Who Owns California 2018: Big Oil and the Western States Petroleum Association

By Dan Bacher | June 19, 2018 |   

This is an expanded and revised version of a short presentation that I made on June 14 along with four other panelists at a Poor Peoples Campaign (PPC) teach-in entitled: “This Is What Money Buys: Who Controls California?" in Sacramento. For more information about the PPC, go to the national website at: www.poorpeoplescampaign.org

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) is not a household name in California, but it should be. It’s the trade association for the oil industry and the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying organization in the state. if  you want to know the industries, organizations and people that control California, WSPA and Big Oil are right at the top of the list.

WSPA represents a who’s who of oil companies including oil giants Chevron, Exxon, Occidental Petroleum and many others.  The companies that WSPA represents account for the bulk of petroleum exploration, production, refining, transportation and marketing in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, according to the WSPA website, www.wspa.org.

WSPA and Big Oil wield their power in 6 major ways: through (1) lobbying; (2) campaign spending; (3) serving on and putting shills on regulatory panels; (4) creating Astroturf groups: (5) working in collaboration with media; and (6) contributing to non profit organizations.

1. Lobbying 

Over the past decade, WSPA and Big Oil have topped the list of spenders on lobbying the Legislature in California, the nation’s third largest oil producing state. During the 2015-2016 Legislative Session, the oil industry spent a historic $36.1 million to lobby lawmakers and officials in California.

WSPA was the top overall oil industry spender during the 2015-16 session, spending $18.7 million. Chevron, the second overall oil industry spender, spent $7 million in the 2015-16 session.  

In 2017, Big Oil also dominated three out of the four top spots of expenditures by all lobbying organizations. Chevron placed first with $8.2 million and the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) placed second with $6.2 million. Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company finished fourth with $3.2 million.  

That’s a total of $17.6 million dumped into lobbying by the three top oil industry lobbying organizations alone. That figure exceeds the $14,577,314 expended by all 16 oil lobby organizations in 2016. 

In the first six months of 2017, the oil industry spent more on lobbying in California, $16,360,618, in the first six months of 2017 than was spent by the industry in all of 2016, $16.0 million.  

This translates to an average of $2.7 million per month – $90,000 per day – according to a report compiled and written by William Barrett of the Lung Association in California. Over the past ten years, oil lobbying in California has topped $150 million: www.lung.org/...

With help from the "Big Oil Caucus," a group of oil industry-friendly Democrats in the State Legislature, the oil industry has been successful at halting other important bills aimed at better regulating its practices.

These bills included AB 356 (Williams), SB 248 (Pavley), and SB 484 (Allen). These bills would have reformed the state’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) program by requiring disclosure of chemicals used in well treatments or injections; ensuring that oil and gas projects do not contaminate aquifers containing water suitable for drinking and irrigation; requiring the State Water Board to review aquifer exemption applications; and/or requiring the shutdown of illegal injection wells if regulators fail to shut them down.

The industry also notably stopped a bill to protect the coast from oil spills, SB 788 sponsored by Senator Mike McGuire.

In 2017, the massive infusion of Big Oil money enabled it to push through Governor Jerry Brown’s AB 398, a bill based on a Western States Petroleum Association wish list that extends California’s controversial cap and trade program with provisions very favorable to the oil industry. The gusher of the oil industry also resulted in the shelving of SB 834, a bill banning any new pipelines and other infrastructure. (www.dailykos.com/...)

2. Campaign Spending

Big Oil has pumped $170 million into CA campaigns since 2001. WSPA and its members contributed more than $112 million to ballot measure campaigns, $8 million to state candidates, and $50 million to other California political action committees and party committees, according to a MapLight analysis of data from the California Secretary of State.

Chevron tops the list of political donors from WSPA's membership, contributing $89 million overall since 2001, the first year in which online data is available. Aera Energy has contributed the second most at roughly $40 million, and Valero is third at $13 million. For more information, go to: https://maplight.org/story/oil-and-gas-interests-pour-170-million-into-california-political-campaigns-since-2001/)

2015 saw the Rise of the “Big Oil Caucus” – a group of Assembly members including Henry Perea (now working as a lobbyist for the Western States Petroleum Association), who received $24,200 from Big Oil, Adam Gray, who received $23,400 and Jim Cooper, who received $24,200. Stop Fooling California revealed that the Big Oil has invested $3,070,480 in the Assembly “Big Oil Caucus,” based on Secretary of State data from direct contributions and Super PACs.

