Category Archives: Oil industry lobby

Oil and coal lobbyists influencing Democrats to stay away from debate on climate change

The DNC’s climate problems run deep

By Jeremy Symons, The Hill, 06/18/19 06:00 PM EDT
The DNC's climate problems run deep
The DNC’s climate problems run deep © iStock

Defending his decision not to hold a presidential debate on climate change, Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom Perez has exposed the great gulf between climate rhetoric and action within the Democratic Party machine.

Writing in Medium, Perez calls climate change “an urgent threat to our nation and our planet,” giving the obligatory nod to an issue that has risen to a top concern of Democratic voters in Iowa and across the nation.

Granting a climate debate would be unfair and unrealistic, he argues, because holding a debate on each and every issue would be infeasible. He says the DNC has received more than 50 requests to hold issue debates, but fails to mention that fifteen Democratic candidates have endorsed the call for a climate debate.

The DNC decision is an important wake-up call for climate donors and voters. Just because Democrats say climate change is an urgent threat does not mean they see it as more urgent than other issues.

The DNC’s inaction on a climate debate is especially troubling in light of the party’s long dependency on the fossil fuel lobby to fund conventions.

American Petroleum Institute (API), the top trade association for big oil and gas companies, stepped up with $700,000 for Democrats’ last convention in Philadelphia. That fell just a few money bags shy of the $900,000 API sent to the GOP.

According to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), API has spent more than $100 million lobbying Congress to “crush any pro-climate policies that might actually reduce carbon emissions” and threaten the bottom line of oil companies.

The coal lobby has also bellied up to the convention table. In 2012, the DNC publicly touted that it had  barred corporate contributions for the convention. In reality, they relied on Duke Energy, the nation’s second biggest carbon emitter, for a $6 million loan that Democrats never repaid.

At the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver, I was taken aback by the marketing extravaganza behind “clean coal,” a fictional product. “Regardless of who wins the election, we know that coal will still be running America,” proclaimed The American Council for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a coal industry trade association. ACCCE members Southern Company and Arch Coal contributed to the Democrats’ convention committee.

Fossil fuel trade associations are not letting up. They know that if climate change isn’t the Democrat’s top priority, then little will get done.

They aim to lull Democrats to sleep on climate, joining their Republican colleagues in action if not words by keeping climate on the back burner.

It’s a tempting lullaby for political operatives. The planet doesn’t have a bank account. Fossil fuel lobbyists pay well and pay often.

Last year, Perez momentarily seemed ready to bring needed change to the DNC. The DNC quietly passed a resolution sponsored by Christine Pelosi (daughter of Nancy Pelosi), that would have barred the DNC from accepting political contributions from fossil fuel PACs.

The DNC received swift backlash from labor, however. According to Perez, the resolution was perceived as “an attack on the working people” in energy industries.

Perez wrote a new resolution that passed the DNC overwhelmingly, reversing the prior funding ban and embracing money from all energy PACs.

A divisive battle between labor and environmentalists in 2018 would not have benefited anyone, but Perez’ swift and decisive intervention stands in stark contrast to his meek protests now that his hands are tied on a climate debate.

Alarmingly, Perez’ resolution also touted America’s “all of the above” energy economy.

The phrase first became prominent when Sarah Palin and John McCainused it to sum up their “drill baby drill” energy platform in 2008.

When President Obama later called for an “all of the above” energy approach, environmental leaders protested. In a letter to Obama, they argued that an “all of the above” energy strategy that boosts coal, oil and gas would undermine America’s climate goals.

The DNC struck the phrase from its platform in 2016.

The DNC’s zig-zagging climate and energy rhetoric is Exhibit A in the case for a climate change debate. Squeezing climate change into other debates will only allow time for rhetoric about the urgency of the problem. A focused, in-depth climate debate will allow voters to better gauge the substance and commitment behind the talking points.

When it comes to climate politics, commitment and priority is everything. Across three decades, political advisers have whispered in the ears of presidents, cautioning against taking on the combined might of the fossil fuel lobby. This is why we are where we are today.

In the DNC’s refusal to host a climate debate, we see an early warning signal of those whispers still at work despite unprecedented demand for results from voters.

By lumping climate change in with 50 unnamed issues, Perez misses the mark entirely. All issues are not equal.

A debate focused on preserving a livable planet is a debate on justice, economic opportunity, health, security and human rights.

