News

Oil lobby pulled off wins–with help of Mod Caucus

The oil industry might appear to be in the fight of its life in California,
having just lost a major battle on global-warming legislation and also
facing a multibillion-dollar tax initiative in November. But oil producers,
and their political allies, also managed several keys wins this past
session–and the Moderate Democratic Caucus once again proved to be the key.

The list of oil-industry wins includes four major Senate bills having to do
with vehicles, fuel and air pollution. All four of these bills were targeted
by such groups as the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and the
California Trucking Association.

The bills all had something else in common as well: They made the list of
bills that concerned members of the Mod Caucus, and they all died in the
Assembly on the last day of session. In each case, they suffered narrow
defeats after a block of four Mod Caucus Assembly members–Joe Canciamilla of
Pittsburg, Edward Chavez of La Puente, Barbara Matthews of Tracy, and Nicole
Parra of Hanford–voted against all of them. Four other Mod Caucus members
cast votes against at least two of these bills.

“They hold a lot of sway over the mods and they know it,” said Sen.
Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, author of one of these bills, SB 1675. “It’s a
pretty effective combination, WSPA and the truckers.”

Kehoe said the pair of lobbying groups put on a “full-court press” against
AB 1675. The bill would have put mandates into place that would have called
for diesel fuel sold in California to contain 2 percent biodiesel by 2008
and 5 percent by 2010. KP Advocates, a lobbying firm representing WSPA,
targeted members of the Assembly Appropriations and Transportation
committees with opposition letters calling the mandate “premature” and
charging that biodiesel caused clogged fuel filters. The other defeated
bills were SB 459, SB 999 and SB 1205.

But Kehoe added that opponents uncharacteristically backed off on other
environmental bills. For instance, she got SB 757 through after making only
minor amendments. The bill calls for various means to lower petroleum
consumption. After writing in clauses that would prevent the state from
charging fees to oil companies based on the legislation or placing new
powers with the Air Resources Board, WSPA, the truckers and over a half
dozen other groups backed off.

“They were mindful of the fact that the governor was moving in an
environmental direction because of the election, so they were picking their
battles,” Kehoe said.

The unifying theme for WSPA members was to oppose bills that artificially
affected fuel markets, according to WSPA spokesman Tupper Hull. He compared
the current obsession with climate change and oil depletion with the
“tampering” with the state’s energy markets a few years ago.

“Mandates, no matter how well-intentioned, have the effect of distorting the
market,” Hull said. “We think that markets are always the better way to
introduce new fuels and technologies.”

Assembly Speaker Fabian N


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