Big Oil also dumps a lot of money into local and regional campaigns. In 2014, Chevron alone spent $3 million (unsuccessfully) to elect their selected candidates to the Richmond City Council. The oil industry also dumped $7.6 million into defeating a measure calling for a fracking ban in Santa Barbara County and nearly $2 million into an unsuccessful campaign to defeat a measure banning fracking and other extreme oil extraction techniques in San Benito County during the November 2014 election. 

The oil industry spent a total of $266 million influencing California politics from 2005 to 2014, according to an analysis of California Secretary of State data by StopFoolingCA.org. The industry spent $112 million of this money on lobbying and the other $154 million on political campaigns: www.eastbayexpress.com/…  

While Governor Jerry Brown receives accolades for his frequent speeches at climate conferences around the world, he is in reality a recipient of millions of dollars of Big Oil and Big Gas money that has promoted the expansion of offshore and onshore drilling in California in his third and fourth terms as Governor. 

Consumer Watchdog's groundbreaking report, "Brown's Dirty Hands," reveals how Brown and his top appointees used the Democratic Party as a “slush fund, sucking in contributions from unpopular energy companies in close proximity, and sometimes on the same day, that his Administration helped those companies in controversial ways.”   

“Twenty-six energy companies including Occidental, Chevron, NRG and the state's three major investor-owned utilities - all with business before the state - donated $9.8 million to Jerry Brown's campaigns, causes, and initiatives, and to the California Democratic Party since he ran for Governor. Donations were often made within days or weeks of winning favors. The three major investor-owned utilities alone contributed nearly $6 million,” according to the report. “Between 2011 and 2014, the energy companies tracked by Brown's Dirty Hands donated $4.4 million to the Democratic Party, and the Democratic Party gave $4.7 million to Brown's re-election committee.”

3. Regulatory Panels & Commissions 

In California, oil and gas industry officials don’t just influence state officials. In a number of cases, oil industry leaders ARE the state regulators as they serve on regulatory panels and commissions.

In one classic example, the WSPA President, Catherine Reheis- Boyd, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create "marine protected areas" in Southern California from 2009 to 2012 - and served on the task forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast or North Coast from 2004 to 2012. (www.dfg.ca.gov/... 

While she oversaw the crafting "marine protected areas" that fail to protect the ocean from pollution, fracking, oil drilling, military testing, corporate aquaculture and all human impacts other than sustainable fishing and gathering, her husband, James Boyd, was vice chair of the California Energy Commission. (www.energy.ca.gov/...‎)

Big Oil also gets its buddies in key positions in regulatory agencies. In November 2011, Governor Brown fired two regulators, Derek Chernow, acting director of Department of Conservation, and his deputy, Elena Miller. Brown replaced Chernow with Mark Nechodom to expedite permits in Kern County,

Nechodom, in turn resigned in the summer of 2015 the day after Central Valley farmers filed a RICO lawsuit alleging that Governor Jerry Brown's office ordered the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources ("DOGGR") to approve permits to inject contaminated water in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

In October 2015, Governor Brown  announced the appointment of Bill Bartling, 61, of Bakersfield, who has worked as an oil industry executive and consultant, as district deputy for Bakersfield in the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) at the embattled California Department of Conservation. (yubanet.com/...)

4. Astroturf Groups 

Not only does Big Oil spend millions every year on lobbying and campaign contributions, but it funds "Astroturf" campaigns to oppose and weaken environmental laws.

"Astroturfing" is the practice, used often by powerful corporate interests, of masking the sponsors of a message or organization to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participant(s). 

Leaked documents provided to Northwest Public Radio, Business Week, and other media outlets in 2014 exposed a campaign by the Western States Petroleum Association to fund and coordinate a network of “Astroturf” groups to oppose environmental laws and local campaigns against fracking in California, Washington, and Oregon.