When you are living on a boat, the value of all things changes if the ship starts to sink.

The same holds true for the planet we share. The physics of climate change are just as relentless and unforgiving as the rush of water through a hole in a boat’s hull. The climate clock is ticking.

If Democrats do not believe climate change is important enough to change their own rules now, can we count on them to summon the political moxy to do what needs to be done after our money and votes are secured?


Jeremy Symons is a consultant at Symons Public Affairs and writer on climate change, energy policy and politics. He previously worked as vice president for political affairs at Environmental Defense Fund and as deputy staff director on the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee.

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    California’s conservative Democrat legislators not protecting air quality

    Repost from CALmatters

    When oil industry supports legislators, air quality suffers

    By By Kathryn Phillips, April 22, 2019

    When oil industry supports legislators, air quality suffers

    California journalists have reported over the last two election cycles on the effort by the Legislature’s “moderate caucus,” composed of conservative Democratic state legislators, to increase the caucus’ influence

    The caucus’ power, according to those reports, is rooted deeply in the oil industry and its generous campaign donations to the caucus and its members.

    During normal times—say, when the planet’s very future hasn’t depended on dramatically cutting combustion fueled by oil and methane gas—such facts would be just interesting data points for analyzing the Legislature’s political dynamics.

    Now, though, the caucus members’ devotion to maintaining California’s oil dependence is having health-threatening consequences.

    This devotion is especially playing out in the Assembly Transportation Committee. The committee is chaired by Jim Frazier, a Democrat from Discovery Bay, a leader of the moderate caucus.

    California’s notorious air and climate pollution is driven by transportation. The smog and toxic particles that spark maladies ranging from low birthweight to asthma and heart disease are tightly linked to tailpipe emissions.

    Reams of data, scientific papers and regulatory agency reports point to the need to transition California’s cars and trucks to zero-emission vehicles if the state is to ever have clean air or avoid the worst effects of climate change.

    So one would expect to see growing devotion by the Democratic-led California Legislature to do more to help Californians access electric cars and cut pollution from delivery trucks.

    Instead, the California Assembly is the graveyard for legislation designed to help advance zero-emission vehicles.

    Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Frazier has a commanding, no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners style of governing. He has demonstrated that style by stopping bills to advance clean transportation by refusing to schedule them for a hearing in his committee.

    One of the most recent victims is Assembly Bill 40, which would require the regulatory agency responsible for tailpipe emissions regulations, the California Air Resources Board, to produce and deliver to the legislature a strategy for fully transitioning brand new cars sold in California to zero-emission by 2040.

    That is, the bill by San Francisco Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting would have asked for a study to be done and sent to the Legislature. It did nothing more. Yet it’s a bill the oil and gas industry and the California Chamber of Commerce strongly oppose. The bill isn’t being scheduled for a hearing.

    There are a few bills in the Senate that advance clean transportation that may pass in that house. But they are sure to face the buzzsaw in the Assembly once they reach Frazier’s committee.

    How can a single legislator stop progress in advancing technology and cutting pollution?

    He can do this by not acting alone. The Assembly Transportation Committee includes at least four other moderate caucus members who won’t buck the chairman, and whose votes, when counted with the handful of Republicans on the committee, can stop any bill.

    In essence, the committee is stacked against zero-emission technology.

    Frazier isn’t the only pro-oil Democrat sitting in a leadership role this year. Rudy Salas, Jr., a Democrat from Bakersfield, is chairman of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. His first action was to try to get an expansive and expensive audit of the air resources board’s work on transportation.

    It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Salas’s audit request, which failed to garner the votes needed, echoed the complaints commonly heard from the oil and gas industry about the air resources board’s transportation policies.

    Who pays campaign costs has consequences. In the California Legislature, the consequences are that we all live with more health-threatening transportation pollution with no end in sight.


    Kathryn Phillips is director of Sierra Club California, the legislative and regulatory advocacy arm of the Sierra Club’s 13 local chapters. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.
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      Tar Sands Crude Shipments Quietly Increased In Oregon, With Regulators In the Dark

      Repost from Oregon Public Broadcasting

      Tar Sands Crude Shipments Quietly Increased In Oregon, With Regulators In the Dark

      By Tony Schick, April 4, 2019 4:48 p.m. | Portland, Ore.

      If oil is moving through Oregon, it’s Michael Zollitsch’s job to know about it. He oversees the state’s emergency responses to oil spills and other environmental disasters.

