Category Archives: Valero Energy Corporation

Benicia isn’t the only one – big oil money inserts itself in Petaluma & Santa Rosa races

Repost from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat
[Editor: note some of the same unfriendly giants as in Benicia: Valero Energy of course, and the law firm Nielsen Merksamer (“Bay Area-based law and lobbying firm that specializes in political and public-sector cases”).  – R.S.]

Oil and real estate interests pour money into Petaluma and Santa Rosa races

By Will Schmitt & Hannah Beausang, November 2, 2018, 8:57PM
Candidates for Petaluma Mayor include, from left, Mike Harris, Teresa Barrett, and Brian Powell.

More than $100,000 from oil and real estate interests has been funneled into city council races in Sonoma County’s two largest cities, highlighting how outside groups have ponied up to influence voters in the Nov. 6 election.

Of the pair of independent expenditure campaigns, the most visible has been in Petaluma, where a committee backed by several large oil companies has poured more than $78,000 into the race for mayor, according to campaign finance records.

The second spending effort is by a national real estate group that has spent more than $31,000 in favor of several city council candidates in Petaluma and Santa Rosa.

In Petaluma especially, the rush of outside spending has caused a stir. The two campaigns there have separately generated mailers supporting two mayoral candidates — Mike Harris and Brian Powell — and online ads and mailers supporting Harris and two others running for council seats, incumbent Dave King and candidate Michael Regan.

Brian Sobel, a Petaluma- based political analyst and former city councilman, called the level of outside spending in the city election unprecedented.

“It’s not been in Petaluma’s tradition or history to have independent expenditures committees singling out individual candidates and supporting them,” Sobel said.

Campaign finance rules limit individual donations directly to candidate campaigns to $200 in Petaluma and $500 in Santa Rosa per donor per election cycle. But there is no cap on how much money individuals or organizations can dole out through independent expenditure committees. The committees must report their spending to election authorities and are barred from coordinating with candidates.

Independent expenditures to sway elections are not new, though their prevalence and power has increased since the 2010 Citizens United case before the U.S. Supreme Court. It did away with independent political spending limits for corporations, labor groups and other entities on free-speech grounds.

The group responsible for the largest amount of spending in Petaluma this year goes by the name Coalition to Restore California’s Middle Class, Including Energy Companies who Produce Gas, Oil, Jobs and Pay Taxes. The committee has received millions of dollars from oil giants Chevron, Valero Energy and Phillips 66, according to campaign finance documents filed with the California Secretary of State.

The committee reported spending about $62,300 as of Friday to support Harris, a former councilman who is making his second bid for the mayor’s post. The oil-backed group also reported spending $15,800 in favor of Powell, a political newcomer and environmentalist who has embraced a strong anti-growth platform for the city.

Powell, Harris and Councilwoman Teresa Barrett are vying to replace Mayor David Glass, who is retiring.

The oil-backed coalition’s motives were not immediately obvious.

The phone number listed on the filings is associated with the San Rafael office of Nielsen Merksamer, a Bay Area-based law and lobbying firm that specializes in political and public-sector cases. Chevron Corp., Valero Energy and Philips 66 are listed as clients on the firm’s website.

Steven Lucas, the coalition’s registered agent, did not respond to requests for comment.

Barrett said she believed the outside spending was an attempt to bolster the chances of her rivals for the mayor’s post and deny her a public platform. Barrett is a strong pro-environment voice who serves on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which regulates regional refineries. The district’s leadership comprises local elected officials, and Barrett would have to step down if she came up short in the mayor’s race, she noted.

    INSIDE THE TAX BILL’S $25 BILLION OIL COMPANY BONANZA

    Repost from Pacific Standard
    [Editor: Valero Energy’s windfall of DIRECT ONE-TIME 2017 TAX SAVINGS from the Trump tax law was $1.9 BILLION, according to Valero’s 4th quarter 2017 SEC filing .  See chart below. See also Valero’s Feb 2018 press release and Valero’s detailed SEC 2017 Year End Fiscal Report.  – RS]

    A Pacific Standard analysis shows the oil and gas industry is among the tax bill’s greatest financial beneficiaries.

