Capitol Alert

Oil industry’s spending surged as it fought California climate bill

This March 9, 2010 file photo shows a tanker truck passing the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, Calif.
This March 9, 2010 file photo shows a tanker truck passing the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, Calif. AP

Oil companies who succeeded in weakening a California climate change bill massively increased their lobbying spending during the final chunk of the Legislature’s calendar, shelling out nearly $11 million to persuade lawmakers and to run a media campaign.

A centerpiece of Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats’ agenda, Senate Bill 350 became the target of a fierce opposition campaign from oil companies that targeted Democrats considered politically vulnerable and warned about gas rationing. In the end, bill backers succumbed, removing a provision that would have mandated a 50 percent cut in petroleum usage.

Newly filed lobbying disclosures illuminate the scope of the industry’s blitz from the start of the July to the end of September, a period that encompasses the frantic final stretch of the legislative session.

A pair of industry associations and a handful of oil companies combined to spend $10.7 million in the third quarter.

Leading the way was the Western States Petroleum Association, which spent $6.7 million, more than double what it had spent in the prior two quarters, to bring its total on the year to $9.2 million.

Valero spent $582,000, up from the comparatively paltry $48,000 it had spent earlier in the year. Exxon spent around $414,000 in the final quarter, just under double the $223,000 it had deployed earlier.

Combined with the $5.4 million that oil companies that lobbied on SB 350 reported spending earlier in the year, the new figures bring the industry’s total influence outlay for 2015 to $16.1 million.

Oil interests weren’t the only ones spending big. Environmentalists hoping to curb climate change have a powerful ally in Tom Steyer, who channeled millions from his personal fortune into passing an energy-efficiency-promoting ballot initiative in 2012 and beating back a 2010 attempt to undo California’s cap-and-trade system.

Steyer’s NextGen Climate reported spending nearly $1.2 million in the third quarter of 2015, bringing its total to around $1.9 million for the year.

Utility companies had a huge stake in a provision requiring them to derive half of their electricity from renewable sources in coming years. They spent heavily but saw their cumulative total decline in the third quarter.

Pacific Gas & Electric Company, Southern California Edison and Sempra Energy, which oversees San Diego Gas and Electric Company, spent a combined $1.3 million on lobbying in the year’s third quarter, bringing their total to around $3.2 million on the year.

Much of the spending surge was filed under “other payments to influence,” a catch-all category that can include the advertising spots that targeted some lawmakers. The Western States Petroleum Association spent $6.1 million of its $6.7 million total on that category, while NextGen climate spent $1.08 million of a $1.18 million total on it. Around 81 percent of the oil industry’s outlay, or $8.7 million out of $10.7 million, went to the category.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert