The California initiative process was originally established to wrestle control of state government from the hands of big business. Yet it seems that the intent — to give power to the citizens of the state — has been turned horribly on its head. Two initiatives on November’s ballot — Propositions 23 and 26 — are glaring examples of industry trying to protect their profits at our expense.

Megan Birney

Megan Birney

By now, with the polls opening in less than a week and absentee ballots already coming in, many people have heard of Proposition 23, the dirty energy proposition funded primarily by two Texas oil companies — Valero and Tesoro — and Koch Industries out of Kansas.

This proposition would effectively kill California’s clean energy and clean air standards. Proponents say it would help protect jobs, but they have yet to back up their assertion with reliable data. In fact, many reputable economists have said just the opposite. California’s high standards and innovative forward-thinking are helping to grow jobs and revenue in the clean technology and clean energy sectors. On the Central Coast, the clean energy sector grew 200 percent from 1995 to 2008.

During the past several months, millions of dollars have been poured into Proposition 23 from both sides. Thankfully, it looks like the public is coming down against Proposition 23. However, to send a message that industry can’t threaten our economy and health to protect their profits, we can’t simply stop Prop. 23; we must crush it with a resounding margin, and we must oppose Proposition 26 with equal vigor.

While Proposition 26 sounds very different from Proposition 23, in the end they do the same thing: protect polluters from being held accountable.

Proposition 26 hasn’t been as on the radar, but it is equally threatening to California’s clean energy future. It would broaden the definition of a tax to include state and local fees. These fees would then need to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or citizens — a feat rarely achieved by even the simplest and least politically charged initiatives.

Fees are assessed on corporations that introduce adverse impacts on society and the environment and are typically used to mitigate those adverse impacts. Examples of threatened programs include the Oil Spill Prevention Fund, lead abatement programs, carbon regulatory fees and any future mitigation fees for greenhouse gas emissions. Requiring a two-thirds vote would effectively put an end to these important programs and put power into the hands of a few wealthy, politically influential and powerful corporations.

While many high-profile oil companies such as Chevron and ExxonMobil have shied away from the high-profile Prop. 23, they are pouring money into Proposition 26. Much to their delight, campaign contributions by corporations that threaten environmental health are being matched by those whose products threaten public health, including Philip Morris and Anheuser-Busch.

If Proposition 26 passes, it would mean millions of dollars lost from environmental protection, education, public safety and health care. Proponents are claiming that Proposition 26 is about “taxpayer protection” when in reality, if the companies don’t pay for their messes, we will. The cost of cleaning up oil spills, removing hazardous materials and tackling tobacco-related illnesses will be put onto us, while the industries causing these problems will be absolved from paying for the damage they do.

Californians can’t afford — and don’t deserve — Proposition 23 or Proposition 26. Take a stand against major polluters and support a healthier, wealthier and more sustainable California by voting no.

— Megan Birney is a renewable energy specialist for the Community Environmental Council, and she instructs a course on Energy Sources through UCSB Extension. She can be reached at mbirney@cecmail.org.