Oil Industry “Million-Dollar Smokescreen” Dooms Gasoline Cuts in Climate Bill

Thursday, September 10, 2015

California may still enact an ambitious climate change package of legislation this session, but the oil industry made sure it won’t include the most aggressive feature.

Governor Jerry Brown and Senate lawmakers agreed on Wednesday to drop a mandate for reducing the use of gasoline in the state 50% by 2030 from Senate Bill 350. The legislation did not contain specifics on how that goal would be reached, but critics warned of gas rationing, bans on SUVs or whatever draconian solutions dreamed up by the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

“We couldn't cut through the multibillion-dollar smoke screen created by big oil with a bottomless war chest,” Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) said. He is the bill’s co-author with Mark Leno (D-San Francisco).

The measure was considered by supporters a key element in the state reaching its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2030. The bill retains two less contentious requirements. The state would still have to achieve a 50% increase in energy efficiency in buildings, and get half of its utility power from renewable energy.

An estimated 20 Democrats in the Assembly were wobbly on the bill 10 days ago, according to the Sacramento Bee, including Speaker Toni Atkins. Concerns were expressed about the effect on lower-income people and the economy, along with a lack of specificity in the legislation that would empower regulators at CARB—to the detriment of lawmakers.

That seemed to surprise outside advocates who expected SB 350 to fly through the Democratically-controlled Legislature. The bill would be a broad expansion of AB 32, the landmark California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

Supporters of the axed gasoline provision said they would find some other way to compel less driving by cars and trucks. “I'd say oil has won the skirmish, but they've lost the bigger battle,” Governor Brown said, “because I'm more determined than ever to make our regulatory regime work for the people of California—cleaning up the air, reducing the petroleum and creating the green jobs that are going to put hundreds of thousands of people to work.”

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) hailed the bill’s gutting. “Today's announcement was an acknowledgement that California's energy future, economic competitiveness, and environment are inextricably linked,” WSPA President Catherine Reheis-Boyd said.

The Legislative session ends on Friday and Speaker Atkins said she expects SB 350 to pass.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Jerry Brown: Oil Lobby Gutted Climate Bill (by Melody Gutierrez, San Francisco Chronicle)

California Democrats Drop Plan to Force 50 Percent Cut in Oil Use (by Adam Nagourney, New York Times)

Gas Reduction Dropped from California Climate Change Bill (by Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Brown, Legislative Democrats Scale Back Climate Package (by Judy Lin, Associated Press)

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