    By Antonia Juhasz, Mar 27, 2018
    President Donald Trump pitches his Tax Cuts and Jobs Act at the Andeavor oil refinery in North Dakota in September of 2017.
    President Donald Trump pitches his Tax Cuts and Jobs Act at the Andeavor oil refinery in North Dakota on September 6th, 2017. (Photo: WhiteHouse.gov)

    Last month, during a retreat in West Virginia, congressional Republicans set out their 2018 party goals. Their primary objective is to hold onto their majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and the key mechanism for doing so is to ride the coattails of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. “The tax bill is part of a bigger theme that we’re going to call The Great American comeback,” said Representative Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “If we stay focused on selling the tax reform package, I think we’re going to hold the House and things are going to be OK for us.”

    More than 50 percent of the tax bill’s benefits will go to the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans, and more than 25 percent to the wealthiest 1 percent, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. As Businessweek put it, “President Donald Trump and Republicans sold their $1.5 trillion tax cut as a boon for workers, but it’s becoming clear just two months after the bill passed that the truly big winners will be corporations and their shareholders.”

    Pacific Standard‘s original analysis finds that it is the oil and gas industry, including companies that backed the presidency of Trump and whose former executives and current boosters now populate it, that are among the tax bill’s largest and most long-lasting financial beneficiaries.

    Just 17 American oil and gas companies reported a combined total of $25 billion in direct one-time benefits from the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Many of the companies will also receive millions of dollars in income tax refunds this year. Looking forward, the Tax Act then reduces all corporate annual tax bills by a minimum of 40 percent every year in perpetuity, while adding new benefits that function as government subsidies for the oil and gas industry. The companies’ activities in the United States are made less expensive, thereby encouraging a further expansion of oil and gas operations.

    Pacific Standard reviewed the Annual 10K and Fourth Quarter Reports filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for 2017 by 17 U.S. oil companies, looking at the largest companies in production, refining, and pipelines that also clearly specified the impacts of the Tax Act in their results. Private companies, such as Koch Industries, which undoubtedly benefit from the legislation, could not be included because they are not required to make these financial reports publicly available.

    $25 BILLION IN OIL COMPANY TAX SAVINGS

    Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 6.19.30 PM
    (Chart: Antonia Juhasz/Pacific Standard)  …CLICK TO ENLARGE

    Continue reading INSIDE THE TAX BILL’S $25 BILLION OIL COMPANY BONANZA

      IN MEMORIAM: Benicia’s Joel Fallon: Is Crude by Rail really do or die?

      Is this really adios?

      [Re-posting today in memory of Joel Fallon, who died on August 11, 2016 (obituary). Joel was Benicia’s first and most beloved Poet Laureate, an inspiration to all who knew him and a thoughtful, visionary activist. Originally reposted from The Benicia Herald and here on the Benicia Independent.]

      April 25, 2014 by Joel Fallon

      WHAT AM I MISSING HERE? Are Benicians just kittens in a burlap sack, down by the riverside, resigned to the inevitable?

      Let’s see if I’ve got this right.

      (a) We’re in earthquake country (see evidence of the Green Valley fault in terrain on the way to Cordelia);

      (b) We’re next to fragile wetlands (for spectacular views, click Google Maps/Benicia, hybrid setting, find rail line and follow to Sacramento);

      (c) We’re contiguous with an important commercial waterway;

      (d) We host an outfit whose headquarters has fought attempts to safeguard our environment (see Valero Energy Corporation’s position and funding regarding Proposition 23);

      (e) A local outfit, under direction from its far-off headquarters, plans to process a dangerous, toxic product;

      (f) The outfit is served by a rail system with a recent history of tank car derailment;

      (g) Parts of this railroad system (built by Central Pacific RR in 1877), running through marshland to the Carquinez Strait, repeatedly sank into unstable marshy terrain, requiring hundreds of thousands of tons of rock, gravel and other materials to stabilize it;

      (h) Other parts of the antique rail infrastructure seem poorly maintained and may be unsafe, e.g., the Benicia-Martinez rail bridge, built between 1928 and 1930 for Southern Pacific RR to replace the train ferry to Port Costa;

      (i) Old tank cars are a problem — an area newspaper reports that BNSF railway officials told federal regulators in March of concerns that older, less robust tank cars will end up transporting crude oil because of Canadian rail pricing policies;

      (j) Emergency responders are unprepared to handle spills or fires in the event of derailment of cars headed to any of five Bay Area refineries. State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, after listening to testimony from emergency responders, said, “There is a potential for very serious problems and very disastrous problems.” Chief of the Contra Costa Fire District is quoted saying, “… with the sheer volume that will be coming in, we are going to see more accidents.” The 2007-08 Solano County Grand Jury, after investigating the county’s fire districts, reports a general need for more funding, heavy dependence on dedicated volunteers and the preponderance of old fire trucks, while noting the high cost of HAZMAT suits and problems with communications caused by incompatible equipment and radio frequencies.     

