PG&E powerlines in northern California. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.
The Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), again in the spotlight of the national and international news media because of its shutoffs of electricity to millions of Californians as fires now rage throughout the state, spent $876,445 on lobbying from January 1 to June 30 of his year.
This latest spending comes after the utility spent nearly $10 million on lobbying in 2018, surpassing even the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) in lobbying expenses.
The $876,445 figure is impressive, although smaller than the $4,126,703.38 that the Western States Petroleum Association spent during the same period.
The $876,445 was effectively spent, since in July the California Legislature passed AB 1054, described by Food & Water Watch as a “far reaching bailout for investor owned utilities.” Governor Gavin Newsom, in spite of many environmental and public interest groups urging him not to do so, signed the bill.
The utility spent the money on both “general lobbying” and PUC lobbying in both quarters.
This year to date, PG&E spent $495,641.71 on general lobbying from April 1 to June 30 after spending $214,736.74 on general lobbying in the first quarter. That’s a total of $710,378.45 on general lobbying in the first two quarters.
PG&E also spent $77,761,99 on PUC lobbying in the second quarter and $88,304.62 in the first quarter, a total of $166,066.66.
The money that PG&E spent on lobbying for AB 1054, along with massive campaign contributions to legislators and $208,000 to Governor Newsom’s campaign, helped to ensure that the controversial legislation passed and that Newsom signed it.
“PG&E donated millions to California politicians after it was convicted in 2016 of 6 federal felonies connected to the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion that killed 8 people,” reported ABC10 as part of the ABC10 Originals project FIRE – POWER – MONEY, a documentary series that breaks down California’s wildfire crisis into its core elements.
“Newsom, a Democrat, received more than $200,000 from the federal offender. The Republican and Democratic parties of California each took more than $500,000,” ABC10 said.
It is not against the law for a convicted felon to donate campaign money, nor is it for the politician to accept it.
Ninety-eight legislators, the majority of sitting State Senators and Assemblymembers, received more than $548,005 from PG&E in the last election cycle, according to ABC10.
Former PUC President Loretta Lynch compared AB 1054 to Enron’s successful efforts to undo ratepayer protections in 2000. In response to efforts to use wildfire protections to enact sweeping electricity reforms that leave customers vulnerable, Food & Water Watch California State Director Alexandra Nagy had this statement:
“While a California victims’ compensation fund is needed as our climate-change-fueled wildfire season becomes longer, deadlier and more destructive, this rush to ram through AB1054 benefits utilities like PG&E, not ratepayers. Capping utility shareholder liability while expecting ratepayers to write a blank check for future wildfires is not a wildfire policy California needs.”
In a press conference on Monday evening, Governor Newsom said, “PG&E simply cannot take ‘10 years’ to ‘get their act together.’
“Their years and years of greed and mismanagement are OVER. These mass power shutoffs are UNACCEPTABLE,” said Newsom.
PG&E spent nearly $10 million on lobbying in 2018
Last year Pacific Gas & Electric 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 lobbying expenses for 2018 with the California Secretary of state on January 31, 2019, the final day for filing its disclosures.
Here is the total spent lobbying in 2018 by PG&E:
SESSION QUARTER GENERAL LOBBYING P.U.C. LOBBYING
2017-2018 8th $1,229,703.61 $70,918.42
2017-2018 7th $6,111,332.71 $168,668.41
2017-2018 6th $1,655,270.60 $65,114.34
2017-2018 5th $584,052.29
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, 2019— one day after the CPUC voted to extend a $6 billion credit line to the corporation that consumer advocates say made it easier 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.
Western States Petroleum Association spends $4,126,703.38 in first two quarters
The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) appears to be regaining its status as the California lobbying champ, a position it has held most years, greatly outspending PG&E in lobbying in the first two quarters of the 2019-2020 Legislative Session.
Apparently, WSPA really wanted to stop the bill to mandate health and safety setbacks around new oil and gas wells from passing in the Legislature this year, as well as lobbying for the implementation of the WSPA-written carbon trading legislation and other issues related to promoting the agenda of the oil and gas industry in California.
In the second quarter of 2019-20, WSPA, California’s largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group, spent $2,153,712.76 on general lobbying. In the first quarter, WSPA spent $1,292.990.62 on general lobbying.
That’s a total of $4,126,703.38 by WSPA to date. That’s just the first two-quarters of the legislative session!
The millions spent on lobbying by WSPA in the first two quarters of this year yielded the results WSPA intended.
For example, the infusion of Big Oil lobbying money prevented the passage this year of AB 345, legislation that would ensure that new oil and gas wells not on federal land are located 2,500 feet away from homes, schools, hospitals, playgrounds and health clinics. The bill, authored by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), became a two-year-bill.
As WSPA spent its millions on lobbying legislators and state regulators, the State’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) from January 1 to June 3, 2019 approved 2,365 new oil and gas well permits and 191 fracking permits, according to Department of Conservation data released by Consumer Watchdog and the FracTracker Alliance.
The data showed that this year regulators have “considerably increased” the number of permits granted for drilling new wells (by 35.3%), well reworks (by 28.3%), and hydraulic fracturing (by 103.2%) as compared to the permitting rate during the final year of the Brown administration in 2018, according to the groups.
Even more alarming, of the 2,365 well permits issued, 1064 or 45% of them benefitted oil companies invested in by DOGGR officials, the groups reported.
WSPA spent $7,874,807 on lobbying in 2018
The second-highest spender for 2018 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 Association 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:
SESSION QUARTER GENERAL LOBBYING P.U.C. LOBBYING
2017-2018 8th $2,649,018.34 $0.00
2017-2018 7th $1,514,828.95 $0.00
2017-2018 6th $1,686,014.82 $0.00
2017-2018 5th $2,024,947.91 $0.00
For the entire 2017-2018 Session, WSPA spent a total of $15,768,069.
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, http://www.wspa.org.
Chevron and its subsidiaries took third place in the “lobbying competition” in 2018, spending around $4 million on lobbying.
Big Oil money and power has allowed it to expand drilling in California
Because of this money and the power that Big Oil wields in California, the Jerry Brown administration 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.
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.