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Mudslinging over California's clean-fuel initiative

Alternative-energy advocates, oil companies land in court over tactics designed to divert readers from opposing sites.

The opponents of a ballot proposal in California to tax oil companies and give the proceeds to alternative-energy entrepreneurs and universities say the clean-tech camp is slinging mud.

Californians Against Higher Taxes, a political-action group funded largely by oil companies and agribusiness, claims that the individuals behind Proposition 87 are skirting California's electoral laws.

Earlier this week, CAHT pointed out that individuals who clicked on links that appeared to be hosted by opponents of the proposal--such as Noonprop87.org and Noon87.com--were redirected to the Yes on 87 campaign's Web site.

CAHT asserted that this violated California's Political Cyberfraud Abatement Act, passed in 2001 to prevent cybersquatting and the diverting of voters from certain Web sites.

CAHT filed a lawsuit with a state court in Alameda County on Tuesday over the issue.

Since then, however, the Noonprop87.org and Noon87.com URLs have stopped directing voters to the Yes on 87 campaign's home page. Instead, a page comes up that says "Warning: The site you are about to enter is written and paid for by the oil companies." The page lists purported contributors to the No on 87 effort and the amount they contributed. Chevron is listed as contributing $12.8 million.

Clicking on a link at the bottom of that page then takes a reader to the main site for the No on 87 campaign.

Those in the Yes on 87 camp said they changed the Web site in an act of good will. The organization also said it would settle the suit if the No on 87 forces agreed to drop their "junk science" and more directly show that oil companies were funding the effort.

Proposition 87 seeks to raise $4 billion over a 10-year period through oil-drilling fees. Roughly 60 percent of the funds will go to entrepreneurs setting up clean businesses such as ethanol filling stations, Vinod Khosla, the venture capitalist behind the effort, said in a recent interview. Khosla, one of the co-founders of Sun Microsystems, has formed a firm that specializes in investing in alternative-energy start-ups.

Under the proposal, 30 percent of the funds raised through taxes would go to universities and schools for education and research. Ten percent would be used to run the program and to cover miscellaneous tasks.

A nine-person panel called the California Energy Alternatives Program Authority would oversee how the funds are used. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and the Sierra Club, among others, have endorsed the proposal.

The election takes place Nov. 7.

Subsidies have been an integral part of the alternative-energy industry. Typically, however, funds are not delivered directly to entrepreneurs to start businesses. Instead, the money comes in the form of rebates to consumers for putting in, for example, solar panels. Businesses benefit from these laws indirectly.

A few years ago, California passed a similar bill to promote stem cell research and biotechnology business in the state.

The California legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are currently hammering out details of a bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.