Oil's California playbook: the arguments you should expect
September 10th - Last night, California legislators killed part of a landmark bill that would set a new precedent for tackling pollution. The Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act (SB350) would increase building efficiency by 50%, increase renewable’s share of the state’s energy to 50% and decrease petroleum use by 50% all by 2030. This last piece was the subject of intense campaigning by the oil industry and after immense pressure, was dropped from the bill late Wednesday night. California has been a model for the rest of the world on climate legislation and has even led other subnational provinces and states to join their carbon trading market. While the remaining pieces of the bill are impressive, this is seen as a major setback directly attributed to industry pressure.
Led by the Western State Petroleum Association (WSPA), the oil industry has fought California’s energy reforms tooth and nail. They know that if California shows what a clean energy economy can look like, their claims of disaster won’t hold water. "If California can do this, it could really be the beginning of the snowball," said Tim O'Connor, director of California policy for the Environmental Defense Fund. "This is how California can really shake up the national conversation on climate."
Here in the Northwest, we’ve recently passed impressive climate legislation of our own. Both states’ look poised to put a price on pollution. But make no mistake; the oil industry will do everything they can to stop it.
The golden state’s battles to pass climate legislation have given us a glimpse of what to expect. Here are the arguments oil companies will use, right out of their California playbook.
Prices will skyrocket, and hurt the poorest residents (hidden gas tax)
This is by far their most prevalent argument. In an attack ad brought to you by the innocuous sounding California Drivers Alliance, a cute kid warns viewers that “the huge hidden gas tax” is here and drivers need to sign the petition to stop it! Except the California Drivers Alliance isn’t a group of well meaning citizens. Its nothing more than an other astro-turf group “brought to you by WSPA” (their website’s about page speaks for its self). This video is indicative of dozens of well-paid ads the group put out to try and incite Californians against cap and trade. But despite their dire warnings of a “massive hidden gas tax”, the results were far different.
According to Berkeley Business School professor Severin Borenstein who extensively studies local gas prices there’s “little proof pump prices were affected by cap and trade.” WSPA’s attack ads warned that January 1st was the day of reckoning and gas prices would immediately go up. But lo and behold the days following saw an almost unregister-able blip. January 2015 saw increases of just pennies on the dollar, none of which were directly attributable to cap and trade.
Despite WSPA’s warnings to voters, the reality was quite different. After cap and trade was passed and implemented, fluctuations in gas prices were negligible. In the long run, with an end to oil’s near monopoly on fuel, drivers will have more options at the pump and will have greater reason to lower prices. The real culprit behind local gas price increases is the industry its self. 2015 saw massive upsurges directly attributed to refinery explosions and the mistreatment and subsequent strikes of oil workers.
Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown, flanked by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, announced that they are scaling back a proposal to address climate change, during a news conference, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015, in Sacramento, Calif. Photo credit AP Rich Pedroncelli
Climate laws will force us to ration gasoline
This argument is a complete flip of what the bill (Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act) actually says. WSPA’s ad beginnings with an unveiled attack against electric cars, “if you can afford a Telsa then this message won’t really matter to you.” They then claim the bill will require drivers to ration gas and limiting how far individuals can drive. They also insist on calling the bill the California Gas Restriction Act.
From the Sacramento Bee’s Fact Check on the ad:
First, the legislation is not called the California Gas Restriction Act of 2015. And while there is no law prohibiting the Air Resources Board from rationing fuel, Senate Bill 350 says nothing about the issue. The bill does not include new authority for the ARB to ration gas or to impose surcharges on older vehicles.”
The bill itself gives the state freedom to choose what option will work best as it develops. But just because the bill leaves room for choice doesn’t mean the state can do anything it wants.
No one truly believes rationing is the best solution to this problem. Californians will see increases in efficiency, greater incentives for alternatives and more low carbon options at the pump, just as they have with previous climate legislation. Draconian governmental measures haven’t been brought down before and there’s no reason they’d start now.
Expect WSPA to stir these same fears of shortages and rationing when the Northwest makes its next move to reduce pollution.
The government will track your driving and fine you for using your car!
This one is just flat out wrong. In that same Sacramento Bee article as well as this latest WSPA ad, examples of these claims of government privacy invasions are rampant.
The ARB (air resource board) has long required onboard diagnostic equipment to monitor emission control components on cars and trucks, and it is now considering expanding the kind of data collected to measure fuel consumption.
But it would be voluntary for drivers to participate, according to the ARB, and data could be stored without identifying individual vehicles or owners. The proposal does not mention citations or penalties such as the ad claims could be imposed. (Emphasis mine)
The new regulations have no authority to implement these types of measures and its unclear why they would. So far, in the minds of consumers, when it comes to climate legislations, carrots have worked far better than sticks.
Adrienne Alvord, California and Western states director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, sums up the situation nicely: “the simple truth that explains all of WSPA’s lies about SB 350 is that the legislation, while good for people, is bad for oil companies.”
Cleaner air, more options for transportation and a healthier climate are incentives we all want. But this means a break up of oil’s long-standing monopoly on how we get from A to B. Oil companies already have an army of front groups and astro-turf organizations primed to spread their false choice arguments. But the Northwest is set to take a big step on our path to a clean energy economy. Lets make sure we’re ready for it when they inevitably try and pull us back.
After all, we’ve already got their playbook.
Nick Abraham - Editor Oil Check Northwest
[email protected] @oilchecknw