New alliance forms to challenge oil industry on Calif. climate law

Anne C. Mulkern, E&E reporter

Published: 

“Reprinted with permission. Copyright 2012, Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC,” www.ClimateWire.net

A battle is heating up between part of the oil industry and supporters of California’s climate law.

A new group has come together with the goal of fighting arguments made by Fueling California, an organization that is targeting the Golden State’s low-carbon fuel standard. That rule aims to grow use of alternatives to gasoline and diesel.

The alliance, called Stop Fooling California, launched last month and reached out Sunday to local communities at Los Angeles events tied to the Keystone XL pipeline protest in Washington, D.C.

Stop Fooling California said it needs to get the word out that the oil industry’s messages about California’s climate rules are inaccurate.

“They wanted to buy their way out of being regulated,” said Martha Arguello, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, a member of Stop Fooling California. “If we are going to change how we make and distribute energy, we are going to have to confront the power of the oil industry to stop our efforts.”

The new group comes forward as Fueling California steps up its efforts to stop or limit the low-carbon fuel standard. The group last month held a closed-door meeting to discuss how to tackle problems with that rule, which sets a goal of lowering fuels’ average carbon content 10 percent by 2020 (ClimateWire, Jan. 25).

Business groups want a ‘forum’

Fueling California unites Chevron Corp., United Airlines, Wal-Mart, UPS and other large fuel consumers. But a spokeswoman last month told the San Jose Mercury News that “the majority of our funding comes from Chevron.”

In an interview about the company’s membership in the group, Chevron spokesman Brent Tippen said that “we feel it’s important for businesses in the state that will be impacted [by the low carbon fuel standard] to have a forum” for discussing it. He added that Chevron has “one seat on the board.”

“There is a broad range of companies that are affected by California’s climate policies that are participating in discussions,” Tippen said.

However, according to a person who attended the closed-door meeting on the low-carbon fuel standard, there were no board members of Fueling California present other than Chevron. Other attendees included biofuels producers like Pacific Ethanol and Biodico, as well as natural gas companies and utilities, the attendee said (ClimateWire, Jan. 25).

The Western States Petroleum Association, an oil industry trade group, also is active in challenging the low-carbon rule. That group’s members include BP PLC, ConocoPhillips Co., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

Fueling California, according to its tax filing, took in about $290,000 in revenues in 2011, the most recent data available. The group spent roughly $327,760 on lobbying last year, according to the California Secretary of State.

Stop Fooling California is backed by the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Environment for a Better California, Consumer Action, the Coalition for Clean Air, Communities for a Better Environment, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Sierra Club.

The new group has not yet filed a tax return but concedes that its financial resources are smaller than those of the oil industry. Its strategy is to use social networking, team with community organizations and youth groups, and participate in environmental and climate-related events to reach supporters.

“We are taking our message to the public,” Arguello said, “We have to remind legislators who elects them.”

Several members of the alliance participated in rallies held Sunday in Los Angeles that were tied to the larger protest in Washington, D.C., urging a block on the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry crude from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

A group from Stop Fooling California joined about 1,000 people who marched from downtown Los Angeles’ historic Olvera Street to City Hall. Others participated in a similar rally at Loyola Marymount University in west Los Angeles.

“It was a great opportunity, a great solidarity to send a message here in California that we’re not going to put up with Big Oil putting profit over the health of our citizens and our environment,” said Matt Petersen, president and CEO of Global Green, a Los Angeles-based environmental nonprofit group.

Dueling messages

Stop Fooling California said its message will be that there are a “whole series of health benefits” related to the state’s climate law, Arguello said. That is meant to tackle what she said is Fueling California’s argument that the rules will hurt citizens.

“One of the main tactics has been to constantly raise this idea that California cannot afford to implement these climate regulations, that it will hurt the economy, that it will cost jobs,” Arguello said, adding that the oil group appears to want to “create the sense that we have to choose one or the other.”

“That’s the narrative and the story they want to tell,” that it is too expensive, she said. “They’ve said that about every major environmental” regulation. It is possible to both protect the environment and create jobs and buttress the economy, she asserted.

Tippen, the Chevron spokesman, argued that the state’s low-carbon fuel standard is an unworkable mandate.

Chevron, he said, has “researched 100 biofuel feedstocks and 50 unique conversion technologies,” and “at this time, it’s clear there won’t be enough to make the low-carbon fuel standard successful.”

“It’s not achievable at this time,” Tippen said. “We’re trying to put our emphasis into sound science.”

Fueling California and the Western States Petroleum Association are arguing that “additional research is needed to develop robust technologies,” Tippen said.

They also contend that there should not be a separate standard just in California, but instead, if there needs to be a rule, it should apply nationwide.

