New priorities

America is addicted to oil. You know it, we know it, and in these days of record-high prices at the pump, multi-billion-dollar profits for oil companies, melting polar ice caps and chaos in the Middle East, even President Bush knows it. The only question is: What can we do about it?

The backers of Proposition 87, the alternative-energy initiative slated for the November ballot, have a plan. The measure would levy a severance tax on oil pumped from California turf and raise $10 billion to fund alternative energy, with a goal of cutting the use of petroleum by 25 percent by 2017.

We strongly support the passage of Prop. 87, and we’re guessing that it sounds like a pretty good idea to you, too. Polls show most Californians favor the idea, and why not? California is the only oil-producing state that doesn’t collect a drilling tax, and oil companies here have been getting a free ride for far too long. At a time when the oil industry is posting record profits—some $78 billion in 2005—yet investing less in searching for new oil discoveries, it makes perfect sense to redirect a small portion of that windfall to promote alternatives.

That’s just what Prop. 87 will do. The measure specifically directs the money to where it will do the most good, funding the purchase of alternative-fuel vehicles, incentives for industry to supply alternative fuels, and the building of infrastructure for distribution. It also will support research at California universities aimed at improving the economic viability of alternative fuels and accelerating the commercialization of renewable energy sources. And, significantly, Prop. 87 prohibits the oil industry from passing the costs on to consumers.

So, what’s not to like?

Nothing, really, except the coming onslaught of political ads. The oil companies are set to spend more than $26 million on campaign advertising, and they’ll do their best to convince you that the initiative is unfair to their industry, bad for consumers and a gift to the “special interest groups” who’ve invested in renewable energy.

These objections are easily dismissed. California hardly can be called “unfair” for introducing a tax that already exists in Texas, Alaska and other oil-producing states, and the only way the costs of the initiative can be passed on to consumers would be if the oil industry did so illegally. As for the charge that special interests will benefit, it need only be noted that the oil industry itself has acted as one of the nation’s most powerful special-interest groups for the past several decades, and the results speak for themselves: high prices at the pump, record profits for the industry, global warming and a host of political problems stemming from the nation’s dependence on oil from the Middle East.

It’s time for a different set of priorities, and Prop. 87 can start things moving in the right direction. It will put thousands of alternative-fuel vehicles on our roads, spur development of viable energy alternatives and put California at the forefront of the development of renewable energy. Vote “yes” on Prop. 87.