Will Big Oil Money Continue to Trump Public Interest in Legislature?

As news that California allowed thousands of oil and fracking wells to dump waste water into protected underground aquifers surfaced, legislation to prevent such environmental disasters wound its way to a floor vote in both houses of the Legislature.  
 
AB 356, by Assemblyman Das Williams, would have created a groundwater monitoring and reporting program for underground injection wells used to dispose of waste water from oil and gas operations. SB 454, by Sen. Ben Allen, would have prevented the state’s oil industry regulators from allowing oil drilling waste to be injected into an aquifer without the state agency responsible for protecting water quality ensuring that drinking water quality would not be harmed.
 
Despite the urgency, the bills failed on a floor vote in their respective houses.  Another bill, SB 545, by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, that was an attempt to reform the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the main state agency responsible for regulating the oil and gas industry never got out of committee. 
 
Why? $2 million reasons. That’s how much the oil and gas industry shelled out to those who opposed the bills. Less than $500,000 was given to those who supported the bills. 
 
Top Ten Recipients of Oil and Gas Campaign Contributions in California Legislature: 
 
 
In the Assembly, 52 Democrats and Republicans voted either no or did not vote for AB 356. For SB 454, the vote was 17-23. 
 
More than $56 million in oil and gas money since 2008 has been given in California to lawmakers and political organizations, according to the National Institute of Money in Politics. In 2015 alone, according to the California Secretary of State (SoS), Chevron, Phillips 66 and Tesoro have given $1.5 million in direct campaign contributions. 
 
Oil and gas spread their wealth into the committees that oversee much of the oil and gas industries. Sen. Fuller, who helped kill SB 454, is vice chair on the Energy, Utilities and Communications committee. Democratic Assemblyman Jim Frazier, chair of the Transportation Committee, and Republican Katcho Achadjian, vice chair, voted against AB 356 and each received more than $40,000 in campaign contributions. 
 
The major oil refiners also spent $1.8 million on lobbying in 2015, according to SoS data. Since 2007, oil and gas companies have spent nearly $110 million in lobbying in California. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) leads the pack with more than $44 million. Chevron is the next big spender at an estimated $22.5 million. 
 
The biggest tests for Big Oil’s kill list are coming. SB 350, by Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León, is intended to create more renewable energy, more energy efficient buildings, and see a 50 percent reduction in the use of petroleum by 2030. 
 
With a renewed focus on gas price spikes and oil profits in California, NextGen Climate founder Tom Steyer and Consumer Watchdog recently called on the state Senate to investigate the oil companies and enact energy legislation that would include forcing oil companies to be more honest and transparent about the reasons behind the spikes.  If no legislative solutions are moved forward, they outlined a ballot initiative measure that would: 
 
- Require oil companies to fully disclose the profits they make from refining gasoline in California, and the amount of taxes they pay to the state of California;
- Require oil refiners in California to give the public advance notice of planned maintenance and outages at their oil refineries;
- Require oil companies to have a plan to maintain a minimum level of gasoline reserves in order to prevent price spikes; and
- Increase the legal and financial penalties for oil companies if they illegally conspire to increase gas prices.
 
Will the Legislature act in the public interest or will the massive amounts of money spent by oil and gas producers win the day? 
 
 
 

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