Big Gas and Big Oil spent a record $27 million lobbying in California in 2023!



By Dan Bacher | 

Chevron topped fossil fuel lobbying expenses with $11.3 million in 2023

Big Oil and Big Gas spent an all-time record of $27,003,931 on lobbying in 2023 in the “green” and “progressive” state of California. The lobbying expenditures for the last quarter alone were $4,983,305. 

Chevron topped all other oil corporations in lobbying spending in 2023 with a total of $11,196,342 for the year. That includes $4,924,088 spent in the first quarter, $1,204,139 in the second quarter, $3,866,296 in the third quarter and $1,201,819 in the fourth quarter.

The Western States Petroleum Association, the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in the state, finished second in oil industry lobbying expenditures with $6,935,428 spent on lobbying in 2023.  WSPA spent $2,380,275 in the first quarter, $1,561,555 in the second quarter, $1,381,995 in the third quarter and $1,611,603 in the third quarter: cal-access.sos.ca.gov/

Another big fossil fuel lobbying spender, Aera Energy, spent a total of $1,660,836 for the year, including $627,892 in the first quarter, $111,403 in the second quarter, $788,192 in the third quarter, and $133,349 in the fourth quarter.

You can see the oil and gas industry lobbying expenses, including those by Chevron, WSPA and Aera, here: https://cal-access.sos.ca.gov/Lobbying/Employers/list.aspx?view=category&fbclid=IwAR2wAaVwwH0_1yLppeqwZiGuvKrjjUoeJo_BCGZ6QZv0hOymlLsL9pHms64  

Total fossil fuel lobbying expenses in just first three quarters of 2023 exceeded all of 2022

The total oil and gas money spent on lobbying just for the first three quarters of 2023 was $21,973,138, according to data posted on the California Secretary of State’s website. That topped the total oil and gas industry lobbying expenses for 2022 — $18 million.   

Lobbying disclosures from Quarter 3, representing lobbying between July 1 - September 30, 2023, reveal that oil companies and trade associations spent more than $7.2 million on influence-related activities in an all out effort to kill California climate bills and hold Big Oil accountable, according to data compiled by the Climate Center.

The top three lobbying spenders — Chevron, the Western States Petroleum Association, and Aera Energy – far outspent all others in the oil and gas industry. – “Their filings depict opposition to a number of key pieces of climate  and energy related legislation, including SBX 1-2 implementation, AB 1167SB 252SB 253SB 261, as well as numerous other bills,” the Center reported.

“These bills would all hold the oil industry accountable in various ways – either through transparency, financially, or both – and in the case of SB 252 would have called on the state’s public pension funds to divest from fossil fuels. Among them, only SB 252 failed to pass,” according to the Climate Center.   

Chevron topped industry spending with $3,866,296 spent in third quarter

The San Ramon-based oil giant Chevron topped third quarter fossil fuel industry lobbying expenditures, doling out a total of $3,866,296 in the third quarter. Of that, $71,192.89 of their influence spending went to the WSPA and another $2.18 million to WSPA front group Californians for Energy Independence.

“Oil and gas corporations are raking in record profits and using that money to subvert our democracy,” said Woody Hastings, Phase Out Polluting Fuels Program Manager for The Climate Center. “For them, climate delay is the new denial — and it’s just as deadly. It’s time for Governor Newsom to break Big Oil’s grip on Sacramento. He should start by eliminating tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel corporations in next year’s state budget. Taxpayers shouldn’t be footing the bill for oil lobbyists and PR stunts.”

In addition to lobbying against top priority climate bills, Chevron’s lobbying focused on promoting hydrogen and carbon capture, while also lobbying against SJR 2, a resolution calling for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty, which successfully passed in the California legislature, the Center stated.

“The company also lobbied against a bill, SB 1305, that would offer civil penalties to companies that defraud the voluntary carbon offsets market. For hydrogen, the company on the one hand lobbied to promote the technology, while on the other hand lobbied against SB 1550, which would mandate that all hydrogen produced in California by 2045 be green hydrogen, or hydrogen made exclusively via renewable energy,” the group said. 

