Don’t be fooled by oil industry’s kinder, gentler rhetoric

The Dallas Morning News

The oil industry is making some peculiar arguments about California’s clean energy and climate efforts.

Industry lobbyists want voters and policymakers to believe that they just want our state’s climate policies to be as effective as possible.

But that rings hollow after a year in which the industry spent more than ever on lobbying, largely in order to defeat legislation that would have cut our oil use.

Indeed, burning oil for transportation remains California’s largest source of heat-trapping emissions. And what’s worse is that producing today’s gasoline generates 30 percent more emissions than it did just a decade ago, according to our analysis.

Make no mistake: What the oil industry is really interested in is stifling competition.

For instance, when Gov. Jerry Brown explained how his administration wanted to invest money raised from polluters under the state’s emissions cap, the Western States Petroleum Association – which outspent every other lobby group in the state last year – said the governor “will need to demonstrate … how the proposed spending can dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The association’s real objections were surely more closely tied to where those investments were going: biofuels, electric cars and transit, which all compete with oil for transportation spending.

Or take the California Chamber of Commerce, which receives funding from Chevron for policy advocacy.

A few years ago, the chamber sued the state to block its emissions cap. Now the chamber’s Loren Kaye argues that our cap-and-trade program is so effective that we don’t need the state’s low-carbon fuel standard.

Why this change in tune? Because the low-carbon fuel standard encourages competition for bringing the most effective clean fuels to market, regardless of whether oil prices are $30 or $100 a barrel. Rather than competing with cleaner fuels, the oil industry wants to buy pollution permits under the cap-and-trade program and pass those costs onto drivers.

Bigger picture, we know that California’s emissions cap, along with its policies on renewable energy, clean fuels and clean transportation are working. California has proven definitively that we can have cleaner air, a healthier climate and a stronger economy.

And while many state and federal policies, from tax law to access to public land, are still tilted in the oil industry’s favor and have been for more than a century, new policies and new technologies – from cleaner fuels, to electric vehicles, to commute-free teleworking – are making it easier for Americans to burn less gasoline.

Thanks to these policies and technologies, California is already on track to reduce its oil consumption by 24 percent by 2030. According to analysis we released last month, we could cut the state’s oil consumption 50 percent with more low-carbon fuels, electric vehicles and smart transportation policies. But when state Sen. Kevin de León and other legislators tried to set that goal into law last year, the oil industry lashed out with threats, misinformation and record-breaking $22 million in lobbying spending.

These are signs of desperation from an industry that sees the writing on the wall. Oil company shareholders should be concerned. After all, one major coal company already got in trouble with a state attorney general for misrepresenting risks it faced from new technology and new policies to investors. And now ExxonMobil is under investigation in New York and California for similar failures, including funding deceptive campaigns about science and policy.

Oil company executives need to rein in their lobbyists. They need to let their scientists and engineers get to work innovating and cutting emissions. Our transportation future is clean and low-carbon. We need everyone to be a part of it.

Adrienne Alvord is the Western States director and Don Anair is the clean vehicles research and deputy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, the country’s leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world.