Shades of green

Pub date October 29, 2008
WriterRicky Angel


California’s major environmental groups have long called for the state to do more to promote a switch to renewable energy sources, yet they widely oppose two state ballot measures that claim to do so, urging votes to reject Propositions 7 and 10 as false promises. On the local level, however, the environmental community strongly supports Proposition H, the Clean Energy Act, against well-funded attacks by Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

Prop. 7 would require utilities to acquire half their power through renewable energy resources, and Prop. 10 would provide $5 billion in alternative fuel research and development. Dan Kalb, policy coordinator for the Union of Concerned Scientists, believes the basic goal of Prop. 7 is great, but that its execution would not work. "It’s something that sounds very good," Kalb told us. "Everyone is concerned about renewable energy, but we can’t afford to pass a law that isn’t going to work."

Opponents of Prop. 7 have argued that it is poorly written, would decrease current fine levels for noncompliance, and has many loopholes that only the largest producers can take advantage of. Natural Resources Defense Council media director Craig Noble told us, "It just doesn’t make sense. It’s deeply flawed … it’s so poorly written."

Proponents claim that it’s not poorly written, but that opponents have simply misread it. For example, opponents say Prop. 7 could exclude small businesses that generate less than 30 MW of renewable power. But proponents say they have misread Section 14 of the proposition, causing this confusion. Yet on Aug. 7 a Superior Court judge ruled that Prop. 7 could exclude those small businesses.

In all, the Yes on 7 campaign has 25 endorsements from politicians, organizations, and groups while the No on 7 campaign has more than 400 from politicians, organizations, groups, and cities opposing the measure.

"We’re extremely concerned that [Prop. 7 will] set us back, not move us forward," Kalb said.

If passed, Prop. 10 will authorize $5 billion in general obligation funds for alternative fuel research and development, but require $10 billion to be paid back over 30 years once interest has been figured in. Richard Holober, executive director of Consumer Federation, called the measure, "a $10 billion raid on California’s treasury."

He went on to tell the Guardian that public support for research of this kind is important, but that, "Prop. 10 has no accountability. It is filled with incredibly huge loopholes."

Under Prop. 10, a rebate will be given to consumers who purchase clean energy cars. At the same time, they can keep their old vehicles and potentially sell them. Yes on 10 media contact Amy Thoma confirmed this. Holober stated that California already has programs in place that require owners to scrap or donate their polluting vehicles after they receive a rebate; they also require residency in California.

Opponents of Prop. 10 also point out that the proposition requires no net decrease in pollution, meaning that new vehicles can be as polluting as those they replace, as long as they do not pollute more. Yet Thoma claims the measure will reduce emissions by a total of 4.1 million tons per year.

Noble told the Guardian: "We need to be reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, but Props. 7 and 10 are not the way to do it."

As for Prop. H, the measure would require that by 2017, half the energy sold in San Francisco would be from renewable energy sources, rising to 100 percent by 2040. It also calls for the city to study how best to achieve that goal, including if public power projects could play a role.

Corey Cook, an associate professor of political science at the University of San Francisco, told the Guardian that "Prop H is a small but not insignificant first step toward public power in San Francisco. [It] authorizes, but doesn’t actually do anything aside from creating a study to determine the feasibility and cost of buying out PG&E’s electricity grid and having the city generate power."

Environmentalists have rejected Props. 7 and 10 because they are written poorly and counterproductive, but they embrace Prop. H because it simply increases renewable energy standards, includes numerous procedural safeguards, and, as Cook said, "takes a first step toward public power."