Oil Lobbying in California

As a visitor to this blog, you know that the American Lung Association in California Center for Tobacco Policy and Organizing produces compelling reports on Tobacco Money in Politics to highlight the money the tobacco industry spends lobbying state officials. These reports are invaluable in highlighting the magnitude of the spending power of this industry and provide an important context for the difficult work of protecting our kids from deadly tobacco products.

Just as tobacco companies pour millions into lobbying and public relations to deflect attention away from the dangerous health impacts of smoking, oil companies are investing a fortune on lobbying to undermine clean air policies and protect the market for their polluting products.

Through June of this year, Big Oil has spent over $5 million on lobbying California policy-makers (and no, that doesn’t include donations to political campaigns). The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA is the lobbying organization for California oil interests) spent over $20 million since 2009, and is again leading all spending to influence California politics, and Chevron isn’t far behind (see news coverage, here and here). Given the major oil lobbying push in the Capitol at the end of the legislative session in early September, it will not be a surprise if this trend holds.

Imagine spending $20 per minute, every day, every week, every month for over four years. Sounds impossible doesn’t it? Well, California’s oil industry lobbyists in Sacramento have done just that. Since 2009, oil lobbyists have spent $45 million to keep us addicted to fossil fuels and maintain a monopoly over our transportation choices. Sound familiar?

You may recall the 2010 election when a couple of oil companies tried to convince Californians that they should gut California’s clean air and clean energy law. The Lung Association was out in front then because climate change is a grave threat to air quality and public health, both locally and globally.

The unsuccessful $10 million campaign showed us just how far the oil industry would go to weaken and delay California’s vital clean air laws, but it was really a blip on the screen when you consider the behind-the-scenes work being done by oil industry lobbying efforts every day.

The oil industry is spending that same $10 million every year out of the public’s eye. They do it by swarming the halls of the Capitol to sway legislators to undermine California’s innovative clean air laws and rules that protect the public’s health, like the Low Carbon Fuel Standard. This doesn’t include the millions in donations to members of the legislature not covered in this blog.

Down the hall from our tobacco team, our air quality staff focuses on protecting Californians from harmful air pollution that kills thousands of Californians every year. Thanks to innovative clean air and climate programs, California is successfully reducing oil demand, cleaning up the air and spurring alternatives to both dirty fuels and the need to drive as much as we do because so many of our communities are built for cars and traffic.

We in the public health field know that clean air saves lives, prevents asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes and keeps children from growing up at risk for a lifetime of lung disease. That’s why the Lung Association is coordinating the “Clean Air Saves Lives and Money” campaign to ensure our ground-breaking clean air laws are protected and our communities can breathe easier.

Along with dozens of health and medical organizations, we are working to educate our leaders on the vital role that California policies play in protecting public health from air pollution and climate change impacts.

I’ll close with a quote to honor our late President and CEO, Jane Warner, who left us with a legacy to protect lung health against industries and products that do just the opposite:

“Much like tobacco companies want to keep smokers dependent on their deadly product, the oil industry wants to keep California dependent on oil – an expensive, dirty and limited resource that damages health.”

– William Barrett





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