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California Democrats Cave In To Oil Lobby

GinaMarie headshotWords by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Energy & Environment
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A California Senate bill would have required a 50 percent reduction in petroleum use by 2030. Last week, California Gov. Jerry Brown and Senate Democrats caved in to pressure from oil industry lobbyists and dropped the provision, the New York Times reports.

The bill, SB 350, passed the Senate, which Democrats control. The bill requires that the amount of renewable energy generated and sold to retail customers be increased to 50 percent by 2030. Currently, California requires that utilities get 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The bill will still move forward, but without the 50 percent petroleum reduction.

Both state Senate leader Kevin de Leon and Gov. Brown gave statements last Friday about the 50 percent petroleum reduction provision being dropped from SB 350. Both made it clear that the oil industry may have won this battle, but not the war.

“Oil has won the skirmish. But they've lost the bigger battle,” said Gov. Jerry Brown at a Capitol news conference on Wednesday when the changes were announced. “Because I am more determined than ever.”

“Big Oil might be on the right side of their shareholder reports, but we’re on the right side of history,” Kevin de Leon, the Senate Democratic leader and main champion of the bill, said in announcing the decision. “And ultimately, California is going to demand that an industry which represents most of the problem has an economic and moral duty to be part of the solution.”


An anti-SB 350 campaign called “No on SB 350” highlights the type of rhetoric oil lobbyists used to speak out against the 50 percent petroleum reduction provision. The Facebook page for No on SB 350 urges Californians to contact their “state legislator today and tell them SB 350 doesn’t add up.” It also states that the campaign is part of the California Driver’s Alliance, an effort by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA). The WSPA’s website states that the California Driver’s Alliance is a program by the WSPA “on matters related to mandates impacting fuel costs and availability."

Here’s what the No on SB 350 campaign says about the petroleum reduction provision: “While California petroleum fuel providers are committed to helping the state lead the way in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we believe SB 350’s fuel reduction mandate is an impossibly unrealistic goal.” The campaign also says that SB 350 “makes no provision for what will replace the 50 percent in lost petroleum.”

A pro-SB 350 campaign points out a few facts about the petroleum reduction provision:


  • It requires the petroleum reduction to be cost-effective and technologically feasible.

  • It requires any actions to be based on validated scientific and engineering data.

  • It explicitly requires an economic analysis that takes into account impacts on fuel manufacturers, consumer acceptance, the state’s competitive position with other neighboring states, and the costs to consumers.
Unfortunately, politics sometimes requires a politician to compromise even when they passionately believe in what they are proposing. In order to increase the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to 50 percent, the state Senate and Gov. Brown were forced to compromise, but it’s probably a safe bet to assume that down the line they will try again to get a petroleum reduction.

Image credit: Flickr/Marianne Muegenburg Cothern

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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