      But last March, when Bloomberg News reported oil from Canada’s tar sands was rolling through Zenith Energy’s storage facility in Northwest Portland on its way to Asia, it caught him by surprise.

      “News to me!!” he wrote to his staff at Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality, and to Richard Franklin, a regional spill coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

      “Me, too!” Franklin wrote back.

      It wasn’t the first time oil spill regulators were in the dark about oil shipments through Oregon, and it wouldn’t be the last.

      Documents obtained by OPB under Oregon’s public records law show regulators struggled for months to get straight answers about what kind of oil was moving on trains — dubbed “rolling pipelines” by their critics — through Portland and when.

      Tank cars on the train tracks outside of the Zenith Energy oil terminal in Portland also contain a placard warning of toxic inhalation.
      Tank cars on the train tracks outside of the Zenith Energy oil terminal in Portland also contain a placard warning of toxic inhalation. Tony Schick/OPB

      State officials resorted to tracking ships along the Columbia River and guessing how much oil they might be loading based on the amount of ballast water on board — a far cry from the 24-hour notice Washington facilities send regulators for all oil-by-rail shipments.

      When DEQ did learn the chemical makeup of that oil, according to the documents, they discovered a potential risk of toxic inhalation for workers and neighbors of the facility: The oil contains enough hydrogen sulfide that the safety data sheets for the product call for spill responders to wear not just masks but fully supplied air, similar to a scuba tank.

      Megan Mastal, a public relations representative for Zenith, which operates 24 facilities in the U.S. and internationally, said in an emailed statement that the company has been up front with regulators and that the oil it handles does not pose any additional hazards.

      “Our customers trust us with safe and efficient storage of their critical product,” Mastal said. “Zenith provides services to some of the largest companies in the world and has passed their vigorous inspection and vetting requirements. We are proud of our employees and their dedication to our safety-first culture.”

      Oregon Lags

      For six years oil trains have been rolling through Oregon — including one in 2016 that derailed and exploded in the Columbia River Gorge. And yet, the government workers charged with preventing and cleaning up oil spills in Oregon remain as in the dark as ever about many of these shipments. That’s largely because of successful industry lobbying efforts and the reluctance of Oregon’s legislature to pass rules already enacted in neighboring states.

      While lawmakers have passed bans on offshore oil drilling and fracking — both unlikely prospects in Oregon — they have done relatively little to regulate the real and present danger that oil could spill from trains rumbling through the state.

      For the fourth session in a row, the Oregon Legislature is now considering new rules for oil trains. House Bill 2209 would require DEQ oversight of railroad oil spill planning and assesses fees on railroads to help pay for the state’s work.

      Already this session, lawmakers have introduced two bills that would match the stronger requirements in Washington — and let them die without so much as a public hearing. Now, with the session in its 12th week, lawmakers are advancing a less restrictive proposal, House Bill 2209, which was developed in collaboration with Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF Railway, among others.

      This comes as oil-by-rail shipments out of Canada’s oil sands have been on the rise. Existing businesses in Oregon have quietly shifted operations to handle more of it, even as plans for brand new fossil fuel projects have been rejected up and down the Northwest.

      With the loosest rules on the West Coast, environmentalists fear Oregon has become the path of least resistance for an oil that sinks in water and, they say, could devastate iconic fisheries and waterways.

      On the Columbia River, a company known as Global Partners LP successfully changed its port lease to allow for heavy crude at its Clatskanie, Oregon, facility. That facility was originally built as a bio-refinery in 2009 with $36 million in green energy loans and tax tax credits from the state.

      And on the Willamette River, an oil terminal owned by Zenith Energy in Northwest Portland is under construction to nearly quadruple railcar loading capacity at what used to be an asphalt plant.

      “This is really troubling, to see that Oregon’s environmental laws aren’t standing up to oil trains in the way most people would expect. Particularly in the wake of the Mosier oil train disaster. It’s really alarming,” said Dan Serres, conservation director for the Columbia Riverkeeper.

      DEQ’s attempts to regulate the Zenith terminal show how ill-informed and ill-prepared the state’s oil spill responders can be under the state’s current regulations for oil by rail.

      Regulators In The Dark

      At various points throughout 2018, Zenith’s terminal manager informed DEQ that the company was switching away from Canadian crude to a lighter oil, and that it was moving away from crude entirely, according to agency emails.

