10/30/2010 08:57 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Twin Attacks on Our Clean Energy Future

This post was co-written with founder Bill McKibben

Earlier this week, we participated in a statewide conference call hosted by the Sierra Club that was joined by nearly 16,000 Californians to discuss the serious environmental issues that are at stake in Tuesday's election. Near the top of the list are two initiatives that would break the promise of a clean energy future.

By now, Californians have started to get wise to Proposition 23 -- the dirty-energy initiative that would effectively cripple our internationally celebrated Global Warming Solutions Act. Bankrolled by out-of-state oil companies, Proposition 23 is a not-so-subtle attempt to cripple California's promising clean-energy industry -- and the jobs that will come with it.

Proposition 23, though, is only the more obvious half of a two-pronged attack on our future. That's because the oil companies have another, equally devastating, initiative on the ballot -- Proposition 26. But where Proposition 23 is a blatant assault, Proposition 26 is more like a sneak attack. It's confusing, badly written, and pretending to be something it's not.

If approved, Proposition 26 would expand the definition of a "tax" to include fees and charges that address "health, environmental, or other societal or economic concerns." That's significant because, in California, taxes require a practically impossible two-thirds majority vote by the state legislature. The Big Oil interests behind Prop. 26 are counting on California's current political dysfunction to keep them off the financial hook for the pollution they cause in our backyard.

In effect, Proposition 26 would not only protect those polluters from paying fees but would also cost California taxpayers billions. By shirking the responsibility for cleaning up the messes they make, the polluters behind Proposition 26 would put taxpayers on the hook for at least $1 billion -- year after year after year. The costs of cleaning up oil spills, removing hazardous waste, or tackling tobacco-related illnesses would all have come out of taxpayers' pockets, and the industries that actually caused those problems wouldn't have to pay a dime.

While Proposition 23 would suspend the Global Warming Solutions Act by imposing unrealistic economic hurdles, Proposition 26 would cripple our climate protection efforts by making it impossible for California to fund the programs necessary to reduce climate-disrupting pollution. Instead of paying their share to move California forward, the dirtiest polluters in the state would get to carry on with business as usual. Result? No longer would California be a leader toward the clean energy future. And without California's leadership, the rest of the U.S. would fall behind as well.

The Big Oil companies would like nothing better. That's why it's critical that voters know just how damaging both of these initiatives would be for California as they head to the polls. Earlier this fall, the Sierra Club launched a grassroots effort to work against Propositions 23 and 26 in order to promote the creation of good jobs through the development of our clean energy economy. The Sierra Club has set up offices around California to help coordinate a massive "get out the vote" effort and has been contacting voters to make sure that voters know what is at stake.

We found that when Californians began to hear the truth about Proposition 23, the polls started to show fading support for Big Oil's attempt to undermine our laws. It is just as important that we educate those voters about the damage that Proposition 26 would do to the environment, to our ability to make polluters pay for the messes they cause, and to taxpayers' pocketbooks.

Please visit to find out what you can do in the final days before the election to stand up against Big Oil and for a clean energy future in California.