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Filmmaker Joins Governor in Climate Fight

It's a clash of big-money titans: Hollywood vs. Big Oil.

Academy
Award-winning director James Cameron – whose movies have featured Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger – on Friday pledged $1 million to oppose
Proposition 23, a measure that would suspend the state's landmark
climate change law.

Cameron joins environmental groups, green tech
advocates and financiers who already had lined up with Schwarzenegger
in opposing the measure. The director's contribution signals the
governor's growing role in protecting the greenhouse gas reduction law, a
significant part of his policy legacy.

Schwarzenegger, who signed the climate change law in 2006 and has
referred to Proposition 23 backers as "greedy Texas oil companies,"
starred in several Cameron productions, including the "Terminator" films
and "True Lies."

The 56-year-old Cameron won an Oscar for "Titanic." His most recent film, "Avatar," offered a pro-environment message.

"Mr.
Cameron is not only a filmmaker with a conscience, whose
environmentally themed Avatar rocked the world box office, but he is
willing to put his money where his mouth is when it comes to this
important fight for California jobs and our clean energy future," said
Steve Maviglio, spokesman for the No on 23 committee.

Proposition
23 aims to suspend California's greenhouse gas reduction law, AB 32,
until the statewide unemployment rate drops to 5.5 percent for four
consecutive quarters. AB 32 aims to reduce carbon emissions statewide to
1990 levels by the year 2020.

Cameron's contribution comes as
Proposition 23's supporters are losing the fundraising race and its key
supporters – Tesoro Corp. and Valero Energy Corp. of Texas – are facing a
heavy barrage of criticism from shareholder activists, California
politicians and other groups.

On Friday, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer added his voice to the debate.

"The people of this state strongly support the (climate change) law. But Valero and Tesoro want to kill it," Lockyer said.

"They
don't care about California or what's right. They care about one thing:
protecting the rich profits they rake in from California drivers, who
pay the highest gasoline prices in the country."

As of Friday, the
No on 23 committees had raised about $20 million. That figure includes
more than $1 million from venture capital guru Vinod Kholsa, $500,000
from Wall Street money manager Julian Robertson, and $200,000 from
Laurene Powell Jobs, wife of Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs.

Actor Benjamin Bratt also chipped in $2,500 on Oct. 11.

The
Yes on 23 committee, meanwhile, has raised about $9.1 million, with
more than $5 million of that coming from Tesoro and Valero, the two oil
companies.

But Proposition 23's supporters say the ballot battle isn't going to be won by money alone.

Anita
Mangels, spokeswoman for the Yes on 23 committee, said her organization
is relying heavily on grassroots organizing and outreach from its
coalition members, which she said represent a broad spectrum of
California's economy and not just oil companies.

"I think the battle is going to be won by information," she said. "It's a question of engaging voters and raising voter awareness."

Proposition
23's biggest financial backers say they haven't decided whether they
plan to donate more money to the rollback cause.

Both Valero and Tesoro are facing a backlash from shareholder activist groups.

On
Friday, the Los Angeles-based advocacy group Consumer Watchdog called
on the state's largest pension funds – the California Public Employees'
Retirement System and the California State Teachers' Retirement System –
to divest their shares in Valero and Tesoro.

According to the group, CalPERS and CalSTRS own more than $96 million worth of the companies' stock.

The
Consumer Watchdog letter echoes shareholder resolutions filed on
Wednesday by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Nathan
Cummings Foundation requesting that the companies' boards review and
oversee their political expenditures.

Bill Day, spokesman for
Valero, said the groups own a small amount of the company's stock and
don't have much influence over company policy.

As of Friday, Valero had a market capitalization of about $10.3 billion.

Consumer
Watchdog this week issued a report contending that both Tesoro and
Valero have gouged California consumers for years. If Proposition 23
passes, the group says, they will continue to do so.

Day disputed
Consumer Watchdog's claim that Valero earns excessive profits in
California. He said operating costs in the state also are high due in
large part to California's stringent environmental rules.

A Tesoro spokesman did not return calls.

Contact Rick Daysog at 916-321-1207 or rdaysog@sacbee.com