Last month I wrote about California's quiet revolution in climate policy, a revolution that has the potential to both save our air and create thousands of jobs in economically struggling communities. But no good deed goes unpunished: The oil industry has declared all-out war on California's climate law, and has enlisted the help of a number of state legislators.
The effort is being led by the Western States Petroleum Association, the trade association that includes companies like Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell. Knowing that an appeal from big oil aimed at protecting its own profits isn't likely to resonate with Californians, the oil lobby set up a succession of front groups purporting to represent ordinary citizens, small business owners, etc. These front groups have warm and fuzzy names like Californians for Affordable and Reliable Energy and the California Drivers' Alliance.
Don't be fooled. This is a battle between oil industry profits and the health, well-being and economic survival of California families, and it will set a precedent that will reverberate nationwide.
Big oil's latest tactic aims to frighten Californians with scare stories about a "hidden gas tax" that will send pump prices soaring next year. It's baloney, but it's effective.
As I mentioned last time, California's law called AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, commits the state to curbing greenhouse gas emissions. To do this, California began charging polluters for their carbon emissions under a cap-and-trade system, putting a price on pollution and raising hundreds of millions of dollars that will go to clean energy and energy-saving projects. Those projects will create good, urgently needed jobs and help low-income families cut their energy bills.
Cap-and-trade is being implemented in stages, part of a carefully laid-out plan. The next stage, which has big oil so alarmed, includes fuels in the cap, meaning that the oil companies will be forced to pay for the pollution their products dump into the air.
And pay they should. Air pollution from gasoline and diesel causes illness and shortens life expectancy, even as it contributes to global warming. According to the American Lung Association, more than 70 percent of smog and soot in California's air comes from transportation-related sources:
"Unhealthy air causes more than 9,000 premature deaths each year in California, in addition to tens of thousands of asthma attacks, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations. These health impacts cost California billions of dollars each year, and disproportionately impact low income communities and communities of color."
The oil industry and its shills are warning of huge gas price increases, and have persuaded state Assemblymember Henry Perea (D-Fresno) to introduce legislation to keep fuels out of cap and trade for three more years. In fact, more sober estimates indicate that any price increase is likely to be small, and well within the normal up-and-down fluctuations of gas and diesel prices.
Actually, prices don't have to go up at all. Chevron alone made $21.4 billion in profit last year. These massively profitable companies could easily choose not to pass along this small increase in cost and they'd barely feel it. Instead, wanting to horde every last penny of profit at the expense of our health, our families and our neighborhoods, big oil is pushing to change the law.
We will stop them. California legislators are wisely refusing to put Perea's bill on a fast track, giving those of us working to protect our communities time to organize. California will build a new economy with cleaner energy sources, cars and trucks that don't belch garbage into the air, and new, good jobs for communities that need them, creating a template for America and the world. We will not be stopped by the desperate flailing of what is literally a dying industry.