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Prop 10: Cleaning air, or cash grab?

October 21, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
When California voters head to the polls in two weeks, one of the measures they'll see on the ballot is Proposition 10, also known as the California Alternative Fuels Initiative. What would Prop 10 do, what it would cost, and what are the arguments for and against it?Remember oil, and how much we as Americans used to love it? Well, black gold is the black sheep these days and is blamed for driving up the price of our beloved gasoline, causing global warming, and even blamed for funding Middle East terrorism.

It's no wonder alternative fuels are all the rage. Most car makers already offer some sort of gas-electric hybrid. But the folks behind Prop 10 want to speed along conversion to cars and trucks that would use even less gas -- or none at all.

"It will help us get consumers cleaner alternative fuel vehicles and help save them some money on their fuel costs," said Dario Frommer from Yes on Prop 10.

Dario Frommer is the former majority leader for the California Assembly and a current supporter of Prop 10. He demonstrated for Eyewitness News a natural-gas-powered-Honda Civic, which is a car you can fuel up in your own garage.

"Fill them overnight, you come out in the morning, it shuts off automatically and your car is ready to go," explains Frommer.

You can buy a natural-gas-powered Civic for about $25,000. If Prop 10 passes, the state of California would give you at least $10,000 back in the form of a tax credit. If you buy a natural gas or clean energy version of a truck or heavy machinery, that payback can be as high as $50,000.

So under Prop 10, people would be able to save the environment and score some cash -- who wouldn't like that?

"Proposition 10 is a $10 billion raid on our treasury," said Richard Holober from No on Prop 10.

Holober is the executive director of the Consumer Federation of California. He calls Prop 10 a fraud that every major environmental group is condemning.

"These trucks don't have to be one bit cleaner than the trucks that are already on the road today. There's no requirement for even one percent improvement in air quality," said Holober.

As for cars, most hybrids available right now wouldn't even qualify.

The anti-Prop 10 crowd likes to point to oilman T. Boone Pickens as the driving force behind the initiative. Pickens has pumped millions into creating and promoting Prop 10, and as the owner of Clean Energy Fuels, he stands to cash in on the billions of taxpayer dollars that would be doled out.

"California is going broke. We are in desperate financial times. We are not going to raising taxes, so if we're going to be dipping $10 billion into the state coffers, that means we are going to be cutting programs that serve millions of people," said Holober.

Frommer says not only will California's air quality improve under Prop 10, but so will its economy.

"By stimulating the purchase of these vehicles, it creates sales tax revenue, it creates jobs, it creates other revenue in industries surrounding these vehicles," said Frommer. "That money will go back into state and local government."

With a $10 billion price tag, Prop 10 is certainly fueling a debate. Voters are left to decide if it's a step toward solving global warming or an ineffective money grab.

So much for clearing the air.


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