WSPA placed second in third quarter with $1,381,995 spent

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the Sacramento-headquartered trade association for Big Oil and the most powerful corporate lobbying group in California, placed second in fossil fuel industry lobbying expenditures with $1,381,995 spent lobbying the Legislature and other state officials in 2023's third quarter.  

“Beyond lobbying against the highest profile climate bills, WSPA lobbied on multiple aspects of SBX 1-2 implementation, legislation promoted early in 2023 by Governor Gavin Newsom and signed into law to hold Big Oil accountable for record-high gas prices at the pump faced by California drivers,” the Center said.

Aera Energy LLC, the Bakersfield-based natural gas, oil exploration and production company that started as a joint venture between Shell and Mobil, placed third in the Big Oil lobbying spending spree. The company doled out $788,192 on lobbying influence spending, including $45,000 paid to the firm Caliber Strategies, a firm that employs a former senior advisor to California’s leading climate regulatory agency, the California Air Resources Board.

“That lobbyist, Virgil Welch – who worked alongside former CARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols – advocated for carbon capture technology on behalf of Aera. Further, Aera gave $686,880 to the oil industry front group Californians for Energy Independence during the third quarter,” the Center reported.

The third quarter top 10 lobbying spenders can be seen below:

Company

Spending

Chevron

$3,866,296.30

Western States Petroleum Association

$1,381,995.63

Aera Energy

$788,192.00

Phillips 66

$173,968.41

California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA)

$146,089.57

Marathon Petroleum

$121,539.03

Valero

$118,150.00

ExxonMobil

$91,606.38

California Resources Corporation

$75,000.00

BP

$74,074.49

Bill to end offshore oil drilling in state waters stopped by Big Oil

One significant bill that failed to make it out of the Legislature three years in a row was Senate Bill (SB) 559, Senator Dave Min’s legislation to end offshore oil drilling under existing leases in California state waters. WSPA and the oil companies lobbied heavily against the landmark bill, resulting in the killing of the bill by the Legislature for the third time in January of this year.

While there has long been a moratorium on the issuance of new oil drilling leases off the coast of California, oil production has continued for the past 40 years under existing leases that were first issued in the 1960s and 1970s.

“After the 2021 oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach, I promised I would fight to end offshore drilling once and for all. Today, I am proud to say that I am continuing to try and keep that promise,” Min said upon introducing the bill in February 2023.

As of October 1, 2021, there were a total of 150 reported permits issued for offshore oil wells in state waters under existing leases since January 1, 2019, according to an analysis posted at www.NewsomWellWatch.org by Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance. Five of these permits were for new drilling and the remaining 145 for reworks (including sidetracks and deepening operations).  

In February 2017, an analysis of Department of Conservation data by the Fractracker Alliance revealed that Governor Jerry Brown’s oil and gas regulators approved 238 new or reworked offshore oil wells in state waters under existing leases off Los Angeles and Ventura counties from 2012 to 2016, an increase of 17 percent: www.counterpunch.org/… 

Legislation to protect the Vandenberg Marine Reserve from offshore drilling in 2013 and 2014 was also stopped in the Legislature because of intense opposition by the oil industry.

In one of the clearest examples of deep regulatory capture in recent California history, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association, CHAIRED the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California at the same time that she lobbying for new offshore drilling in the same region. She also served on the MLPA Initiative task forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast: www.wspa.org/...

The “marine protected areas” created under the leadership of Reheis-Boyd and others on the task forces failed to protect the ocean from offshore drilling, fracking, pollution, seismic testing and other human impacts on the ocean than recreational and commercial fishing.

Groups slam oil industry for big gusher of oil lobbying money

Representatives of climate, environmental justice and public interest groups blasted Big Oil for their gusher of lobbying spending in 2023 to defeat key climate and environmental justice legislation. 

