CA legislators responsible for SB 467's defeat received $288,607 from fossil fuel interests

By Dan Bacher | 

On April 27, Amy Moas of Greenpeace began a series of pieces profiling some of the many ways that the fossil fuel industry exerts pressure across California’s government with a well-written and well-researched piece, “California’s Fossil Fuel Friendships – Part 1. Votes for Polluters over People.”  

“Through lobbying, insider influence, campaign spending and more, the fossil fuel industry has secured friends within the Governor’s office, and at the legislative and regulatory levels resulting in cuts to public health and climate ambitions,” she wrote:

In her first piece, she reported on the 4 lawmakers holding up crucial health protections for more than 2 million Californians living near drilling, focusing on two bills —  AB 345 in 2020 and SB467 in 2021- that would have required health and safety setbacks around oil and gas wells for the first time.

Official findings compiled by Moas reveal that those four lawmakers — State Senator Majority Leader Robert Hertzberg, Senator Ben Hueso, Senator Susan Eggman and Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins — received a total of $288,607 in donations from the oil and gas industry.

As is often the case with both the mainstream and “alternative” media, I saw very little coverage of this excellent report on Big Oil regulatory capture in California, so I felt I need to highlight her coverage here.

“While California has the reputation as a trailblazer on environmental protections and climate action, the influence of the fossil fuel industry within the state’s political apparatus goes deep,” she wrote. “During the nine quarters of 2019, 2020 and the beginning of 2021, years of record fires and visible signs of our climate crisis, the oil and gas industry spent more than $37.5 million lobbying all levels of the California government. Just Chevron, Aera Energy, Western State Petroleum Association, and California Resources Corporation alone reportedly spent more than $10 million lobbying throughout the state,” citing my February 17 article in Counterpunch. 

“It is not hyperbole to say that more than 2 million Californians are breathing more toxic and unhealthier air in part because of the role of a small number of key Democratic state senators over the last two years,” Moas wrote.

Her report reveals that Hertzberg, according to official findings, received $82,757 from the fossil fuel industry, Hueso received $46,600 from the oil and gas industry, Susan Talamantes Eggman received $51,400 from the fossil fuel industry, and Toni Atkins received a total of $107,000 from the oil and gas industry throughout her career. Below are her findings on the first three legislators:

Robert Hertzberg: “Official filings show Senator Hertzberg having received $82,757 from the fossil fuel industry. However, by other accounts, Senator Hertzberg has taken almost $250,000 throughout his career from the fossil fuel industry, which includes direct donations, PACs, elaborate overseas trips and more.

Ben Hueso: “Official filings show Senator Hueso has received $46,600 from the oil and gas industry during his career.Hueso also has behested tens of thousands of dollars from the fossil fuel industry throughout his political career (when California politicians raise money from outside groups and then donate it to other nonprofits) which is just another form of money influencing politics.”

Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman: “A moderate Democrat representing the 5th Senate District in the Central Valley, has received a collective $51,400 from the oil and gas industry, including Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Tesoro, and the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA).”

Moas points out that in both 2020 and 2021 Hertzberg, Hueso, and Eggman would be key votes (and abstentions) “to defeat public health and environmental justice bills that would have protected over 2 million Californians — overwhelmingly Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and working class communities — from the health harms of neighborhood drilling.”   

California state bills AB 345 in 2020 and SB467 in 2021, which I wrote a series of articles about, would have paved the way for a 2,500-foot public health and safety buffer zone to protect communities from the health harms of fossil fuel extraction sites. These sites “emit harmful pollutants, such as hydrogen sulfide and known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors including benzene and formaldehyde,” according to Moas.

Other states, including Texas, North Dakota, Colorado, New Mexico and Pennsylvania, require minimum public health setbacks around oil and gas wells. However, California, a state that is often portrayed as the nation’s “green” and “progressive” leader, has zero setbacks between oil and gas wells and homes, schools, child care centers, hospitals and other facilities.

Unlike in other states, oil and gas companies can drill a well right next to somebody’s house in “green” California.

Unfortunately, both bills were stopped in the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee by a few key State Senate votes.

