Category Archives: California oil industry

California Is On the Verge of a World-Changing Climate Bill — But It’s in Trouble

Emissions disclosure bill is testing the state’s climate resolve in the face of industry misinformation.

Illustration: Javier Palma/The Guardian

Capital & Main, by Aaron Cantù, August , 2023

It’s been more than two years since a California lawmaker first introduced a bill requiring big corporations to report their greenhouse gas emissions. The information could be criticalin the fight against climate change, with global temperatures smashing records this summer — yet it died in the Legislature last year after failing by one vote.

Now, the bill could fail anew thanks to a handful of Democrats.

The Climate Corporate Data Accountability Act, carried by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), would force big companies to report their emissions to the California Air Resources Board.

Altogether, the lack of information on supply-chain emissions means we know only a fraction of the global economy’s climate impacts, undermining the public’s knowledge of the crisis. Some companies already report these figures, or disclose select information on their own.

But under SB 253, thousands of public and private companies — about 5,300 — would report the full scope of their climate pollution, many for the first time. That includes recognizable brands like Walmart and Costco and any other company that generates at least a billion dollars in revenue and operates in the state.

And if SB 253 becomes law in California, reportedly the largest sub-national economy in the world, it could contribute to a wave of transparency regulations requiring more corporate climate disclosures, among them the European Union’s new policy. Bill supporters say this information helps put pressure on companies to reduce their emissions.

But business interests, including the oil and gas lobby, are aligned to sink the California legislation. To pull that off, they would need the help of Democrats.

Fence-Sitting Democrats Receive Millions From Corporate Interests

Swing-vote Democrats in the State Assembly — where similar legislation failed by one vote in 2022 — may determine whether the opposition succeeds.

As Democrats have secured a supermajority in the California Legislature, business associations have increasingly targeted so-called moderate Democrats with their giving and lobbying.

Many of the same assemblymembers who helped kill the bill previously may have a chance to vote on it again. But a review of campaign contributions suggests that opposed industries have lawmakers’ ears.

Seventeen Assembly Democrats who registered no vote or voted against the bill in 2022 are still in the chamber. They have collectively taken nearly $1.16 million from oil and gas throughout their careers, including the months after last year’s session. (A full list of figures can be viewed here, with more detail here.) Thirteen lawmakers collected oil and gas money in 2023.

Over the course of their careers, Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-South Bay) collected the most from oil and gas, at $244,380; Blanca Rubio (D-South Bay) and Brian Maienschein (D-Escondido) came in second and third, at $212,399 and $114,950.

Staff for Rubio and Maienschein didn’t return a request for comment. In an email to Capital & Main, Gipson chief of staff Emmanuel Aguayo noted Gipson’s affirmative votes on several climate bills signed last year by Gov. Newsom.

The lawmakers also took $4.6 million from business groups, many of which, such as the California Chamber of Commerce (recently rebranded as CalChamber) and regional agricultural associations, are opposed to SB 253. Forty percent of that total went to just three lawmakers: Gipson, Rubio and Maienschein. But 10 others have collected more than $100,000 each from business groups over their careers.

The governor’s rush to pass a climate package last year may have led to fatigue among some lawmakers, claimed Sen. Wiener.

“I suspect if our bill had come up a day or two before, my prediction is we would have gotten it off the floor,” Wiener said in an interview. “We just have a stronger, more diverse coalition this year.”

Wiener said he’s also planning outreach to 15 freshmen assemblymembers who would be voting for the first time. Of them, three — Esmeralda Soria (D-Merced), Blanca Pacheco (D-Downey) and Jasmeet Bains (D-Delano) — received thousands of dollars from oil and gas this year. And seven, including Soria, Pacheco and Bains, collected contributions from CalChamber (view figures here).

“We have a lot of new members, so we have a lot of work to do on that front,” Wiener said, “but I’m optimistic.”

Supply Chain Emissions a Missing Piece of Climate Puzzle 

A handful of companies are supporting the bill, including Microsoft, IKEA, Patagonia and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

In a letter to the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee, they wrote that the bill “would level the playing field by ensuring that all major public and private companies disclose their full emissions inventory, creating a pathway for collective reduction strategies.” The committee has to approve the bill before it can go to the Assembly floor.

CalChamber has reiterated the same concerns over two years. A letter boils it down to difficulties tracking supply chain emissions, which it has described as “impossible” and something that would “necessarily require that large businesses stop doing business with small and medium businesses” that act as subcontractors.

Such claims are “not true,” said Simon Fischweicher, head of corporations and supply chains for CDP North America. The nonprofit supports companies’ efforts to account for their emissions, and connects them to climate-conscious investors; CDP’s member companies represent trillions in global market capital.