“They profit, our communities pay: this is how the oil and gas industry operates in California,” said Meghan Sahli-Wells, California Director for Elected Officials to Protect America, as well as the former Mayor of Culver City. “While Big Oil tells elected leaders that environmental protections are ‘too costly,’ they then turn around and spend lavishly on lobbying, and lie their way into polluting us more.

“Industry scientists have known the dangers of oil and gas extraction for decades, yet these corporations continually choose profits over people. The game is up. By standing together against the industry’s blatant lies, we will deliver the health and climate protections our communities justly deserve,” she argued.

“It’s no surprise that Big Oil is spending so much money attempting to block true clean energy solutions by delaying legislation that seeks to break our state’s dependence on fossil fuels, which put our environment and fellow Californians at risk every single day,” said Chirag Bhakta, California Director of Food & Water Watch.

“Governor Newsom must reject the industry’s attempts to buy their political power so they can continue to destroy the planet and have our tax dollars fund false climate solutions like carbon capture and sequestration and hydrogen. These false solutions will only keep California dependent on fossil fuels and further delay necessary, forward growth towards a truly renewable future,” Bhakta stated.

“First they price gouge us at the pump, then they buy themselves out of regulation, and then they poison our neighborhoods,” said Kobi Naseck, Coalition Director, Voices in Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods. “This is the Big Oil playbook, and it’s a deadly one.”

“But the tide is swiftly turning on Big Oil in Sacramento, and these huge numbers are the last ditch effort of this industry to plunder what they can while they still can. We will not be intimidated. The grassroots movement to end fossil fuels in California is stronger than any millions of dollars ever were,” he concluded.

“The fossil fuel industry is writing a blank check – for unlimited lobbying, destabilizing California's democratic governance, undermining California's climate legislation, and keeping workers’ pension money flowing to them,” said Shana DeClercq with Fossil Free California. “But there are more of us than there are of them. California’s teachers, students, workers, union members, families, and retirees deserve the biggest voice in California’s policies and legislation.” 

CalGEM has approved 15,722 new and reworked drilling permits since January 2019

Although a number of key climate bills managed to get through the Legislature despite the all-out lobbying spending frenzy by Big Oil in 2023, the oil and gas regulators in California, the seventh largest oil producing state in the nation, continued to issue new and reworked oil drilling permits.

The Newsom administration has approved a total of 15,789 new and reworked oil wells since January 2019. CalGEM, the state's oil and gas regulator, approved 2,064 total permits in 2023, including 25 new well permits and 2039 oil well rework permits.    

CalGEM, the state’s oil and gas regulator, “has gone rogue, approving hundreds of oil permits in vulnerable communities breathing poisonous emissions from both active and idle wells,” reported Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance. For a complete permit update, see: https://newsomwellwatch.com 

Why do California regulators continue to approve hundreds of new and reworked oil drilling permits each quarter as oil companies gouge Californians at the pumps?

It’s all due to regulatory capture by Big Oil and Big Gas in the “green” and “progressive” state of California. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), Chevron and the oil companies exercise their influence and power through a very sophisticated public relations machine in California and the U.S.  

WSPA describes itself as “non-profit trade association” that represents companies that account for the bulk of petroleum exploration, production, refining, transportation and marketing in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. WSPA’s headquarters is located right here on L Street in Sacramento.    

Since 2009 I have documented how WSPA and the oil companies wield their power in 8 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) sponsoring awards ceremonies and dinners, including those for legislators and journalists; (7) contributing to non profit organizations; and (8) creating alliances with labor unions, mainly construction trades.

The oil and gas industry spent over $34.2 million in the 2021-22 Legislative Session lobbying against SB 1137, legislation to mandate 3200 foot buffer zones around oil and gas wells, and other bills they were opposed to: cal-access.sos.ca.gov/…  

For the oil companies, this was just pocket change when you consider that combined profits of California oil refiners, including PBF Energy, Chevron, Marathon Petroleum, Valero, and Phillips 66, were $75.4 billion in 2022.  

The two biggest spenders were WSPA and Chevron. WSPA spent $11.7 million in the 2021-22 session, while Chevron spent a total of $8.6 million lobbying California officials.  





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