking up a costly debate. Will the payoff be worth it?

| October 26, 2006

In California a new breed of alchemist is trying to turn oil into clean, efficient energy by using a tax on oil production to fund green energy initiatives. The concoction, Proposition 87, will go before voters next month, and that has proponents and naysayers investing scads of money to convince the public to go their way.

As Shreema Mehta reports for The New Standard, Proposition 87 would levy a 1.5 percent to 6 percent tax on California oil drillers until $4 billion dollars were raised for investment in fuel alternatives, from helping Californians buy hybrid vehicles to research into energy-efficient technologies. The proposal also bars oil producers from passing the buck to consumers through raised prices, so voters don't have to worry about climbing costs at the pumps.

Many have come out in support of Proposition 87, from movie stars like Julia Roberts, to DC celebrities Bill Clinton and Al Gore, reports Matthew Yi in the San Francisco Chronicle. The measure's biggest monetary supporter is Stephen Bing, whose inherited fortune and reputation as a 'Hollywood playboy' have overshadowed his film career. Bing has given generous contributions to the Democratic Party, writes Yi, but his $40 million dollar contribution to the Yes on 87 campaign showed record-breaking individual commitment toward any ballot initiative.

Still, that barely gets Yes on 87 at the same playing table as the high rollers it has challenged. According to Yi, Big Oil has anted up $68 million in an effort to dissuade the public from checking off on the initiative. In one project, oil companies advertised a letter in Californian newspapers calling the proposition's plans 'wishful promises,' according to an editorial run in The Orange County Register. The letter, signed by 100 economists, was put together by the anti-tax group National Taxpayers Union. The economists argue that, contrary to producing revenue, the tax 'will cause further reductions in state oil production, increased reliance on imported oil and higher gasoline prices.' Likewise, the California Chamber of Commerce called the proposition 'a recipe for waste, not progress,' reports The New Standard's Mehta.

With all of the money-throwing and local buzz, it's clear there's a lot at stake. The November 7th vote will proclaim a victor soon enough. For now, the most interesting aspect of this debate may be watching how Big Oil responds to this innovative direct challenge.

Go there >> Cali. Voters May Tax Oil Co's to Fund Green Fuels

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