      And yet, despite this unbelievably horrific backdrop, certain elements in town warn us to hush lest Valero be forced out of the competitive (i.e., tar sands crude) market, destroying its “desire to remain in Benicia.”

      Clearly, Valero Benicia Refinery cannot be faulted for all of the foregoing. Good workers deserve good jobs; they should be able to tell their grandkids they helped, rather than harmed, the environment. Valero Benicia is just one of many links in a chain of factors that could lead to the disaster so many in this community fear.

      Am I “agenda driven” as charged? Bet your raggedy backside I am. My agenda involves doing homework to find threats to my home, my town, my state and my nation, and advising others of my findings (just in case they might care). If you detect it, yell “GAS” to alert the rest of the platoon; then put on your mask, while you can still breathe.

      For a glimmer of the scope of Big Oil’s operations from sea to shining sea and beyond, see the astounding number of outfits similar to Valero Energy Corp. in the U.S and Canada. Find ’em in Wikipedia (“independent oil companies — Americas”). Select a company to see its history of oil spills. Wonder why the Keystone XL pipeline is planned to extend to Texas? Check out which corporations own the pipeline and the benefits associated with Foreign Trade Zones (32 FTZ in Texas compared to 17 in California, and 15 in New York).

      If folks look around a bit they may discover that Big Oil, like Big Coal and other corporate behemoths, extends powerful influence throughout the land of the free and the home of the brave. Many were hoodwinked by Operation Iraqi Liberation, in which Big Oil colluded with Big Government to achieve absolute power of life and death over us and our enemy — the one with phantom WMDs and a vast, very real amount of oil.

      Is this really adios, Pilgrim? — or just “I double-dog dare you”? I don’t believe it’s Valero’s style to leave town. It’s not in the corporation’s best interests and shouldn’t be its preferred option.

      What are those options? They include:

      Option 1. Stay put, but back away from risky tar sands crude and focus on products involving minimum environmental risk. Backing away for good business reasons is not the same as “backing down.” CVS decided to stop selling cigarettes. The firm considered it “the right thing to do for the good of our customers and our company. The sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose — helping people on their path to better health.” Barrons online says, “We think that CVS — like anyone who quits smoking — is making a good long-term decision, even if it makes things rough short-term.” Others consider it a PR coup! CVS gained the respect of millions of customers for what is perceived as a moral and ethical decision. I shop CVS more often since they made that brilliant call; so do my friends.

      Backing away from tar sands crude would take similar corporate guts; but the public would be pleased with the image of a moral, ethical, highly principled corporation — a Valero that gives a damn. Sales at Valero service stations might even increase.

      Option 2. Continue to pursue tar sands crude; seeking high profitability despite increased environmental risk. The downside: prices at the pump are too high. Californians are already angry; they may avoid Valero service stations and products. I’ll urge my friends to do so. Word of mouth is powerful and spreads quickly. Contempt for an outfit that doesn’t respect its customers or our environment could lead to loss of sales in the country’s most populous state. Cesar Chavez showed us boycotts work. Most folks I know didn’t buy grapes.

      Option 3. “Re-purpose” Valero’s operations in Benicia (and elsewhere) to enhance instead of degrade the environment while remaining profitable. Valero is an energy outfit. Turning to alternate sources of energy is ultimately inevitable. Valero should expand its vision and not limit itself to fossil fuels. Farmers in Ireland who grew only potatoes learned about diversification too late.

      (a) Pursue wind farming if feasible and profitable. A recent Mother Earth News article about mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia cites a 2007 study that determined placing wind turbines on Coal River Mountain would provide power to 70,000 West Virginia homes while generating $1.7 million in local taxes each year. Better than ripping off the tops of mountains and dumping enormous amounts of debris into streams and rivers.

      (b) Pursue solar energy if feasible and profitable. Produce solar products for sale and/or operate a solar power facility to resell power. See an article by Don Hofmann, president of RegenEn Solar LLC, looking at mountaintop removal mining and suggesting solar power instead. He recognizes there are challenges but is optimistic about lower-cost solar cells and technology in the future. He notes that the U.S. fossil fuel industry received $72 billion in subsidies from 2002 to 2006 and asks us to imagine that kind of money put into solar development.

