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PG&E Topples Western States Petroleum Association in California Lobbying

The Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) spent almost $10 million on lobbying California officials in 2018, surpassing even the Western States Petroleum Association in lobbying spending.  

Of the total money spent last year, the company dumped $9,580,357 into general lobbying, including total payments to in-house staff lobbyists and lobbying firms, along with paying for meals and other items for legislators.  

PG&E also spent $349,522 on lobbying the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the regulatory agency that regulates privately owned public utilities in the state, including electric power, telecommunications, natural gas and water companies. 

The company spent the most money in the seventh quarter of the 2017-2018 session, dumping $6,111,332 into general lobbying and $168,668 into lobbying the CPUC. This is one of the largest amounts of money spent on lobbying by any organization in one quarter.

The utility filed its most recent lobbying expenses with the California Secretary of state on January 31, the final day for filing its disclosures.    

Here is the total spent lobbying in 2018 by PG&E: http://cal-access.sos.ca.gov/Lobbying/Employers/Detail.aspx?id=1146888&view=activity&session=2017 

Of this total money, the company spent $6,369,631 in 2018 on “payments for grassroots and other advocacy” related to state legislative proposals improving wildlife preparedness and response, according to the filing.

During a court hearing on January 31, a PG&E lawyer said the company is facing 750 lawsuits, many of them over the Camp and other fires that devastated the state over the past couple of years.

The nation’s largest utility, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company filed for reorganization in federal bankruptcy court under Chapter 11 on January 29— one day after the CPUC voted to extend a $6 billion credit line to the corporation that consumer advocates say made it easier for for PG&E to file bankruptcy.  

Two days before the filing by PG&E, Consumer Watchdog called for the ouster of the California Public Utilities Commission over its decision to extend the credit line to Pacific Gas & Electric in what the group called “an unneeded emergency process that allowed no time for scrutiny.”

“The unprecedented vote makes it easier for PG&E to go into bankruptcy and avoid accountability to wildfire victims, ratepayers and taxpayers,” according to the group.

Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court said financing was not approved in PG&E’s first bankruptcy in 2001 “and the lights stayed on.” The nonprofit group said the decision will saddle nearly half the state’s ratepayers with steep rate hikes and/or long-term debt.

“The Public Utilities Commission just gave a convicted felon six-times over a $6 billion credit line backed by ratepayers going into bankruptcy without any strings or even a credit review,” said Court. “Governor Newsom should seek the resignation of President Picker and the members of the PUC who betrayed ratepayers and wildfire victims, as well as public officials seeking to stop PG&E from going into bankruptcy and sticking the public with billions in costs that should be shareholder obligations.”

The second-highest spender for the year was the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) — the organization that has topped lobbying spending in California most years.

WSPA spent $7,874, 807 to influence California government officials in 2018. The powerful association spent all of its money in the 2017-2018 session on general lobbying, with nothing spent on the CPUC. Of the four quarters, WSPA spent its most money lobbying, $2,649,018, in the eighth quarter, from October 1 to December 31, 2018.

The Western States Petroleum is led by President Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the former chair of the controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California.  

The total lobbying figures for WSPA in 2018 are below: cal-access.sos.ca.gov/…

WSPA represents a who’s who of oil companies, including oil giants BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon, Shell, Valero and many others. The companies that WSPA represents account for the bulk of petroleum exploration, production, refining, transportation and marketing in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, according to the WSPA website, www.wspa.org.

Chevron and its subsidiaries took third place in the “lobbying competition” in 2018, spending around $4 million on lobbying.

Over the past decade, WSPA and Big Oil have topped the list of spenders on lobbying the Legislature in California. During the 2015-2016 Legislative Session, the oil industry spent a historic $36.1 million to lobby lawmakers and officials in California.

WSPA was the top overall oil industry spender during the 2015-16 session, spending $18.7 million. Chevron, the second overall oil industry spender, spent $7 million in the 2015-16 session.  

In 2017, Big Oil also dominated three out of the four top spots of expenditures by all lobbying organizations. Chevron placed first with $8.2 million and the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) placed second with $6.2 million. The Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company finished fourth with $3.2 million.  

That’s a total of $17.6 million dumped into lobbying by the three top oil industry lobbying organizations alone. That figure exceeds the $14,577,314 expended by all 16 oil lobby organizations in 2016.

In the first six months of 2017, the oil industry spent more on lobbying in California, $16,360,618, than was spent by the industry in all of 2016, $16.0 million.  

WSPA and Big Oil wield their power in 6 major ways: through (1) lobbying; (2) campaign spending; (3) serving on and putting shills on regulatory panels; (4) creating Astroturf groups: (5) working in collaboration with media; and (6) contributing to non profit organizations.

Because of this money and the power that Big Oil wields in California, the Jerry Brown administration, in stark contrast with its “green” facade, issued over 21,000  new oil and gas drilling permits in California. That include more than 200 permits for offshore wells in state waters — wells within 3 miles of the California coast.

In addition, the state of California under Brown — and now under Gavin Newson – controls four times as many offshore oil wells in state waters as Trump’s federal government controls in California. You can view the map showing the location of wells here: http://brownvtrumpoilmap.org.

This money and power also allowed the oil industry to write the cap-and-trade bill, AB 398, that Governor Brown signed in September 2017, as well as to twice defeat a bill to protect a South Coast marine protected area from offshore drilling.

Ironically, the same WSPA president that led the charge to defeat a bill to protect the Vandenberg State Marine Reserve from offshore oil drilling CHAIRED the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” on the South Coast.

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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