“A significant portion of companies disclosing emissions are small or medium sized,” Fischweicher said. “It’s already happening.”

Most company’s supply chain emissions (which are referred to as Scope 3 emissions by the World Resources Institute) account for the vast majority of their climate pollution. For oil refiners, this includes emissions generated when people fuel up their cars and drive using gasoline refined from company petroleum.

To take another example, Coca-Cola can track the emissions generated when its executives drive or fly (Scope 1), or when its office buildings use fossil fuels for electricity (Scope 2). But far more pollution happens indirectly, across the lifecycle of each Coke bottle or can. Understanding it requires gathering data points from subcontractors involved in bottling and distribution, as well as estimated climate pollution from all the trashed Cokes in landfills.

The bill directs companies to use the GHG Protocol, which determines supply chain emissions by multiplying “emissions factors” by weight or cost of products. The figures are imprecise, an ongoing concern as the need for accurate information grows. Advocates say standards will improve.

“That level of granularity involves different assumptions that can be made, so we’re not always going to end up on the same exact number, even from a Coke to a Pepsi,” Fischweicher said. “But what’s critical is that companies go through those steps, understand where their impacts lie, explain those figures, and understand the methodology to know how they got there.”

Industries “Fighting, Delaying” Disclosure Rules 

Companies have railed against Scope 3 emissions requirements to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is working on rules requiring public companies to disclose their emissions and exposure to climate change.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce argued that the costs of compliance to businesses would be far higher than the government’s estimates — and that investors just don’t care much about emissions.

Separately, the American Petroleum Institute, the organization that once served as the fossil fuel industry’s main disseminator of climate change denial, said the information would be unreliable and hard to gather.

Yet API’s comments contradict its endorsement of emissions-gathering in other venues. In 2020, API and two other oil associations released a guide that encourages companies to report emissions across their value chains using various frameworks, among them the GHG Protocol.

And both the state chamber and oil lobby have cited the SEC’s rulemaking to argue that California’s climate disclosure bill would be redundant — even as their national counterparts oppose that same rulemaking at the SEC.

Wiener called these actions “shocking.”

“They’re fighting, delaying and trying to kill the SEC rule, but then saying we shouldn’t legislate because the SEC will handle it,” he said. “It’s so cynical.”

A Republican 2024 Climate Strategy: More Drilling, Less Clean Energy

Project 2025, a conservative “battle plan” for the next Republican president, would stop attempts to cut the pollution that is heating the planet and encourage more emissions

Workers drilling for oil outside Watford City, N.D. New production techniques have created a glut of crude oil in the United States. |  Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The New York Times, by Lisa Friedman, August 4, 2023

During a summer of scorching heat that has broken records and forced Americans to confront the reality of climate change, conservatives are laying the groundwork for a 2024 Republican administration that would dismantle efforts to slow global warming.

The move is part of a sweeping strategy dubbed Project 2025 that Paul Dans of the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank organizing the effort, has called a “battle plan” for the first 180 days of a future Republican presidency.

The climate and energy provisions would be among the most severe swings away from current federal policies.

The plan calls for shredding regulations to curb greenhouse gas pollution from cars, oil and gas wells and power plants, dismantling almost every clean energy program in the federal government and boosting the production of fossil fuels — the burning of which is the chief cause of planetary warming.

The New York Times asked the leading Republican presidential candidates whether they support the Project 2025 strategy, but none of the campaigns responded. Still, several of the architects are veterans of the Trump administration, and their recommendations match positions held by former President Donald Trump, the current front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination.

The $22 million project also includes personnel lists and a transition strategy in the event a Republican wins the 2024 election. The nearly 1,000-page plan, which would reshape the executive branch to place more power into the president’s hands, outlines changes for nearly every agency across the government.

The Heritage Foundation worked on the plan with dozens of conservative groups ranging from the Heartland Institute, which has denied climate science, to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which says “climate change does not endanger the survival of civilization or the habitability of the planet.”

Dans said the Heritage Foundation delivered the blueprint to every Republican presidential hopeful. While polls have found that young Republicans are worried about global warming, Dans said the feedback he has received confirms the blueprint reflects where the majority of party leaders stand.

“We have gotten very good reception from this,” he said. “This is a plotting of points of where the conservative movement sits at this time.”

There is a pronounced partisan split in the country when it comes to climate change, surveys have shown. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll conducted last month found that while 56% of respondents called climate change a major threat — including a majority of independents and nearly 90% of Democrats — about 70% of Republicans said global warming was either a minor threat or no threat at all.

Project 2025 does not offer any proposals for curbing the greenhouse gas emissions that are dangerously heating the planet and which scientists have said must be sharply and quickly reduced to avoid the most catastrophic impacts.