In 2021, Senators Hertzberg, Hueso, and Caballero joined Republican senators to defeat AB 345. In 2021, Senators Hertzberg and Hueso refused to vote on SB 467, while Susan Eggman sided with Senate Republicans to ultimately defeat the bill, according to Moas.

“Senator Susan Eggman, who campaigned as a climate champion with support from many organizations in the state and in her community, not only voted against SB467 but also sealed the fate of the bill, when she refused to add her support despite amendments that would have  given the bill another shot at passing in committee,” reported Moas. 

Toni Atkins: As the Senate President pro Tempore whose role is to set the legislative agenda and organize the votes around key pieces of legislation, Toni Atkins has also had a “notable role” in the repeated defeat of these public health protections, reported Moas.

“Senator Atkins, representing the 39th Senate District encompassing most of San Diego, has incredible ties to the oil and gas industry, taking over $107,000 throughout her career — providing a clue to the answer — who’s priorities is she serving?” asked Moas.

In addition, Moas reveals that Senate Democrats voting against SB467 in 2021 received 16 times as much political contributions from the oil and gas industry compared to those who voted in support of the bill. 

“A small handful of state senators including Hertzberg, Hueso, Eggman and Atkins are part of the reason our state has failed to address environmental racism and a public health crisis two years in a row. We must find a way to hold our elected officials accountable to protecting frontline communities and looking beyond their cozy ties with the fossil fuel industry toward the long term livability of our planet,” concluded Moas. 

Four oil industry lobbyist employers pumped $10.2 million into lobbying in 2020 

The campaign contributions that Moas reported on in her first article are just one of the seven methods that Big Oil uses in California to exercise inordinate influence over California regulators. 

The Western States Petroleum Association, the trade association for the oil industry and the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in California, and Big Oil wield their power in 7 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; (6) creating alliances with labor unions; and (7) contributing to non profit organizations.  

Four oil industry lobbyist employers alone— the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), Chevron, Aera Energy and California Resources Corporation — spent $10,192,047 lobbying the Governor’s Office, Legislature and regulatory agencies to advance Big Oil’s agenda in 2020, according to data posted on the California Secretary of State’s website on February 1.

The Western States Petroleum Association, the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying organization in California, spent a total of $4,267,181, less than half of the $8.8 million that it spent in 2019.  

The inordinate influence by Big Oil on California politicians and regulators has resulted an expansion of oil and gas drilling permits in the state under Governors Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom — and widespread air, ground and water pollution with huge health impacts on mostly Black and Brown communities living near oil and gas wells.

Oil industry spent over $4.3 million on lobbying in 2021’s first quarter

More recently, Aaron Cantu in Capital and Main wrote that the oil industry spent more than $4.3 million on lobbying in the first quarter of 2021:…

Cantu said a “significant portion” of it was used “to oppose legislation that would bolster the state’s progress toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions, impose tighter regulations for industrial accidents and ensure justice for communities most impacted by pollution and climate change.” 

My research reveals that the Western States Petroleum Association topped oil industry spenders in the first quarter of 2021 with $1,341,074 spent on lobbying in California. Chevron finished second with $1,266,285 spent on lobbying in the state.  

Only in California: Big Oil lobbyist led ‘marine protection’ process

Another technique the oil industry uses to capture California government is placing oil industry executives, lobbyists and shills in key positions in regulatory agencies and on regulatory panels.

In one of the biggest environmental scandals in California politics of the past 20 years, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force from 2009 to 2012 to create so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California at the very same time that she was lobbying for new oil drilling in the same region.

Some “environmental” NGOs praised the initiative as “open, transparent and inclusive” even though it was anything but. The privately-funded process created “marine protected areas” that fail to protect the ocean from offshore drilling, fracking, military testing, energy projects, pollution and other human impacts on the ocean besides sustainable fishing. 

A recent report by Kyle Ferrar of the Fractracker Alliance confirms my extensive reporting on how the MLPA Initiative in Southern California did little or nothing to protect the marine environment from oil and gas drilling:… 

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