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.