To reverse climate change, Californians must wake up to the influence of Big Oil

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian: This post (another opinion piece from SacBee, this time from their editorial board) references a ‘councilwoman-turned-state-senator’ who pledged to not take fossil fuel money but still benefited fabulously from an oil-and-gas PAC’s lavish electioneering on her behalf. She never personally accepted Big Oil money, and she can trumpet that all she likes, but she certainly did benefit from Big Oil money, and the impact can be the same. This is a huge problem in electoral politics, and one that absolutely reaches deep into Benicia: Candidates can pledge to steer clear of Big Oil money, but the Valero-funded Benicia PAC (previously known as ‘Working Families,’ now operating under ‘Progress for Benicia’) can make ‘independent expenditures’ on a candidate’s behalf, like ‘independently’ deciding to send out a little mailer to support a candidate they view as favorable to their interests. The result is the same – the candidate more favorable to Big Oil wins – even if the money trail is more twisty. And PAC’s routinely outspend what candidates can expend on their own behalf, by several orders of magnitude. This is Big Oil’s electoral playbook. Candidates oh-so-virtuously reject direct donations from Big Oil and special interest groups, signaling their independence in the climate fight, while still benefiting indirectly, to the tune of millions of dollars in some cases. I can’t allege that every candidate who ‘indirectly’ benefits from Big Oil money is subject to influence, but it’s not unreasonable to suspect that elected officials may be at least a tad more favorable to an industry that spends big to help them get elected.]

A truck drives into the Valero refinery in Benicia in July. | Rich Pedroncelli for AP.

SacBee, Opinion by the Sacramento Bee Editorial Board, August 5, 2023

California may not meet its ambitious 2030 climate goals. That is not necessarily a surprise.

After all, that’s what the word “ambitious” means. California must set lofty, near-unattainable goals if we’re going to reverse the effects that climate change has created in our state — unprecedented wildfires, searing heat, and floods, to name a few.

California must continue to be an impatient, pioneering leader for the rest of the nation, as the federal government so often looks to our state to set the highest standard.

The California Resources Board, in its new 2022 climate change road map, set an increased target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to 48% below 1990 levels. Previously, the goal was 40%. In meeting that higher objective, the board predicted it would have to rely heavily on the use of emerging technologies that are expected to help remove carbon pollution from the atmosphere. There are both engineering ways to capture and store industrial emissions and natural approaches to absorbing carbon emissions such as reforestation. There is hope in “green hydrogen,” splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen using renewable electricity. Green hydrogen could fuel heavy industries such as trucks and power plants and airplanes. But the technology to produce green hydrogen remains a work in progress.

Now regulators say the emerging technologies they were depending on may not be available by 2030.

So how to meet the goal? CARB may choose to increase the state’s controversial cap-and-trade program, which establishes a limit on major emitters of greenhouse gasses, and creates an economic incentive for corporate investment in cleaner technologies. Some participants are given emission allowances with the ability to purchase more.

Increasing cap-and-trade standards is not only a dubious solution to reach CARB’s goal of 48%, but could also drive up carbon prices dramatically and push industrial polluters out of California entirely. While that may make California’s numbers look good, it wouldn’t be a solution to the global problem of climate change and would deeply affect the state’s economy, which is already in a downturn after the pandemic.

In order to meet our climate goals, however lofty, California has to start making difficult emission cuts.

The reality is that it’s CARB’s duty to make the state’s progressive climate goals work in the real world — no easy task. At a recent cap-and-trade program workshop, regulators from CARB hinted for the first time that the department may struggle to meet those 2030 goals. CARB simply cannot be expected to prevail in this alone, and especially not when huge obstacles are placed in its way by oil lobbyists paying millions to keep the status quo in Sacramento.

A political action committee called “Coalition to Restore California’s Middle-Class Including Energy Companies Who Produce Gas, Oil, Jobs and Pay Taxes” was funded by Chevron, Valero, Phillips 66 and Marathon Petroleum. It spent more than $6 million across the state in 2022, funding the electoral campaigns of moderate Democrats and ensuring the election of a new class of politicians who would be wholly amenable to their influence.

In the Sacramento area, city councilwoman-turned-state-senator Angelique Ashby — who pledged during her campaign not to take any fossil fuel money — benefited from some $1.6 million in oil and gas expenditures from that PAC.

CARB cannot be expected to meet its ambitious goals if the same politicians that must take actions to achieve these emission reduction numbers (and presumably, the penalties for missing them) are under the influence of oil and gas companies with a vested interest in stymieing the work of CARB. Those interests are keeping gas-guzzling cars on the road and the worst emitters in business via loopholes in the laws.

It is little wonder CARB is setting the stage for the possibility of missing its ambitious goals. Our state government is too vulnerable to the influence of oil and gas companies. Californians must be aware of this corrosive influence and they must insist that powerful oil lobbyists have no sway over climate regulations nor anything that would hinder the progress of meeting our 2030 emission standards.

In recent years, more than a dozen other states have chosen to follow California’s more stringent emissions standards, rather than the more flexible federal regulations. In total, those states represent more than 35% of all new auto sales in America. California, too, has pledged to stop selling cars that are not electric, hydrogen-fueled or at least plug-in hybrid by the year 2035.

This state is a national and global leader in carbon regulation and greenhouse gas emissions. It must remain at the forefront to have any chance at reversing climate change. That means clearing hurdles and setting lofty targets — even if we miss.