      The company also switched its planned oil spill drill to prepare for diesel instead of tar sands crude — an entirely different type of response.

      “He claims that over the next 3 years the facility will primarily be handling diesel and he does not expect any more shipments of the heavy crude oil for some time,” Scott Smith, who regulates the Zenith facility for DEQ, wrote in an email to colleagues.

      That didn’t happen.

      Zenith continued to handle heavy crude from Canada. Its current construction indicates it is increasing that business.

      In an emailed statement, Mastal said Zenith never told DEQ it was shifting operations away from crude oil, only that it was switching the type of crude oil. She also said a large part of the company’s Portland business plan is now attracting renewable fuels.

      “There appears to be a misunderstanding of industry terminology as it relates to various grades and types of oil,” Mastal said in the statement.

      Records show it took Smith weeks to obtain the chemical data sheets telling him exactly what the terminal was handling, something he usually gets before a new product is being shipped.

      “One of the most important things we look at it is, ‘What is the oil or chemical that spilled and its physical and chemical properties?’” Smith later told OPB. “They determine how we respond.”

      Those sheets contained another surprise: There’s hydrogen sulfide in the dilbit crude, as the industry refers to diluted bitumen crude from the tar sands.

      “I was alarmed to see that the Tar Sands they are working with now require full face air supplied respirators or SCBA’s [self-contained breathing apparatuses],” Smith wrote in an email obtained by OPB. He told fellow regulators at DEQ and the Department of Labor that the tar sands oils had other properties that call for extra precaution.

      According to DEQ, the risk of toxic inhalation from hydrogen sulfide significantly reduces the number of potential responders in the event of a spill, because not all of them or trained or equipped for it. That also limits the speed of response, if people need to be evacuated and work in shifts because of limited air supply.

      Depending on weather, spilled oil containing hydrogen sulfide could pose an air quality risk to neighbors, according to DEQ.

      “Zenith disagrees with the implication there are additional hazards brought on by Dilbit Crude,” wrote Mastal, the Zenith public relations representative in her emailed response to questions.

      Mastal said the concentrations of hydrogen sulfide in the crude handled on site are below federal exposure limits for workers. She said the company has emergency equipment and procedures in place, and that Zenith has extensive experience handling heavy crude, including drills in four of the past five years.

      After questions from DEQ, the company hired an industrial hygienist to assess the risks from the crude oil it is stores. Zenith has since updated its official spill response plan to account for toxic inhalation risks.

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        Trump appoints another oil industry VIP, recording reveals industry execs celebrating their win

        Repost from Politico
        [Editor: Significant quote: “The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a confirmation hearing Thursday, March 28.”  See and contact committee members here: https://www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/members  – RS]

        Recording Reveals Oil Industry Execs Laughing at Trump Access

        The tape of a private meeting was made shortly after the lawyer for an influential industry group was tapped for a high-level post at the Department of the Interior.

        By LANCE WILLIAMS, March 23, 2019
        President Donald Trump and acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.
        President Donald Trump and acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. | AP

        Gathered for a private meeting at a beachside RitzCarlton in Southern California, the oil executives were celebrating a colleague’s sudden rise. David Bernhardt, their former lawyer, had been appointed by President Donald Trump to the powerful No. 2 spot at the Department of the Interior.

        Just five months into the Trump era, the energy developers who make up the Independent Petroleum Association of America had already watched the new president order a sweeping overhaul of environmental regulations that were cutting into their bottom lines — rules concerning smog, fracking and endangered species protection.

        Dan Naatz, the association’s political director, told the conference room audience of about 100 executives that Bernhardt’s new role meant their priorities would be heard at the highest levels of Interior.

        “We know him very well, and we have direct access to him, have conversations with him about issues ranging from federal land access to endangered species, to a lot of issues,” Naatz said, according to an hourlong recording of the June 2017 event in Laguna Niguel provided to Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

        The recording gives a rare look behind the curtain of an influential oil industry lobbying group that spends more than $1 million per year to push its agenda in Congress and federal regulatory agencies. The previous eight years had been dispiriting for the industry: As IPAA vice president Jeff Eshelman told the group, it had seemed as though the Obama administration and environmental groups had put together “their target list of everything that they wanted done to shut down the oil and gas industry.” But now, the oil executives were almost giddy at the prospect of high-level executive branch access of the sort they hadn’t enjoyed since Dick Cheney, a fellow oilman, was vice president.

