The oil industry and its front groups

Last week, Bloomberg Businessweek revealed a slide deck created by Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the oil industry’s lobbyist, outlining a comprehensive strategy to kill clean air and energy standards in California, Oregon and Washington. It tells of a variety of tactics including a vast network of front groups purporting to be consumer or business organizations, while in reality doing the oil industry’s bidding.

The fact that the oil industry is using front groups to battle against clean energy progress is no surprise to anyone who has been working in California or around the west to protect clean air laws. This kind of tactic has been used for decades. It was front and center for voters in 2010 when out-of-state oil companies spent millions to derail AB 32, the state’s pioneering climate policy. Fortunately, voters saw through the rhetoric and defeated Proposition 23, and the law has remained on track.

Contrary to the WSPA claim, the oil industry faces no greater burden than other business – ask utilities and automakers if they agree with that statement.

WSPA’s president took to these pages recently claiming that the leaked presentation would have been shared with anyone who had requested it and that “gullible news reporters” must have been convinced otherwise. To believe that Bloomberg was hoodwinked into writing a story – which was followed by several additional articles and blogs – is about as likely as WSPA reversing position and supporting full and timely implementation of AB 32.

How ironic that the oil industry’s lobbyist suggested that the chorus of diverse voices that support AB 32 “skulk about in the shadows.” If WSPA is about honest and transparent dialogue, then all of the various front groups it has created and funded over the years – California Drivers Alliance, Fed Up at the Pump, Californians for Affordable and Reliable Energy – would have acknowledged the oil industry’s funding and influence over them when they were launched. It took a very public news story for this truth to come out.

Contrary to the WSPA claim, the oil industry faces no greater burden than other business – ask utilities and automakers if they agree with that statement. Further, no one has been left out of the discussion or the debate. In addition to Prop. 23 where voters weighed in on AB 32, there has been eight years of discussion in the Legislature including frequent oversight and informational hearings; there has been eight years of an extensive, ongoing, public regulatory process at the California Air Resources Board including dozens of public hearings, workshops and meetings; and there have been multiple legal challenges, all leaving AB 32 intact.

Business groups like mine, along with consumer organizations, public health groups, veterans, public officials, faith groups, and environmental and equity organizations recently joined together to form California Delivers – to bring a diverse and powerful voice to keep AB 32 on track, and to extend the benefits of the law beyond 2020. This public coalition – representing companies, communities, individuals and families – agrees with WSPA that climate change policies will impact everyone, just as climate change is impacting everyone. The big difference is that California Delivers believes the answer is moving forward to implement existing law instead of spending millions to derail it.

WSPA’s strategy for reversing clean energy progress is no longer hidden in the shadows. Perhaps we now can have an open and honest debate, so that Californians can get what they keep asking for and deserve – a cleaner, healthier and more prosperous future for everyone.

Ed’s Note: Susan Frank is Director of the California Business Alliance for a Clean Economy – a coalition of small and mainstream businesses, associations and chambers of commerce across the state that support California’s clean energy policies.



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