Oil industry’s spending surged as it fought California climate bill


BY JEREMY B. WHITE | November 2, 2015

Oil companies who succeeded in weakening a California climate change bill massively increased their lobbying spending during the final chunk of the Legislature’s calendar, shelling out nearly $11 million to persuade lawmakers and to run a media campaign.

A centerpiece of Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats’ agenda, Senate Bill 350 became the target of a fierce opposition campaign from oil companies that targeted Democrats considered politically vulnerable and warned about gas rationing. In the end, bill backers succumbed, removing a provision that would have mandated a 50 percent cut in petroleum usage. 


This March 9, 2010 file photo shows a tanker truck passing
the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, Calif. Paul Sakuma AP


Newly filed lobbying disclosures illuminate the scope of the industry’s blitz from the start of the July to the end of September, a period that encompasses the frantic final stretch of the legislative session.

A pair of industry associations and a handful of oil companies combined to spend $10.7 million in the third quarter.

Leading the way was the Western States Petroleum Association, which spent $6.7 million, more than double what it had spent in the prior two quarters, to bring its total on the year to $9.2 million.

Valero spent $582,000, up from the comparatively paltry $48,000 it had spent earlier in the year. Exxon spent around $414,000 in the final quarter, just under double the $223,000 it had deployed earlier.

Combined with the $5.4 million that oil companies that lobbied on SB 350 reported spending earlier in the year, the new figures bring the industry’s total influence outlay for 2015 to $16.1 million.

Oil interests weren’t the only ones spending big. Environmentalists hoping to curb climate change have a powerful ally in Tom Steyer, who channeled millions from his personal fortune into passing an energy-efficiency-promoting ballot initiative in 2012 and beating back a 2010 attempt to undo California’s cap-and-trade system.

Steyer’s NextGen Climate reported spending nearly $1.2 million in the third quarter of 2015, bringing its total to around $1.9 million for the year.

Utility companies had a huge stake in a provision requiring them to derive half of their electricity from renewable sources in coming years. They spent heavily but saw their cumulative total decline in the third quarter.

Pacific Gas & Electric Company, Southern California Edison and Sempra Energy, which oversees San Diego Gas and Electric Company, spent a combined $1.3 million on lobbying in the year’s third quarter, bringing their total to around $3.2 million on the year.

Much of the spending surge was filed under “other payments to influence,” a catch-all category that can include the advertising spots that targeted some lawmakers. The Western States Petroleum Association spent $6.1 million of its $6.7 million total on that category, while NextGen climate spent $1.08 million of a $1.18 million total on it. Around 81 percent of the oil industry’s outlay, or $8.7 million out of $10.7 million, went to the category.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543@CapitolAlert

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