Category Archives: Big Oil

Big Oil aims to buy democracy in WA State

Repost from Sightline Institute 
This article is part of the series Look Who’s Taking Oil & Coal Money 

BIG OIL AIMS TO BUY DEMOCRACY IN WASHINGTON

Local Northwest elections targeted with huge fossil fuel spending.
By Eric de Place, October 25, 2017 6:30 am
Bow of oil tanker by Roy Luck used under CC BY 2.0

With no statewide races or federal level races, 2017 is supposed to be an “off” year election. But for the fossil fuel industry and their allies it’s proving to be a spending bonanza. Coal, oil, and railroad shippers have dumped a jaw-dropping $1.5 million into three relatively small caliber Washington races: a Vancouver port commission seat, a state senate race in suburban King County, and a Spokane city ballot initiative.

Coal, oil, and railroad shippers have dumped a jaw-dropping $1.5 million into three relatively small caliber Washington races.

The big media story this election has been at the Port of Vancouver, where the oil company Tesoro aims to build a 360,000 barrel-per-day oil train facility called Vancouver Energy. Two of the three port commissioners back the project, but the outcome of the election could change that. Candidate Don Orange is likely to join current port commissioner Eric LaBrant in opposing Tesoro’s plans, and they could end the project by declining to renew the company’s lease.

Running against Orange is Kris Greene with heavy backing from the company he would be responsible for permitting. So far, the project’s backer has contributed a staggering $370,000 to Greene, far and away the largest corporate donation in the history of Vancouver’s port and the largest direct donation to any candidate in all of Washington in 2017. This princely sum comes on top of a $162,000 independent expenditure from Enterprise WA Jobs, a political action committee (PAC). The biggest donors to the PAC this year are none other than Tesoro to the tune of $200,000 and BNSF with $215,000, the two companies who profit from the terminal’s operations.

Reports from the Columbian newspaper have also revealed a shocking degree of coordination between Greene and his oil business sponsors. In effect, Tesoro has operated Greene’s campaign, doing everything from writing his press releases to speaking for the campaign to hiring DC-based communications firms with connections to some of the worst anti-environmental campaigns in the nation. (Tesoro is no stranger to big spending for right-wing spending in Washington, but 2017 marks a new level of aggression for the Texas oil company.) In September, Greene’s former campaign manager Robert Sabo even quit because of Tesoro’s outside influence on the campaign. He told the Columbian in an article earlier this month “Big Oil is completely dictating where every penny is going.”

Meanwhile, a state senate race on the eastside of Lake Washington is setting new spending records. The match in the 45th district pits Republican Jinyoung Englund against Democrat Manka Dhingra in a contest that could have major implications for the state legislature. If Dhingra wins, the Senate will flip to the Democrats, giving them majorities in both houses along with control of the governor’s office. Democratic control would likely take action on long-stalled environmental priorities like oil transportation safety requirements, funding for toxic waste cleaning up and prevention, or statewide clean energy investments.

A trio of right-wing PACs are spending big to support Republican Englund with a combined $820,000. The same Enterprise WA Jobs PAC playing in the Vancouver race is also spending big in the 45th. Beyond the hundreds of thousands from Tesoro and BNSF, the PAC has another $100,000 from Chevron and $25,000 from Koch Industries (the fossil fuel company of Koch Brothers notoriety). Meanwhile, the Citizens for Progress Enterprise WA PAC is registering another $350,000 from Texas oil company Phillips 66. And the Leadership Council PAC shows yet more oil and railroad money: $25,000 more from Tesoro, $20,000 from BNSF, and $10,000 from Union Pacific.

Backing Democrat Dhingra are the New Directions PAC and the Working Families PAC, with funding from State Democratic Campaign Committee, The Leadership Council, state unions, the Washington Conservation Voters, and big national names like Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer.

In Spokane, a citizen’s ballot initiative, Proposition 2, proposes to levy fees on coal and oil trains that pass through the city. It has garnered predictable opposition from fossil fuel companies, as well as the railroads that ship their products. So far, the industry’s PAC has $180,454 worth of contributions, including an eyebrow-raising October contribution of $39,500 from Lighthouse Resources, the struggling company behind a Longview coal terminal development that was effectively killed by state permitting agencies in September. Lighthouse had previously given $25,000 to the PAC, an amount that was matched by Cloud Peak, a company that exports modest volumes of coal via a terminal in British Columbia, as well as Tesoro, and the railroads BNSF and Union Pacific.

The Northwest is proving to be the graveyard of ambitions for coal, oil, and gas schemes as a region-wide groundswell of opposition has fought back project after project. Now, stymied at every turn, the fossil fuel industry is deploying what may be its most dangerous weapon: piles of cash and a willingness to overwhelm democratic institutions, even at a local level. If the “off” year elections of 2017 prove successful for Big Oil, there is every reason to think the industry will play hardball in the big ticket races of 2018.

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EARTHTALK: Where Do Vice President Candidates Pence & Kaine Stand on Environment?

Repost from Earthtalk

Where Do Vice President Candidates Pence & Kaine Stand on Environment?

By John McReynolds, 08/13/2016

Dear EarthTalkWhere do the Vice President choices for the upcoming Presidential election (Tim Kaine and Mike Pence) stand in terms of environmental track record and commitment?