Asked what the country should do to combat climate change, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, director of the Heritage Foundation’s energy and climate center, said “I really hadn’t thought about it in those terms” and then offered that Americans should use more natural gas.

Natural gas produces half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal when burned. But gas facilities frequently leak methane, a greenhouse gas that is much more powerful than carbon dioxide in the short term and has emerged as a growing concern among climate scientists.

The blueprint said the next Republican president would help repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, the 2022 law that is offering $370 billion for wind, solar, nuclear, green hydrogen and electric vehicle technology, with most of the new investments taking place in Republican-led states.

The plan calls for shuttering a Department of Energy office that has $400 billion in loan authority to help emerging green technologies. It would make it more difficult for solar, wind and other renewable power — the fastest-growing energy source in the United States — to be added to the grid. Climate change would no longer be considered an issue worthy of discussion on the National Security Council, and allied nations would be encouraged to buy and use more fossil fuels rather than renewable energy.

The blueprint throws open the door to drilling inside the pristine Arctic wilderness, promises legal protections for energy companies that kill birds while extracting oil and gas, and declares the federal government has an “obligation to develop vast oil and gas and coal resources” on public lands.

Notably, it also would restart a quest for something climate denialists have long considered their holy grail: reversal of a 2009 scientific finding at the Environmental Protection Agency that says carbon dioxide emissions are a danger to public health.

Erasing that finding, conservatives have long believed, would essentially strip the federal government of the right to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from most sources.

In interviews, Dans and three of the top authors of the report agreed that the climate is changing. But they insisted that scientists are debating the extent to which human activity is responsible.

On the contrary, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists around the world agree that the burning of oil, gas and coal since the Industrial Age has led to an increase of the average global temperature of 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit).

The plan calls on the government to stop trying to make automobiles more fuel efficient and to block states from adopting California’s stringent automobile pollution standards.

Furchtgott-Roth said any measures the United States would take to cut carbon would be undermined by rising emissions in countries like China, currently the planet’s biggest polluter. It would be impossible to persuade China, to cut its emissions, she said.

Mandy Gunasekara was chief of staff at the EPA during the Trump administration and considers herself the force behind Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris climate accord. She led the section outlining plans for that agency, and said that regarding whether carbon emissions pose a danger to human health “there’s a misconception that any of the science is a settled issue.”

Bernard L. McNamee is a former Trump administration official who has worked for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which spreads misinformation about climate change, as well as an adviser to fossil fuel companies. He wrote the section of the strategy covering the Department of Energy, which said the national laboratories have been too focused on climate change and renewable energy. In an interview, McNamee said he believes the role of the agency is to make sure energy is affordable and reliable.

Dans said a mandate of Project 2025 is to “investigate whether the dimensions of climate change exist and what can actually be done.” As for the influence of burning fossil fuels, he said, “I think the science is still out on that quite frankly.”

In actuality, it is not.

The top scientists in the United States concluded in an exhaustive study produced during the Trump administration that humans — the cars we drive, the power plants we operate, the forests we destroy — are to blame. “There is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence,” scientists wrote.

Climate advocates denounced the Republican mandate as taking the country in the wrong direction even as heat waves and wildfires worsen because of emissions.

“This agenda would be laughable if the consequences of it weren’t so dire,” said Christy Goldfuss, chief policy impact officer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

Republicans who have called for their party to accept climate change said they were disappointed by the blueprint and worried about the direction of the party.

“I think its out-of-touch Beltway silliness and it’s not meeting Americans where they are,” said Sarah Hunt, president of the Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy, which works with Republican state officials on energy needs.

She called efforts to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, which is pouring money and jobs overwhelmingly into red states, particularly impractical.

“Obviously as conservatives we’re concerned about fiscal responsibility, but if you look at what Republican voters think, a lot of Republicans in red states show strong support for provisions of the IRA,” Hunt said.

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, who launched a conservative climate caucus, called it “vital that Republicans engage in supporting good energy and climate policy.”

Without directly commenting on the GOP blueprint, Curtis said, “I look forward to seeing the solutions put forward by the various presidential candidates and hope there is a robust debate of ideas to ensure we have reliable, affordable and clean energy.”

Benji Backer, executive chair and founder of the American Conservation Coalition, a group of young Republicans who want climate action, said he felt Project 2025 was wrongheaded.

“If they were smart about this issue they would have taken approach that said ‘the Biden administration has done things in a way they don’t agree with but here’s our vision,’ ” he said. “Instead they remove it from being a priority.”

He noted that climate change is a real concern among young Republicans. By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, polls have found, Republicans ages 18 to 39 are more likely to agree that “human activity contributes a great deal to climate change,” and that the federal government has a role to play in curbing it.

