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WSPA: The West’s Most Powerful Corporate Lobbying Group

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) is not a household name in California and the West, but it should be.

WSPA is the trade association for the oil industry and the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying organization in California. It represents a who’s who of oil companies including Aera Energy, Chevron, California Resources Corporation (formerly Occidental Petroleum), ExxonMobil, Phillips 66, Shell, Valero and many others.

Yet most people I talk to — even many environmental activists — have never heard of the organization and the enormous influence it wields over politicians and regulators in the western states.

Founded in 1907, WSPA is the oldest petroleum trade association in the United States, according to the organization’s website, www.wspa.org. The group is a non-profit trade association that represents companies that account for the bulk of petroleum exploration, production, refining, transportation and marketing in the five western states of Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

“WSPA is dedicated to ensuring that Americans continue to have reliable access to petroleum and petroleum products through policies that are socially, economically and environmentally responsible,” the website proclaims. “We believe the best way to achieve this goal is through a better understanding of the relevant issues by government leaders, the media and the general public. Toward that end, WSPA works to disseminate accurate information on industry issues and to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas on petroleum matters.”

WSPA’s headquarters are located in Sacramento, just across from the State Capitol. The group also has offices in Torrance, the San Francisco Bay Area, Santa Barbara, Bakersfield, Scottsdale, Arizona and Olympia, Washington.

While the mainstream and alternative media have published articles about aspects of WSPA’s enormous influence over politics in the West, none have looked at the overall strategy of how WSPA and Big Oil exert their power and influence.

In this article I will explore how WSPA and Big Oil use their money and power in 5 ways: through (1) lobbying; (2) campaign spending; (3) getting appointed to positions on and influencing regulatory panels; (4) creating Astroturf groups: and (5) working in collaboration with media.

1. Lobbying

From January 1, 2009 to November 8, 2016, the oil industry spent $112,371,214 on lobbying expenses in California according to a new report, “The Chevron Way: Polluting California and Degrading Democracy.” The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) Sydney Office produced the report, in collaboration with a coalition of conservation, consumer and environmental justice groups.

The Western States Petroleum Association led the oil industry lobbying expenses with $49,491,104 during this period, followed by Chevron with $24,035,901 and Phillips 66 with $4,821,144. To read the full report, go to: static1.squarespace.com/…

The oil industry’s lobbying expenses have increased dramatically in the last three years. The biggest-ever gusher of Big Oil lobbying money into the state in one quarter was from July 1 to September 30, 2015, resulting in the gutting/amending or the defeat of every bill that the oil industry opposed in the last session of the State Legislature.

WSPA set a new quarterly record for lobbying expenses by an organization when it spent an amazing $6,750,666 lobbying legislators in the third quarter of 2015 to oppose or amend Senate Bill 350, Senate Bill 32 and other environmental bills. The total spent by the oil industry in that quarter was an unprecedented $11 million.

In the first 9 months of 2015 alone, oil interests spent a total $17.7 million, according to a report by the American Lung Association in California. That $17.7 million included approximately $9.3 million from WSPA, $3.3 million from Chevron and $5.1 million from Exxon, Valero and other oil companies.

With help from the “Big Oil Caucus,” a group of oil industry friendly Democrats, the oil industry was successful at halting other important bills aimed at better regulating its practices. These included AB 356 (Williams), SB 248 (Pavley), and SB 484 (Allen).

These bills would have reformed the state’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) program by requiring disclosure of chemicals used in well treatments or injections; ensuring that oil and gas projects do not contaminate aquifers containing water suitable for drinking and irrigation; requiring the State Water Board to review aquifer exemption applications; and/or requiring the shutdown of illegal injection wells if regulators fail to shut them down.

The industry also notably defeated a bill to protect the coast from oil spills, SB 788, sponsored by Senator Mike McGuire, despite the fact that California was still recovering from the May 2015 Refugio oil spill.

In 2016, WSPA continued to dominate lobbying expenses. WSPA has spent a total of $16,619,272 in the first seven quarters of the 2015-2016 session, the most of any lobbying organization. (cal-access.sos.ca.gov/…

The California Oil Lobby remains the biggest spender in the 2015-16 legislative session, spending an amazing $32.4 million so far. “That’s the equivalent of dropping $50,750 EVERY DAY since January 1, 2015,” reported Stop Fooling California, stopfoolingca.org.

The Western States Petroleum Association usually captures the top spot in the quarterly lobbying expenses listed on the California Secretary of State’s website, but Tom Steyer’s Next Generation Climate Action, a campaign committee, actually beat the oil industry trade association in spending in the seventh quarter of the 2015-2016 Legislative Session.

WSPA dumped $2.6 million into lobbying legislators and state officials in the seventh quarter, while Steyer’s group spent an unprecedented $7.3 million, almost 3 times the oil industry group’s expenses.

The spending by Steyer’s group helped propel the passage of Senate Bill 32, legislation that reduces greenhouse gas level to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, in spite of strong opposition by the oil industry.

Prior to the passage of this bill, virtually no legislation opposed by the oil industry in the past few years was able to make it out of the Legislature without being gutted, as in the case of Senator Fran Pavley’s Senate Bill 4, considered the “greenlight for fracking” bill by anti-fracking activists.

2. Campaign Spending

The oil industry also contributes millions of dollars every year to political campaigns. Big Oil donated a total of $76,033,707 to candidates and communities from January 1, 2009 to November 8, 2016,

Chevron led the list of donations to candidates and committees. with $37,010,511, followed by Valero Energy with $8,733,784 and Occidental Petroleum with $6,844,530, according to the “Chevron Way” report.

