Tar sands refining in Southern California needs scrutiny, say environmentalists

Oil refiners are sending greater amounts of an especially dirty crude oil product called “tar sands” to their Southern California refineries.

Now environmental groups want regulators to take a closer look

Tar sands hold a kind of semi-solid petroleum. To refine it enough for California standards takes more processing. Oil companies – including Valero, Tesoro and Conoco Phillips – say they’re bringing in more of this raw material because liquid petroleum in California is drying up.

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.