Of Project 2025, he said, “This sort of approach on climate is not acceptable to the next generation.”

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.

Why do CA policymakers keep turning to Big Oil for climate solutions? It’s simple: Money.

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Kathy Kerridge: The fossil fuel industry is everywhere and their lies are leading to the destruction of a habitable planet for billions of people. One of the false solutions mentioned in this OpEd is carbon capture and storage. It sounds great until you learn it has never worked, it’s frequently used for drilling more oil,  and storage may only last for 50 years. Worst of all is that if pipelines leak they can spread carbon dioxide which is heavier than oxygen. It forces the oxygen out leaving nothing for us to breathe and internal combustion engines to work, so there may be no way to flee. We need to learn about this since there is a carbon capture and storage project being proposed to capture carbon in Antioch and pipe it under the Straits to dispose of in Solano. The section related to this is bolded below.]

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian: I regret having two intro notes here but please recall that Steven Lucas, the attorney The Climate Center names here as a key architect of a ‘phony coalition’ some say was manufactured to oppose refinery regulations and penalties, is an associate of Nielsen Merksamer, the firm a Valero-funded PAC has used throughout allegedly misleading efforts to influence Benicia elections. (This PAC was previously known as ‘Working Families’ and more recently ‘Progress for Benicia.’) Nielsen Merksamer’s clients include Big Tobacco AND Big Oil giants Valero Energy Corporation, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Exxon. That’s one big, happy family.]

SacBee, by Ellie Cohen, July 27, 2023

Why do policymakers in California and other states continue to turn to the architects of the climate crisis for climate solutions?

The reason is simple: money.

Fossil fuel corporations spend millions of dollars every year to paint themselves as part of the solution to climate change. In reality, they spend far more on advertising, lobbying and public relations to appear climate-friendly than they do on actual investments in clean, renewable energy.

In the first quarter of 2023, oil companies spent $9.4 million trying to influence lawmakers in Sacramento — $5.2 million of which was funneled to just three front groups created to give the impression of grassroots support for Big Oil’s agenda. All three of these front groups were registered by a single attorney, Nielsen Merksamer’s Steven Lucas.

The firm, which has long-standing ties to Big Tobacco, manipulated voters through inaccurate comments by initiative signature gatherers to overturn a key public health law prohibiting oil drilling near homes, schools and hospitals. Lucas signed off as the registrant for another Big Oil-tied front group, the California Carbon Solutions Committee, which has lobbied for (and only for) SB 438 using a lobbyist, Virgil Welch, who was formerly a top aide at the California Air Resources Board.

These comments — and the front groups, the deceitful signature-gathering and massive lobbying budgets — offer a glimpse into something familiar to political insiders but not the public. Major polluters will always disguise their intentions and invest in misleading public relations plays as they seek to dismantle our democracy and stall climate action. Oil corporations work overtime, disguising their true intentions behind lobbying and PR, to kill bold climate policies while pushing false solutions like carbon capture, all to continue lining their pockets with pollution-soaked profits.

Some even feel emboldened enough to admit that deception is a big part of what they do.

Sacramento lobbyist, Theo Pahos, went on the record recently with Capital & Main to discuss a bill related to carbon capture and sequestration, stating, “We don’t want the environmentalists to see what we’re really up to.”

A non-profit publication that covers environmental issues in California, Capital & Main then wrote this: “Pahos was talking about plans by lobbyists to change a bill meant to regulate the industry’s handling of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, in a way that would mislead lawmakers and environmentalists.”

The bill Pahos was referencing was Senate Bill 438, which on its face was attempting to provide more clarity for regulating future carbon capture projects. But Pahos was saying that his plan, and that of other lobbyists, was to roll back rules about dangerous carbon pipelines at the eleventh hour.

“We (were) misadvertising (sic) what the bill does, what our intention is,” Pahol told Capital & Main.

Carbon capture and storage is one of the oil and gas industry’s favorite false solutions. According to the industry, this technology captures carbon dioxide emissions at fossil-fueled power plants before they reach the atmosphere. Yet there is growing evidence this simply doesn’t work. One study found that the technology can only reduce a power plant’s net emissions by 10 to 11 percent. This is no solution to depend on.

The bill has since been shelved by its author, Sen. Anna Caballero (D-Merced), until 2024.

Lies, public manipulation and underhanded tactics have been a part of the fossil fuel industry’s playbook for decades — and they are only getting worse as public support for action on climate change grows.

It’s time for Gov. Gavin Newsom and California leaders to wise up to the industry’s dirty tricks and put a stop to them.

Ellie Cohen is the CEO of The Climate Center, a climate and energy policy nonprofit working to rapidly reduce climate pollution at scale, starting in California.