Mitchell Finan, Butte, MT

Not surprisingly given the current political climate, the respective Vice Presidential candidates differ on most of the issues, including their policies on the environment and energy.

kaine pence sml 400x267 Where Do Vice President Candidates Pence & Kaine Stand on Environment?
The two Vice Presidential candidates (Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Pence) could hardly be father apart on their respective stances on conservation, environment, energy and what to do about climate change. Credit: Joel Rivlin, Gage Skidmore

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton’s VP choice Tim Kaine has opposed big oil companies since his career as Virginia State Senator. He first endorsed a “25% renewables by 2025” goal back in 2007, and has continued his staunch support ever since. He has been a champion of diversifying America’s energy portfolio. “We’re not going to drill our way out of the long-term energy crisis facing this nation and the world… we can’t keep relying oil,” said Kaine back in 2008. He reinforced this position again in his 2012 Senate race by arguing against tax subsidies for major oil companies.

As far as environmental protection, he has not shown much of a track record in support or against. In May of 2013, he did vote affirmatively on a bill to protect ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), which puts out an annual national environmental scorecard for politicians, has attributed a 91 percent lifetime score to Kaine, clearly naming him as one of our nation’s leading politicians. More recently, in late 2015, Kaine voted against a bill that attacked Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon pollution limits. Of course, a Republican dominated Congress passed the bill anyway, although President Obama quickly vetoed it to maintain stricter limits on carbon pollution.

Across the aisle, Donald Trump’s VP selection, Mike Pence, lacks any sort of environmental agenda in his political career. The LCV gives him a lifetime score of only four percent, meaning he is no friend of the environment. Pence, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001-2013 when he assumed the Indiana governorship, voted against a “Cash for Clunkers” recycling program in 2009 and also voted no on a bill improving public transportation in 2008. Meanwhile, he voted affirmatively for deauthorizing critical habitat zones and approving forest thinning projects in 2005 and 2003, respectively.

As for energy policy, Pence supported the “25% renewable energy…” goal in 2007 like his opponent Kaine. However, since then, he has supported offshore drilling, opposed EPA regulation of greenhouse gases and voted without any environmental conscience. He also voted against incentives for alternative fuels, for the construction of new oil refineries, and against criminalizing oil cartels such as OPEC.

“I think the science is very mixed on the subject of global warming,” Pence stated in 2009. His record of the environment since then reflects his continued skepticism toward environmental protection efforts.

For environmentalists, Kaine is the obvious choice over Pence, which is no surprise given the Presidential candidates who selected each of them as running mates. While Hillary Clinton may have focused more attention on other political issues over her career, she has continuously supported environmental protection and the transition away from fossil fuels, while Donald Trump has fought environmental restrictions on his ability to operate his real estate empire and recently told reporters he would consider reneging on U.S. commitments to reduce greenhouse gases made at the recent Paris climate summit.

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Big Oil’s scorched-earth legal approach to climate change

Repost from iPolitics

Big Oil’s scorched-earth legal approach to climate change

By Keith Stewart, March 14, 2016
Alberta oilsands
A highway loops around the southeast end of Mildred Lake at a Syncrude facility as seen from a helicopter tour of the oilsands near Fort McMurray, Alta., on July 10, 2012. Jeff McIntosh, The Canadian Press

I want to believe the oil company CEOs who say they’ve seen the light and now support action on climate change. I really do.

But it’s hard to take them at their word when their lawyers are simultaneously engaged in what one legal scholar has called “the first case in which a party has challenged the constitutional validity of any federal greenhouse gas regulations.”

A consortium of seven oil companies is challenging the right of the federal government to adopt a regulation designed to substitute renewable energy for fossil fuels — in part on the grounds that “that the production and consumption of petroleum fuels is not dangerous and does not pose a risk to human health or safety”, and so, “there is no evil to be suppressed”.

Those words are taken from a 2014 legal ruling against the companies. The judge in that case went on to refute their argument at length: “The evil of global climate change and the apprehension of harm resulting from the enabling of climate change through the combustion of fossil fuels has been widely discussed and debated by leaders on the international stage. Contrary to Syncrude’s submission, this is a real, measured evil, and the harm has been well documented.”

Case closed.

Or maybe not. Syncrude was back in court last November to appeal that ruling.

Few Canadians have heard of Syncrude because it’s a consortium of oil companies that jointly operate three massive tar sands mines. Suncor became Syncrude’s largest shareholder when it bought Canadian Oil Sands earlier this year, but the mines’ day-to-day operations are managed by Imperial Oil, the Canadian subsidiary of ExxonMobil.

It’s no surprise to see Exxon involved in this case; the company has a long history of opposing action on climate change. Exxon is now under investigation in New York and California for publicly claiming that the science of global warming was too murky to warrant policy action by governments — even as the company redesigned its drill rigs and pipelines destined for the Canadian Arctic based on company scientists’ predictions of a warming world. Exxon also was the only major oil player not on stage with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley as she announced the province’s ambitious new climate policy.

Yet it’s surprising to see companies like Suncor — which are trying to rebrand themselves as climate leaders — involved in such legal shenanigans. In his assessment of the original case, University of Calgary law professor Nigel Bankes wrote that this litigation “suggests that at least the sector of big oil represented by the Syncrude interests will fight federal greenhouse gas regulations in all of its forms and that it will fight them hard.

“There was no stone left unturned in this litigation. Counsel for Syncrude pursued every possible avenue, no matter how small the chance of success or creative the argument. Big carbon may be just like big tobacco in protecting its turf.”  — University of Calgary law professor Nigel Bankes

That doesn’t sound like something climate leaders ought to do.

As the largest shareholder, Suncor should tell their colleagues to withdraw this appeal. They should then take the money they were spending on lawyers and use it to map out how their businesses can thrive in a world that has moved beyond fossil fuels.

Keith Stewart is the head of the climate and energy campaign at Greenpeace Canada, and teaches a course on energy policy at the University of Toronto
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