Senator Michael Rubio resigns to take job with Chevron

In yet one more example of the revolving door between government and huge corporations that defines politics in California now, State Senator Michael Rubio (D-Bakersfield) on February 22 suddenly announced he is resigning from office in order to take a “government affairs” position at Chevron.

Rubio, who was leading the charge to weaken the landmark California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and make it more friendly to corporations, said he resigned in order to spend more time with his family.

“I have realized that my current professional path has left little opportunity to be home for those who are most important to me, which is why I am making a change,” said Rubio. “Effective today, I am stepping away from my current position and resigning from the California State Senate.”

“As for what’s next, I have officially accepted a position with Chevron Corporation to serve as manager of California government affairs. I look forward to transitioning into a career that will allow me to seize a generational opportunity and work for a respected California company with deep roots in Kern County near the very oil fields where I was born, “ he said.

The surprise departure of Rubio leaves a third vacancy in the 40-person State Senate.

“In my absence, Senate staff will remain in the district and Capitol offices to respond to the needs of residents of the 16th State Senate District–as they have always done,” said Rubio.

Oil industry critics slam influence peddling

Stop Fooling California (http://www.stopfoolingca.org), an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies’ efforts to mislead and confuse Californians, responded to the Rubio’s announcement by saying, “It seems that Big Oil is attempting to buy ever more influence in Sacramento.”

“For too long Chevron and Big Oil have been trying to buy influence over our elected officials so they can keep gouging consumers, maintaining their oil monopoly, and polluting with impunity,” said Martha Dina Argüello, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles (PSR-LA).

Oil and gas companies spend more than $100 million a year to buy access to lawmakers in Washington and Sacramento, according to the group. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento, alone has spent more than $16 million lobbying in Sacramento since 2009.

Last quarter, Chevron made $3.3 million every hour. (http://grist.org/news/chevron-reports-record-profits-and-will-spend-some-of-them-undermining-california-pollution-standards)

“Given that Sen. Rubio comes from a place that suffers so much from the pollution caused by oil, I can only hope that he will help lead Chevron in a new direction, “said Kathryn Phillips, Director, Sierra Club California. “Perhaps he can persuade his new employer to stop working to tear apart the very regulations that the people in his district support because they will finally deliver on the promise of clean air and consumer choice.”

Oil industry lobbyist oversaw creation of “marine protected areas”

The announcement of a legislator leaving to work for an oil company takes place just two months after alleged “marine protected areas,” overseen by the President of the Western States Petroleum Association, a coastal real estate developer, a marina corporation executive and other corporate interests, went into effect on California’s North Coast.

These “marine protected areas,” created under the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, fail to protect the ocean from fracking, oil drilling, pollution, wind and wave energy projects, military testing and all human impacts other than fishing and gathering.

In a big scandal largely ignored by the mainstream media, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called marine protected areas on the South Coast that went into effect on January 1, 2012. She also served on the task forces to create “marine reserves” on the North Coast, North Central Coast and South Coast.

The current push by the oil industry to expand fracking in California, build the Keystone XL Pipeline and eviscerate environmental laws is only possible because state officials and MLPA Initiative advocates greenwashed the key role Reheis-Boyd and the oil industry played in creating marine protected areas that don’t protect the ocean.

Reheis-Boyd apparently used her role as a state marine “protection” official to increase her influence in California politics to the point where the Western States Petroleum Association has become the most powerful corporate lobby in California. (http://www.californiaprogressreport.com/site/lawsuit-filed-against-fracking-oil-lobbyist-says-its-safe)

The best “democracy” money can buy

Now we witness the case of a legislator, Senator Michael Rubio, going to work as a “government affairs” representative for Chevron. This will allow Big Oil to buy even more influence in Sacramento that it has already.

Rubio’s departure shows you that in California, we have the best “democracy” that money can buy – and is one more example that proves the absurdity of the myth that California is a “green,” “environmentally friendly” state.

After all, Governor Jerry Brown and Natural Resources Secretary John Laird have continued and expanded the most environmentally destructive policies of the Schwarzenegger administration. They have fast-tracked the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the fish-killing peripheral tunnels, presided over record water exports to corporate agribusiness and Southern California in 2011, and authorized a record “salvage” of 9 million Sacramento splittail and over 2 million other fish including Central Valley salmon, steelhead, striped bass and threadfin shad the same year.

Their list of environmental “accomplishments” includes overseeing the decline of Delta smelt and five other fish species in 2012, presiding over the annual stranding of endangered coho salmon on the Scott and Shasta rivers, clear cutting forests in the Sierra Nevada, and embracing the corruption and conflicts of interests that infest California environmental processes and government bodies ranging from the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to the regional water boards. (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/01/09/1177724/-Cold-Dead-Fish-Awards-2012-Go-To-Jerry-Brown-Secretary-John-Laird)