      (c) Pursue other approaches (geothermal, tidal, et al.) if appropriate and profitable.

      Option 4. Determine feasibility of combining 3a, 3b and/or 3c. If appropriate and profitable, pursue the combination.

      Option 1 would be the easiest and would be enthusiastically supported by most folks in Benicia, applauded by most Californians and recognized as a principled business decision.

      Option 2 is the least desirable from an environmental standpoint. While profitability is high, it may incur the contempt and wrath of the public, possibly leading to damaging boycotts and a decline in profitability.

      Option 3a thru 3c may seem starry-eyed, wild and outside the box. They would require imagination, foresight and courage. It can be done. CVS is showing the way and TESLA is succeeding with electrically powered cars. Examine pluses and minuses — Valero could take a quantum leap and be regarded as an industry trailblazer. Its reputation would be enhanced. Envious competitors might scoff and want Valero to take a pratfall but ultimately they would have to follow suit.

      In conclusion the priority order of Valero’s options should be:

      Option 1 — Most desirable (preferred)
      Option 3/4 — Most “outside the box” (defer initially, but plan for the future)
      Option 2 — Least desirable (avoid).

      If Valero is really in the long-term energy game, it should choose Option 1 and start thinking seriously about Option 3. If, instead, its focus is on short term — high profits while risking irreparable harm to the environment — then Option 2 is their ticket.

      If Valero wants to be recognized as rich, principled, brave and famous instead of rich, unscrupulous and infamous, then it should open door No. 3 as soon as possible.

      Finally: I don’t believe it is “adios” for Valero Benicia Refinery. Unfortunately, I think Valero will not choose a clean path. They will probably press on with dirty tar sands crude. After that, “¿Quien sabe?”

      I don’t intend to “go gentle into that good night.” Instead I prefer to “rage against the dying of the light.”

      This whole thing could be like a colonoscopy, but a lot less fun.

      Joel Fallon is a Benicia resident.


      The Benicia Herald’s Poetry Corner was recently dedicated to Joel Fallon…

      “For Joel Fallon” by Ronna Leon

      Reposted from the Benicia Herald, Poetry Corner, August 19, 2016

      You called them “dead Mother poems”
      and scorned their cloying sentiment, easy forgiveness.
      Your poem about your Mother named her Kali.
      You hungered for life – anger, difficulty, competition, sex.
      You insisted that wringing a tear from a stone
      was superior to opening well oiled floodgates.

       

      Now you are dead and my tears come unbidden
      looking at the bookshelf, pulling a stubborn weed,
      eating a pastry.
      “Keep smiling” you’d instruct,
      but I don’t want to brush these tears away,
      each glistens with memory, swells with loss.
      You are in them, like it or not.Ronna Leon was Benicia’s third poet laureate from 2010 to 2012


      “Hope is the Thing with Feathers (Dedicated to Joel Fallon)” by Johanna Ely

      Reposted from the Benicia Herald, Poetry Corner, August 19, 2016

      “Hope is the thing with feathers
      that perches in the soul
      and sings the tune without the words
      and never stops-at all”
      -Emily Dickinson

       

      If such a tiny bird,
      perhaps left for dead,
      or suffering from an injured wing,
      its feathers matted and torn,
      finds refuge in your broken heart,
      then reach inside yourself
      and touch this living thing called Hope,
      gently bind its limp and useless wing
      with Love’s tattered cloth,
      and press it to your shattered heart
      until it heals,
      until this lovely creature sings again,
      then let it fly,
      and nest in someone else’s heart,
      the stranger,
      the neighbor,
      the old friend,
      the one who just like you,
      needs to hear its song.
      Johanna Ely is Benicia’s current poet laureate

      “Joel’s Passing” by Mary Susan Gast

      Reposted from the Benicia Herald, Poetry Corner, August 19, 2016

      “So, I may have been wrong after all – this damn cancer may indeed be the death of me.”
      -Joel Fallon, in an email of June 30, 2016

      He died on the morning of August 11.
      That night, meteor showers dazzled the skies:
      The Perseids, at their peak.
      No reason to doubt that Joel hitched a ride
      On that celestial glory train,
      Meeting up with all the other streaming luminaries,
      Fireball to fireball.

      Mary Susan Gast served as Conference Minister of the Northern California Conference United Church of Christ, now retired, and is a member of Benicia’s First Tuesday Poetry Group