If you thought the state Capitol fight over last year’s bill that would have cut California’s dependence on polluting oil was over, think again.
The oil industry is taking direct aim this year at the bill’s supporters and indirect aim at its author, Senate Pro Tem Kevin de León, through the avenue of electoral politics.
A quick review: Senate Bill 350 established new goals for renewable energy, energy efficiency and oil demand reduction in the transportation sector. The oil industry aggressively and successfully campaigned to get the oil reduction language stripped from the bill in late summer, relying on about 20 oil-backed Assembly members for help.
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Now, months later, the oil industry has begun spending big bucks on at least five legislative races with a clear intent to retaliate against supporters of the early versions of the bill, and to signal to its author what he can expect to encounter if he runs statewide in 2018.
It isn’t unusual for companies like Chevron, Tesoro and Valero to pour funds totaling millions into so-called independent expenditure campaigns, or IEs, to support or oppose candidates. They did it in 2014.
What’s different this time is the industry’s choice of targets and their shared link to a single bill.
So far, just in April and May, oil-backed independent expenditure campaigns have filed to try to defeat a Senate policy adviser who is running to replace clean-air champion Fran Pavley as she is termed out; a military veteran associated with a national veterans’ campaign that promotes cutting fossil fuel dependence; a first-time legislative candidate running in smoggy San Bernardino County on a platform that includes green energy and clean air; a sitting senator who co-authored de Leon’s SB 350; and a first-time Assembly member who unexpectedly unseated an oil-backed legislator two years ago.
The sitting legislators among these embraced the early versions of de León’s SB 350 that would have cut oil pollution. The first-time candidates also voiced overt support for SB 350.
Voters in districts as disparate as San Bernardino in Southern California and Cupertino in Northern California are beginning to be hit with television, web-based and mailed advertisements funded by any of three oil-backed IEs.
Some of the ads repeat myths about the bill the oil industry loves to hate, deceptively telling voters that it would have cut available gasoline by 50 percent. In fact, the bill’s original language would have continued a regulatory path the state is already on to improve fuel economy and advance zero-pollution vehicles to reduce oil dependence. That’s a lot different than cutting gas supplies.
The ads play on political ignorance and complain about “fancy-pants politicians” and “far-left politicians” who supported SB 350, distracting from the serious issues of asthma, heart disease and climate change caused by using the oil industry’s products.
Nearly 60 percent of the health-threatening air pollution in California, and nearly 40 percent of the climate pollution, is generated by vehicle engines powered by oil-based fuels. We can’t stall climate change or end the everyday air pollution that exacerbates lung disease and heart disease unless we power vehicles with better engines and cleaner fuels, including electricity.
It would be naive to expect political ads to present the full and complete picture of any issue. But the level of deception about SB 350 in the independent expenditure campaign ads is annoying, to say the least.
If you live within this paper’s circulation area, you may be feeling lucky you aren’t in one of the most heavily targeted districts. However, be aware that the election year is still young.
You may yet get your chance to be deceived or annoyed – or both.
Kathryn Phillips is director of Sierra Club California, an environmental organization that supported SB 350. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.