Proposition 26: Also known as the ‘Polluter Protection Act’

by Bill Magavern, Sierra Club, Capitol Weekly

Some bad ideas refuse to die. Ten years ago, California’s voters killed off The Polluter Protection Act, Prop 37. Big Oil and Big Tobacco have spent the decade since then looking for an opportunity to bring this Big Ugly Initiative back, and they’ve decided that this is the year to raid your wallet.

The core question raised by Prop 26 is: who pays? Who pays to clean up air pollution, oil spills and toxic waste? Who pays for the health consequences of tobacco and alcohol addiction, of lead poisoning and diesel exhaust? Exxon, Phillip Morris and the other special interests behind Prop 26 want you, the taxpayers, to pay. They want to get off the hook for mitigating the damage they do.            

Prop 26 would reclassify many fees as taxes, so that they would require a two-thirds majority of each house of the Legislature, or, at the local level, a two-thirds vote by the electorate. The oil, tobacco and liquor industries want to make it virtually impossible to require polluters and other creators of nuisances to pay to clean up their own messes.

Their measure would overturn the unanimous 1997 decision of the California Supreme Court, Sinclair Paint Company v. Board of Equalization, which upheld the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Act of 1991. In that case, the paint company tried to avoid its responsibility for having put toxic lead in its products, and the Court upheld the Legislature’s ability pass mitigation fees by majority vote.

 Fees assessed on polluters provide vital funding for essential programs that safeguard Californians’ health and environment. For example, fees support efforts to prevent oil spills, clean up hazardous waste, replace dirty diesel engines, recycle electronic wastes, and safeguard workers and communities from toxic pesticides. These charges save taxpayers money and put the costs of environmental protections on those who have created the problems.

The recent Public Policy Institute poll shows that Californians overwhelmingly support the Global Warming Solutions Act, AB 32. Prop 26 would hamstring implementation of that law by blocking the adoption of charges on the big oil companies that are dumping their waste gases into our atmosphere. Once again, Chevron and Exxon want us to pay for their pollution.

If polluter-pays assessments are blocked in the future by an anti-democratic two-thirds vote requirement, those costs will instead fall on the General Fund, which is already in a huge deficit. Make no mistake about it: the Polluter Protection Act is a budget-buster. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, Prop 26’s effect on just one transportation measure would blow a $1 billion hole in the General Fund, making that much less money available for schools, healthcare, and other pressing needs.

Sierra Club California joins the League of Women Voters, American Lung Association, California Nurses Association, local governments, Peace Officers Research Association of California, California Federation of Teachers, Consumer Federation of California and many others in opposing Prop 26. For more information, please go to