This network was revealed in a PowerPoint presentation from a November 11, 2014 presentation to the Washington Research Council given by Reheis-Boyd. (www.indybay.org/...

The network featured a total of 16 “Astroturf” groups, including the California Drivers Alliance, Fed Up at The Pump, Californians Against Higher Taxes, Save Our Jobs, Washington Consumers for Sound Fuel Policy, AB 32 Implementation Group, Tank the Tax, Oregonians for Sound Fuel Policy, Californians for Affordable & Reliable Energy, Fueling California and California Fuel Facts.

5. Media Complicity with Big Oil

Both mainstream and “alternative” media have done a poor job to date covering the connections between fracking and other extreme oil extraction methods and Big Oil money and power in Sacramento. (www.projectcensored.org/...)

Nor will you see much media coverage of how the Los Angeles Times and the California Resources Corporation, an Occidental Petroleum spinoff, recently teamed up to create "Powering California," a Big Oil propaganda campaign website. (www.indybay.org/...)

Clean Energy California broke the story on their twitter page when they published an October 27 tweet from Western States Petroleum Association President Catherine Reheis-Boyd promoting the new site.
Reheis-Boyd tweeted, "Learn how California's #energy industry is quietly elevating the middle class & improving our quality of life: poweringcalifornia.com"

6. Donating to non-profit organizations

Chevron and other oil and gas corporations spend millions on funding non-profit groups to extend their realm of influence.

For example, Richmond Chevron contributed $6,915,190 in 2015 alone, including $3,888,750 for economic development; 2,339,879 for education; $444,261 for youth and public safety; and $242,300 for civic and community.

Since 2012, Richmond Chevron has “invested” $25 million in local non-profit groups. (http://richmond.chevron.com/docs/2015_Community_Giving.pdf)

Capture of the Regulators from top to bottom — and what you can do about it

What do all six methods used by the oil industry to influence California politicians and regulators buy? They buy deep regulatory capture — the capture of the regulators by the regulated — from top to bottom.

As a result, only one bill opposed by the oil industry has made it out of the legislature to the Governor’s Desk in the past three years. 

At the same time as the oil industry has pumped millions of dollars every year into lobbying and campaign expenditures,  there has been a massive expansion of new oil and gas drilling under administration of Governor Jerry Brown. A reportpublished on May 22, 2018, by Oil Change International, in collaboration with California-based and national environmental justice and climate groups, reveals how California’s climate leadership requires a managed ramp-down of oil production.

A review of state permitting records in the report “The Sky’s The Limit: California,” shows that more than 20,000 drilling permits, including permits for 12,000 new wells, have been issued during the Brown administration. These wells include 238 new offshore wells approved between 2012 and 2016 alone, according to Department of Conservation data analyzed by the Fractracker Alliance: www.fractracker.org/… 

“The Sky’s The Limit: California” provides new data findings on the climate and budgetary impacts of three related policies:

  • Ceasing the permitting of new oil and gas extraction wells;
  • Implementing a 2,500-foot health and safety buffer around homes, schools, and hospitals in which existing wells would phase out; and
  • Placing a Just Transition Fee on oil extraction in the state exclusively dedicated to supporting affected workers and communities through the transition to clean energy

“We need to keep dirty fossil fuels in the ground to avert climate and health catastrophe, but California continues to hand out new drilling permits like candy,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “This devil-may-care approach to oil extraction threatens to sabotage not just our state’s climate progress, but the world’s. That’s why we’re demanding Governor Brown halt new drilling in California and create a just transition plan to phase it out as soon as possible.” 

On April 11, more than 750 public interest groups from California and around the world kicked off a campaign urging Governor Brown to stop the build-out of dirty fossil fuel infrastructure, keep oil and gas in the ground, and “take immediate action to protect those most vulnerable to climate change or lose their support for the global climate action summit” that he will host September 12-14, 2018, in San Francisco.

For more information and to sign a petition telling Governor Jerry Brown to commit California to no new fossil fuels, you can go to: http://brownslastchance.org

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