Proposition 10 focuses on alternative fuel vehicles

Proposition 10 on tomorrow's statewide ballot is meant to promote clean energy sources. If voters approve it, California will spend $5 billion of bond money to help people buy alternative-fuel cars and help pay for clean-car research. KPCC's Molly Peterson reports that the measure's supporters and opponents disagree about whether you'll get what you pay for.

Molly Peterson: Two-thirds of Prop 10's bonds would fund the development of alternative fuel vehicles. In ads like this one, its backers tie that spending to the larger cause of energy independence.

Woman in Yes on 10 ad: Hey honey, what are you reading about?

Man: Our dependence on foreign oil.

Woman: Ooh.

Man: We're sending $700 billion a year overseas.

Woman: Geez!

Man: That's money we could be investing here at home! And the politicians in Washington and Sacramento don't do anything about it!

Peterson: Former Burbank mayor Todd Campbell helped write Prop 10. Now he works for Seal Beach-based Clean Energy Corporation. Campbell said automakers need to hear what California's money could tell them.

Todd Campbell: ... that we want these vehicles, and to encourage them in a very, financial uncertain time, where credit is very scarce and they're having trouble advancing these vehicles. This gives them the incentive and the research dollars to do that.

Peterson: Prop 10 would also pay consumers to invest in new fuels. Campbell said the biggest credit, $50,000, would help drivers buy designated "clean energy" trucks.

The ports of Long Beach and L.A. offer cargo drivers that much of a rebate now. It's part of a plan to get rid of old, dirty diesel trucks. This year the ports let truckers kick the tires on cleaner vehicles like this natural gas model.

[Sound of a truck starting up]

Peterson: This Kenworth Westport truck is one of the few that Prop 10 would count as clean. Natural gas and diesel are fossil fuels; even with the rebate, natural gas trucks still cost more. At the port this summer, Kenworth-Westport sales rep Kelly Mills said it wasn't easy to sell truckers on liquid natural gas.

Kelly Mills: Their familiarity with diesel has been diesel on every corner. Their concerns are, well what happens if I run out of fuel? We face that problem every day. We're looking at stations for LNG being about every 25 to 50 miles apart in the trade corridors.

Peterson: Prop 10 includes money for fueling stations, too. But even with more money, the Sierra Club's Jim Metropolous said the initiative would require less proof that the trucks and their benefits stay in California than the program the state's already paying for.

Jim Metropolous: Unlike Proposition 10, to get a rebate under this program, the Goods Movement Program, the trucker must accept a GPS tracking device to track the new truck's movements. That way, if the truck leaves the state, the trucker pays a penalty.

Peterson: Some alternative-fuel vehicles have carved out a toehold without Prop 10; the Toyota Prius is selling well in California. Richard Holober of the Consumer Federation of California said he thinks the measure's rebate structure would distort the alternative-fuel market.

Richard Holober: If you buy a Honda Civic natural gas car, a clean car under the Prop 10 bill, you get a $10,000 rebate, so you get 500 percent more money for buying a car which according to California's own Web site is identical to the Prius in terms of how clean it is, and actually has worse fuel economy. The Prius is more fuel efficient.

Campbell: We never denied that it would help natural gas vehicles. It definitely will.

Peterson: Prop 10 coauthor Todd Campbell said the measure would also promote healthier air.

Campbell: Eighty to 90 percent of our pollution problems that cause asthma or cancer come from our vehicles.

Peterson: But the head of the state's Air Resources Board has argued that Prop 10 could add carbon and pollution to air in the long run. Other opponents point out that oil and gas man T. Boone Pickens owns Todd Campbell's company, Clean Energy.

Pickens preaches a plan of more wind power, less foreign oil, and more American-made fuels – and he's been investing in it. He's contributed $7 million to the "Yes on Prop 10" campaign. Not for the first time, Campbell explained why.

Campbell: He has an old saying; a fool with a plan is better than a genius with no plan. And this proposition in my view gives California exactly what it needs. It gives it a plan to get out of the hole that we're currently in.

Peterson: Campbell conceded that the plan's not perfect. It'll be up to voters to decide whether it should become law.