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Western States Petroleum Association Tops CA Lobbying Expenses with $8.8 Million Spent in 2019

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in California, placed first in the annual lobbying “competition” in California in 2019 with $8.8 million spent on influencing legislators, the Governor’s office and other state officials, a position it captures most years.

The San Ramon-based Chevron spent the third most money on lobbying in California last year, spending a total of $5.9 million.

When you add the $8.8 million from WSPA and the $5.9 million from Chevron, that comes to a total of $14.7 million spent of lobbying between the two oil industry giants.

Most notably, the money spent on lobbying by WSPA, Chevron and other oil companies was successful in preventing the Legislature from approving Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi’s AB 345, a bill to 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,

Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez made it into a two-old bill after pulling the bill from the Assembly Appropriations Committee that she chairs on May 16.

According to state campaign finance data unveiled by investigative journalist Steve Horn for the Real News, Gonzalez has received campaign money throughout her career from Tesoro ($13,000) ExxonMobil ($3,500) CA Independent Petroleum Association ($7,000), Chevron ($11,300), CA Building Industry Association ($10,300), and State Building and Construction Trades Council of California PAC ($34,300). For more information, read: Why Did the California Assembly Table Oil Setbacks Bill? therealnews.com/…

Unlike many other oil and gas producing states including Texas, Colorado and Pennsylvania, supposedly “green” California currently has no health and safety zones around oil and gas drilling operations.

For example, the state of Texas requires the fracking operations maintain 250 foot setbacks from homes, schools and other facilities while the City of Dallas mandates 1500 foot setbacks around oil and gas wells.

However, despite the flurry of oil industry spending on AB 345 and other bills last year, the bill has made considerable progress this year in the Legislature, passing the Assembly Floor by a vote 42 to 30 on January 27:  www.dailykos.com/…

AB 345 is now in the Senate. The bill has been read for the first time and has gone on to the  Committee on Revenue & Taxation (RLS) for assignment.

The increase in oil and gas drilling permits in recent years — and fact that California has no health and safety setbacks like many other states do — is a result of the millions of dollars every year that WSPA and oil companies spend every year on lobbying state officials, including the Governor’s Office and state regulatory agencies, as well as the many millions spent by the oil industry on campaign contributions to politicians and campaign committees.

Both the Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom administrations expanded oil and gas drilling in California in recent years. The Brown administration approved 21,000 new or reworked well permits and Newsom’s regulators had approved over 4,049 new or reworked permits as of November 4, 2019. In addition, state regulators, while opposing new offshore drilling leases in federal waters off California, have increased offshore drilling permits in state waters under existing leases.

At the same time that California officials are approving new oil and gas wells, a report by the California Council on Science & Technology reveals that California taxpayers could be on the hook for more than $500 million to plug thousands of “orphan” wells drilled and abandoned by oil and gas companies.

The study, “Orphan Wells in California: An Initial Assessment of the State’s Potential Liabilities to Plug and Decommission Orphan Oil and Gas Wells,” was conducted at the request of the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), now called the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM), under the California Department of Conservation.

“An initial analysis of readily available information suggests that 5,540 wells in California are, as defined, likely orphan wells or are at high risk of becoming orphan wells in the near future,” the report states. “The State’s potential net liability (subtracting available bonds held by CalGEM) for these wells is estimated to be about $500 million.”

The Western States Petroleum Association (www.wspa.org) describes itself as “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’s headquarters is located in Sacramento, California. Additional WSPA locations include offices in Torrance, Concord, Ventura, Bakersfield, and Olympia, Washington.

The association is led by Catherine Reheis-Boyd-Boyd, the WSPA President and former chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” off the Southern California Coast.

The group spent $2,482,133 lobbying in 2019’s third quarter after spending $4,126,703 in the first 2 quarters of the year. WSPA’s expenses for the fourth quarter of 2019 were $2,216,688.92. Here are the expenses as listed on the California Secretary of State’s website:

For the entire 2017-2018 Session, WSPA spent a total of $15,768,069. The group spent $7,874, 807 to influence California government officials in 2018. Of the four quarters, WSPA spent its most money lobbying, $2,649,018, in the eighth quarter, from October 1 to December 31, 2018.

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 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.

According to Cal Matters, here are the five top spenders of 2019:

* Western States Petroleum Association, $8.8. million.

* California Teachers Association, the public school teachers’ union, $6.9 million.

* Chevron, $5.9 million

* California State Council of Service Employees, representing state workers, $4.4 million.

* Edison International, $3.3 million

Here are the five top spenders over the past five years:

* Western States Petroleum Association, $43.3 million.

* California State Council of Service Employees, $24.3 million.

* Chevron, $19.9 million

* PG&E, $18 million

* California Hospital Association, $17.5 million.

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

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