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Vote No On Prop. 37, The Polluter Protection Act

by Jeffrey N. Jones Sunday, Sep. 24, 2000 at 7:51 AM 310-442-6481 So. Cal. Coordinator / No on Prop. 37 campaign

Information from the No on 37 Campaign about another example of corporate protectionism & environmental destruction. Prop. 37 (aka "the Polluter Protection Act") is designed to let industry off the hook for the cost borne by society of the pollution and sickness they cause.

Vote No On Prop. 37, The Polluter Protection Act

-- It Lets Industry Fleece the Public for Its Clean Up Costs

Don't be fooled by an obscure-looking initiative on the November ballot entitled "Fees.Vote Requirements. Taxes." Proposition 37 was placed on the ballot by big oil, tobacco and liquor companies. It is the biggest threat to the environment to appear on California's ballot in nearly a decade.

Prop. 37 has been labelled the Polluter Protection Act by environmental and public health organizations opposing it. It is designed to let industry off the hook for the cost borne by society of the pollution and sickness they cause. Organizations opposing Proposition 37 include the Sierra Club, Communities for a Better Environment, The League of Women Voters and the American Cancer Society. Proposition 37 is pushed by special interest industries, and it is major give-away to them. So if polluters don't pay, guess who will?

A quick look at the list of contributors to Prop. 37 demonstrates who would benefit from its passage: Chevron, R.J Reynolds, Coors, Arco, Phillip Morris, and others spent over a hundred million dollars to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot. You know the old saying, "If you can't trust the Oil, Tobacco, and Alcohol interests, who can you trust."

As a constitutional amendment, Prop. 37 would override a unanimous Supreme Court decision that held that pollution mitigation fees are constitutional. It would reclassify mitigation such fees as taxes, thereby subjecting them to a two-thirds vote requirement for passage in the Legislature or local communities.

Background: The Sinclair Paint Decision

To understand the impact Prop. 37 would have, let's take a quick look at the court decision that it seeks to overturn, the Sinclair case: In 1991, the California Legislature passed by majority vote the Childhood Lead Poisoning Act. The law assessed a fee on the manufacturers of paint and other lead products to pay to screen and treat children for lead poisoning.

One of the manufacturers, Sinclair Paint Co., challenged the law, claiming that the fee was really a tax and therefore in violation of the state constitutional requirement of a 2/3 vote for tax increases. Sinclair won in a lower court, impairing the state's lead poisoning program for years. But the state Supreme Court reversed, upholding the law unanimously in 1997.

Big corporate lobbies now seek to overturn the Sinclair decision by passing Prop. 37. The initiative states that if a fee is imposed on a taxpaying entity for regulatory purposes, but imposes no regulatory requirements on that taxpayer other than payment of the fee, then that fee is considered a tax, because its sole purpose is to raise revenue.

Effects: What Specific Impacts Would Proposition 37 Have?

What does this really mean? Under that definition, a variety of fees intended to make the responsible parties pay for cleaning up after themselves would be virtually unpassable. (Prop. 37 would not actually revoke the lead paint fee, because it would apply only to fees enacted after July 1, 1999.) Such potential environmental measures as increased fees for disposal of tires (in the wake of disastrous tire fires) or fees on oil refineries to pay for MTBE-contaminated groundwater cleanup would become 'taxes' subject to the 2/3 vote requirement. Passing tough environmental regulations and fees is difficult enough when only a simple majority is necessary; attaining the 2/3 super-majority would be almost impossible given the money and clout of the corporate polluter lobbies.

In its editorial against Proposition 37, The Sacramento Bee warned: "the initiative won't change the underlying economic reality, which is that someone has to pay the costs of mitigating pollution; if not the polluters, then the rest of us."

The campaign to defeat Prop. 37 should be the environmental and social justice battle of this election year. If we don't galvanize our efforts to stop this Big Oil, Tobacco and Liquor industry ploy, we could lose our ability to enforce a key principle of the environmental and social justice movements---the Polluter Pays.

Please Vote No on Proposition 37. It shifts the burden of clean up costs from polluter to taxpayers. It poses a major obstacle to environmental and public health protection.

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