2015 saw the Rise of the “Big Oil Caucus,” a group of Assembly members including Henry Perea, who received $24,200 from Big Oil; Adam Gray, who received $23,400’ and Jim Cooper, who received $24,200. Stop Fooling California revealed that the Big Oil invested $3,070,480 in the Assembly Big Oil Caucus, based on Secretary of State data from direct contributions and Super PACs.

Big Oil also dumps a lot of money into local and regional campaigns. In 2014, Chevron alone spent $3 million (unsuccessfully) to elect their selected candidates to the Richmond City Council. The oil industry also dumped $7.6 million into defeating a measure calling for a fracking ban in Santa Barbara County and nearly $2 million into an unsuccessful campaign to defeat a measure banning fracking and other extreme oil extraction techniques in San Benito County during the November 2014 election.

In the November 2016 election, Big Oil spent over $5 million in their unsuccessful attempt to stop the passage of Measure Z to ban fracking in Monterey County. In spite of being outspent 30 to 1, Measure Z won with almost 56 percent of the vote, thanks to a great grassroots campaign. The No on Z spending came directly from Chevron and Aera, the two biggest companies operating in the San Ardo fields.

“This campaign proves that everyday people can defeat Big Oil’s millions, even in a place where it is actively drilling,” said Adam Scow, California Director of Food & Water Watch. “We look forward to seeing Californians build on this momentum towards winning a statewide ban on fracking.”

When you combine oil industry lobbying expenses with campaign spending, that amounts to $188,404,921 from 2009 to November 8, 2016.

3. Regulatory Panels & Commissions

Not only does the oil industry spend many millions on lobbying and campaign contributions, but Big Oil officials serve on regulatory panels and commissions, in a classic case of the “fox guarding the hen house.”

For example, WSPA President Catherine Reheis- Boyd chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” in Southern California from 2009 to 2012. She also served on the task forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast or North Coast from 2004 to 2012.

While she oversaw the crafting of “marine protected areas” that fail to protect the ocean from pollution, fracking, oil drilling, military testing, corporate aquaculture and all human impacts other than sustainable fishing and gathering, her husband, James Boyd, served as vice chair of the California Energy Commission.

Big Oil also gets its buddies in key positions in regulatory agencies. In November 2011, Governor Brown fired two regulators, Derek Chernow, acting director of Department of Conservation, and his deputy, Elena Miller. Brown replaced Chernow with Mark Nechodom to expedite permits in Kern County,

Nechodom, in turn resigned the day after Central Valley farmers filed a RICO lawsuit in 2015 alleging that Governor Jerry Brown’s office ordered the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”) to approve permits to inject contaminated water in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Governor Brown last fall announced the appointment of Bill Bartling, 61, of Bakersfield, who has worked as an oil industry executive and consultant, as district deputy for Bakersfield in the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) at the embattled California Department of Conservation.

4. Astroturf Groups

Not only does Big Oil spend millions every year on lobbying and campaign contributions, but it funds “Astroturf” campaigns to eviscerate environmental laws.

Leaked documents provided to Northwest Public Radio, Business Week, and other media outlets in 2014 exposed a campaign by the Western States Petroleum Association to fund and coordinate a network of “astroturf” groups to oppose environmental laws and local campaigns against fracking in California, Washington, and Oregon.

This network was revealed in a PowerPoint presentation from a November 11, 2014 presentation to the Washington Research Council given by Reheis-Boyd. (www.indybay.org/…)

The most controversial slide (9) shows a large circle with a smaller circle labeled “WSPA” in the center, surrounded by circles representing the organization’s “coalitions and campaigns.” These include the Californians for Energy Independence, Californians Against Higher Oil Taxes, Concerned Mineral Owners of California, Kern Citizens for Energy, and “Local Hydraulic Fracturing Campaigns,” all described as “upstream” groups.

The slide also features what the organization describes as “downstream” groups, including the California Drivers Alliance, Fed Up at The Pump, Californians Against Higher Taxes, Save Our Jobs, Washington Consumers for Sound Fuel Policy, AB 32 Implementation Group, Tank the Tax, Oregonians for Sound Fuel Policy, Californians for Affordable & Reliable Energy, Fueling California and California Fuel Facts.

That’s a total of 16 “Astroturf” groups and campaigns orchestrated and funded by WSPA and its allies.

5. Media Complicity with Big Oil

The mainstream media has done a poor job to date covering the connections between fracking and other extreme oil extraction methods and Big Oil money and power in Sacramento.

Nor will you see mainstream media coverage of how the Los Angeles Times and the California Resources Corporation, an Occidental Petroleum spinoff, recently teamed up to create “Powering California,” a Big Oil propaganda campaign website.

Clean Energy California broke the story on their twitter page when they published an October 27 tweet from WSPA President Catherine Reheis-Boyd promoting the new site.

Reheis-Boyd tweeted, “Learn how California’s #energy industry is quietly elevating the middle class & improving our quality of life: poweringcalifornia.com”

Big Oil is the most powerful lobby in the West. However, action by committed activists can defeat Big Oil in spite of its money and power, as in the case of the Richmond City Council elections and the passage of anti-fracking ordinances in San Benito County in 2014 and Monterey County in 2016.

You can expect attacks on landmark environmental laws protecting our water, air, land, fish and wildlife and people from Big Oil and other corporate interests to only increase under the Trump administration, as evidenced by President-elect Donald Trump’s appointment of corporate agribusiness advocates, oil industry shills and other anti-environmental extremists to his transition team. On November 21, named Doug Domenech, the director of a pro-Big-Oil think tank, to lead his Interior Department advisory group.

More articles by:

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher danielbacher@fishsniffer.com.

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