Buying Dirty Air

Our annual State of the Air reports tell us that Californians face greater air pollution challenges than anywhere in the nation. Our volunteers, medical and health partners and staff fight for clean air because we know the terrible toll unhealthy air can take in terms of asthma attacks, strokes, ER visits, heart attacks and thousands of deaths per year in our state.

We have made so much progress in cutting harmful smog, soot and climate pollution, so why is the fight for clean air still so hard? Geography, weather, millions upon millions of cars and trucks, urban sprawl? Yes to all of the above, but there’s also the issue of lobbyists constantly trying to buy dirtier air.

Who’s buying dirty air? California’s oil industry is footing the bill, but they’re sharing with all of us. 

Dirty air is expensive: the oil industry spent $70 million on lobbyists in California since 2009. In the last three months alone, the oil industry has spent an unprecedented $7 million lobbying elected officials with a major focus on getting oil companies out of a major clean air regulation (We first reported on this in our Oct. 2, 2013 blog post). It is important to note – this doesn’t include spending on ballot measures or the recent election, things like Chevron spending $3 million (unsuccessfully) to elect “their” candidates to the Richmond City Council.

AB 32 is delivering on the promise of cleaner air future, and it is a model for successful climate action

There’s a lot at stake and the oil industry knows it. California has the worst air pollution in the country, where more people die from traffic pollution-related health issues than from traffic accidents. In Oregon and Washington, too, hundreds of people lose their lives each year due to traffic pollution (and yes, the industry has decided to buy dirty air there, too).

While our air pollution challenges are well known, so is our progress – that is what worries polluters. California is serious about clean air. Our landmark clean air and clean energy law, known as AB 32, is bringing ever-cleaner transportation options and cleaner air to our state.  As demonstrated by recent Lung Association health benefit research on clean cars, zero emission vehicles, smart growth and clean fuels, AB 32 is delivering real benefits to Californians by weaning us off of unhealthy petroleum fuels.

That’s why AB32 is a target. That’s why the oil industry has flooded Sacramento with over $70 million since 2009. That’s why they are forming front groups claiming that clean air policies will, among other things, prevent kids from going to college…seriously. (Read more on the oil industry front groups here, here, here, here, here).

In a new twist – the front groups have started buying dirty air. Just three oil industry-funded front groups combined to spend $1 million in the last six months in California. The Chevron-funded “Californians for Energy Independence” spent $649,000, which would make it the 24th largest lobbyist in California during that time.  We also know now that these front group activities and increased lobbying aren’t just buying dirty air for us here in California, Big Oil front group franchises are opening in Oregon and Washington, too.

As climate policy momentum builds on the West Coast, so do oil scare tactics and lobbying

Between 2009 and 2013, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the largest lobbyist in California, more than doubled its lobbying expenses in Oregon and jumped to the front of the line for lobbying spending there, and is behind the “Oregonians for Sound Fuel Policy” group opposing clean fuels in Oregon. Why? Oregon is moving ahead to advance clean fuels policies to fight harmful fossil-fueled pollution that threatens a healthy future in that state.  

Big Oil is a major player in the state of Washington as well, with BP and WSPA and among the top lobbying entities in 2014.  Recent lobbying reports confirm that WSPA is also funding the “grassroots” movement to attack clean fuels programs in Washington, just as the Evergreen State moves to secure a healthier future.  

The industry will continue to use its deep pockets to buy dirty air  

That’s why the Lung Association and our partners in the public health community are working so hard to protect AB 32 and to support West Coast progress to align strong policies to protect the public from unhealthy fuels, dirty energy sources and climate impacts.

The good news is that California’s leadership is delivering a clean air and clean energy future. Click here to learn more via California Delivers, or here to support the work of the American Lung Association in California.

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