Taxing fossils to educate for renewables

by Ann Garrison

drilling-off-santa-barbara1, Taxing fossils to educate for renewables, Local News & Views In response to the California state budget crisis and to global warming urgencies, California’s 20th District Assemblymember Alberto Torrico has proposed Assembly Bill 656, a tax “for the privilege of severing oil or gas from the earth or water in this state,” to fund higher education, especially renewable energy education, to train a generation capable of helping California make a transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy.

California is the third largest producer of crude oil and the 10th largest producer of natural gas in the U.S. and the only state that does not collect an oil and gas severance tax. Were it a nation, it would be the only nation.

California State Sen. George Runner, founder of the Desert Christian Schools, calls AB656 “The Hugo Chavez Empowerment Act,” implying that the bill is tantamount to Californians laying claim to their own oil and gas reserves.

But Runner is exaggerating, hugely.

alberto-torrico-cali-assemblyman1, Taxing fossils to educate for renewables, Local News & Views Torrico has indeed pointed out that “it’s our oil and gas,” and his bill says that “the tax … shall not be passed through to consumers by way of higher prices for oil, natural gas, gasoline, diesel, or other oil or gas consumable byproducts, such as propane and heating oil,” but he has not suggested that Californians form a corporation to extract their own oil and gas, only that the oil and gas industry pay an oil and gas severance tax to educate for California’s transition to renewable energy.

Torrico’s bill doesn’t contain a word about the world’s disinherited indigenous peoples, whose cause Hugo Chavez so often champions, nor does it contain mention of Eduardo Galeano’s “The Open Veins of Latin America, Five Centures of the Pillage of a Continent,” the book that Hugo Chavez gave to Barack Obama.

However, Torrico does point out that:

1) Forty percent of California’s students nearing college age are Latino,

2) Only 12 percent of them are on track to get a bachelor’s degree,

3) Wages and salaries for those without college degrees will decline as the labor pool at this educational level grows, and wages and salaries for those with college degrees will increase as that labor pool shrinks and

4) This will unfairly disadvantage Latino and other youth of color.

I’d like to add that military recruiters target predominantly Black and Latino schools, that the military recruiting budget in predominantly Latino schools has been reported to be six times that of the college recruiting budget and that one of the first soldiers to die under the U.S. flag in Iraq was an orphaned Guatemalan fighting for a Green Card and veteran’s benefits, in hopes of someday completing an engineering degree.

You can help

AB 656 advocates request calls to these three Democratic members of the State Assembly Higher Education Committee:

  • Marty Block, 78th Assembly District, (916) 319-2078
  • Cathleen Gagliani, 17th Assemblyt District, (916) 319-2117
  • Alison Huber, 10th Assembly District, (916) 319-2010

San Francisco writer Ann Garrison is the energy policy examiner for, where this story first appeared. She also blogs at and is the website writer-editor of She can be reached at