Unmasked: The Oil Industry Campaign to Undermine California’s Clean Energy Future

  • A variety of climate and clean energy measures that are part of California’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) are reducing California’s oil dependence, transportation costs, and pollution-related health bills. But with the petroleum fuels sector scheduled to begin paying for its portion of climate pollution in January 2015, oil companies have intensified their campaign to undermine the clean energy policies that will reduce their market share.
  • NRDC has identified at least eight front groups appearing to be grassroots organizations speaking for consumers or broad coalitions, but they have strong ties to the oil industry. Oil companies such as Chevron, Shell, ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips are working against California’s clean energy policies, often through the industry’s trade association, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA).
  • The oil companies’ campaign to maintain their profits and continue California’s dependence on petroleum-based fuels has been supported by more than $70 million of oil money spent on lobbying in California since 2009.
  • Reversing or delaying the scheduled inclusion of transportation fuels — which account for nearly 40 percent of California’s climate pollution — under the state’s emissions cap, as the oil industry and its front groups advocate, would undermine clean energy progress, keeping Californians more dependent on oil and more vulnerable to roller-coaster gas prices.

California’s Climate Policies Reduce Dependence on Oil

California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) has put the state on a pathway to reduce harmful carbon pollution to 1990 levels by 2020 and beyond. By 2030, AB 32’s clean energy policies will enable California to:

  • Save more than $2,000 per household on gasoline each year due to more efficient cars that go farther on a gallon, greater fuel competition, cheaper fuels like clean electricity, and better access to transit;
  • Reduce carbon pollution by 150 million tons every year compared with business as usual, which is equal to halving the emissions of all cars and trucks on the road in California;
  • Eliminate 14 billion miles driven annually, thanks to more sustainable communities with walkable neighborhoods and expanded public transit; and
  • Save well over $8 billion on health care costs due to fewer asthma attacks, cardiac hospitalizations, and premature deaths from poor air quality.

The Oil Industry’s (Renewed) Campaign Against AB 32

California’s transportation fuel providers are slated in January 2015 to join the state’s other major polluting industries (such as power plants and cement factories) already under the cap-and-trade emissions limits. Including the emissions from transportation fuels like gasoline under the statewide cap has been in the works for almost a decade.

The cap-and-trade system places an upper limit on greenhouse gas emissions (cap) and requires polluters to either reduce their pollution or buy or trade a diminishing number of pollution allowances (trade). The proceeds from selling pollution allowances to large emitters fund projects that further reduce emissions in California, and at least one-quarter of the funds must benefit disadvantaged communities, which are disproportionately affected by climate pollution.

Rather than investing in cleaner sources of energy, more efficient production and refining processes, and less-polluting products that would reduce climate pollution and improve air quality for California’s residents, the oil industry has invested in a front group-led marketing campaign to avoid being held accountable for its pollution. Since 2009, the oil companies have spent more than $70 million on lobbying in the state.

A Better Future Is Possible

Despite the oil industry’s opposition, Californians and their elected leaders are engaged in building a better future, with clean and affordable solutions that reduce dependence on oil. AB 32 invests the proceeds from pollution permit sales in programs that will cut carbon pollution and reduce Californians’ fuel bills, with an emphasis on projects that deliver benefits to the state’s most disadvantaged communities. Californians should see the oil industry’s latest campaign attacking AB 32 for what it is: a thinly veiled attempt to maintain their share of the market and avoid responsibility for the fuel sector’s climate pollution.