        “It’s really a new thing for us,” said Barry Russell, the association’s CEO, boasting of his meetings with Environmental Protection Agency chief at the time, Scott Pruitt, and the then-Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke. “For example, next week I’m invited to the White House to talk about tax code. Last week we were talking to Secretary Pruitt, and in about two weeks we have a meeting with Secretary Zinke. So we have unprecedented access to people that are in these positions who are trying to help us, which is great.”

        In that Ritz-Carlton conference room, Russell also spoke of his ties to Bernhardt, recalling the lawyer’s role as point man on an association legal team set up to challenge federal endangered species rules. “Well, the guy that actually headed up that group is now the No. 2 at Interior,” he said, referring to Bernhardt. “So that’s worked out well.”

        Today, Bernhardt is in line for a promotion: the former oil industry lobbyist has been nominated by Trump to be secretary of the Interior. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a confirmation hearing Thursday, March 28. Bernhardt has been running the department since early January, when Zinke resigned amid an ethics scandal. The post gives Bernhardt influence over regulations affecting energy production on millions of acres of public lands, deciding who gets to develop it, how much they pay and whether they are complying with the law.

        An Interior Department spokeswoman, Faith Vander Voort, said, “Acting Secretary David Bernhardt has had no communication or contact with either Barry Russell or Dan Naatz.” The IPAA executives were not available to comment on this story, a spokeswoman said.

        At the meeting, the association’s leaders distributed a private “regulatory update” memo that detailed environmental laws and rules that it hoped to blunt or overturn. The group ultimately got its way on four of the five high-profile issues that topped its wish list.

        Trump himself was a driving force behind deregulating the energy industry, ordering the government in 2017 to weed out federal rules “that unnecessarily encumber energy production.” In a 2017 order, Zinke called for his deputy secretary—Bernhardt—to make sure the department complied with Trump’s regulatory rollbacks.

        The petroleum association was just one industry group pushing for regulatory relief — the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Oil and Gas Association and the Western Energy Alliance also were active. But since IPAA created its wish list, the Interior Department has acceded to nearly all its requests:

        Rescinded fracking rules meant to control water pollution. Frackers pressure-inject water and chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release oil and gas. In 2015, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management moved to minimize water pollution caused by fracking, setting standards for well construction and proper management of fracking fluids. For the first time, the new rule also required frackers to get federal permits, a costly and time-consuming process, the industry complained.

        The IPAA sued, contending the rule was not needed because fracking was already regulated by states. Under Trump, Interior sided with the energy industry, and in 2017 the rule was rescinded.

        Withdrawn rules that limit climate-change causing methane gas releases. An oil strike can release clouds of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. When producers lack the means to capture methane and sell it as natural gas, they either burn it or release it into the air. In 2016, to fight global warming, the BLM issued a rule sharply limiting these practices and imposing a royalty fee on operators who wasted natural gas on public lands.

        IPAA sued, complaining producers would face huge financial losses. Trump’s Interior Department sided with the industry and in 2018 rescinded key provisions of the rule.

        Abandoned environmental restoration of public land damaged by oil development. To offset the harm of oil production, the BLM often required producers to pay for restoration projects as a condition of their permits. This practice of “compensatory mitigation” is used by many government agencies. In 2015, then-President Obama ordered Interior to set a goal of “no net loss for natural resources” when issuing development permits.

        IPAA pushed back hard against the “no net loss” standard, arguing that developers might be saddled with exorbitant mitigation costs. In 2017, Trump himself ordered the repeal of the Obama mitigation rule. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke attacked the concept as Un-American.

        Ended long-standing protections for migratory birds. Every year, millions of migratory birds are killed when they fly into power lines, oil waste pits and other energy development hazards, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says. Since the 1970s, the service has promoted industrial safety practices to protect birds from accidental harm—and has prosecuted and fined energy companies responsible for the deaths of these birds.

        IPAA complained it was unfair to prosecute energy companies engaged in legal activities that unintentionally harmed birds. In 2017, Trump’s Interior Department called a halt to prosecuting companies for the “incidental” deaths of birdlife. Bernhardt played an important role in crafting the legal opinion that gutted these protections, emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show.

        “The IPAA’s wish list was granted as asked, in the executive order, and in the actions taken by the Department of the Interior,” said Nada Culver, senior counsel for the Wilderness Society environmental group, who reviewed the document for Reveal. “It pains me to say it.”

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