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RP Siegel headshot

The Myths Oil Companies Use to Resist Climate Action in California

By RP Siegel

It's hard to blame the oil companies for trying to find a way to avoid going out of business as the economy moves away from fossil fuels and toward low-carbon options. But doing so by suppressing vital scientific data that proved climate change was coming decades ago, spreading misinformation, or using heavy-handed lobbying tactics are unethical and should be illegal.

As their situation becomes more dire, groups like the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) are breaking records in the level of lobbying expenditures aimed at blocking clean-energy and climate programs in California. In 2015, WSPA spent $10.95 million fighting Senate Bill 350, which contained a provision for a 50 percent cut in petroleum consumption by 2030. This provision was ultimately stripped from the final bill. Chevron, a key WSPA member (along with BP, Exxon-Mobil and others), spent an additional $4 million in the effort.

The WSPA, wielding this lobbying clout as leverage (the industry reportedly spent $25 million in this legislative session alone), is now in private talks with California Gov. Jerry Brown over the low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS), which requires refineries to reduce carbon content by 10 percent by 2020. The industry group says it cannot be done without raising prices, a threat that tends to be effective with consumers whether or not it actually turns out to be true.

While it cannot be denied that money talks, it doesn’t always tell the truth. The Natural Resources Defense Council did some fact-checking on WSPA's claims and found three substantial “doomsday myths.”

First, back in 2013, WSPA predicted price hikes and fuel shortages would result from environmental-protection measures. The only production shortfall resulted from an explosion at an ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance, California. The industry exploited this shortfall by raising prices and, according to a government-commissioned report, grabbed an additional $2.4 billion in windfall profits. The availability of low-carbon alternatives, such as biofuels, helped to offset the loss of capacity while allowing them to exceed the low-carbon standard by 80 percent.

Next, the industry said it was “likely” that gasoline prices would rise by $2.50 per gallon as a result of efforts to comply with the LCFS. The actual cost turned out to be around 3 cents. And a study by Consumers Union found a household savings of up to $1,530 as a result of LCFS, as well as $350 in avoided congestion costs per commuter and a projection of up to $4.8 billion in avoided societal harms by 2030.

Finally, if you can’t scare them with rising prices story, there’s always the old lost-jobs argument. WSPA repeatedly argued that falling demand for petroleum products would reduce California's refining capacity. That would mean both paying more for oil refined elsewhere and lost jobs in the state. However, the reality is that refinery capacity actually increased slightly since 2011. Meanwhile, the number of jobs added by the green economy has been amply documented.

These efforts will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but will also reduce imports and provide for cleaner, healthier air.

Rather than drag their feet and do whatever they can to prolong the clean-energy transition, which is not only inevitable but also critically urgent, these companies should invest in clean-energy alternatives and develop ways they might contribute to the future of transportation.

In fact, many of them are doing that. But they are also hedging their bets with these delaying tactics, knowing that every day the transition is deferred represents many millions of dollars in their pockets.

If we are to survive this climate calamity that we ourselves created -- with ample assistance from these very companies, which have grown enormously wealthy and powerful in the process -- we need our government to stand up to them and draw a line in the sand. But in order for that to happen, we have to be sure that our lawmakers are not only incorruptible, but are also looking at actual facts and not disingenuous spin.

Image credit: Wendell: Flickr Creative Commons

RP Siegel headshot

RP Siegel (1952-2021), was an author and inventor who shined a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work appeared in TriplePundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering,  Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He was the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP was a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. RP passed away on September 30, 2021. We here at TriplePundit will always be grateful for his insight, wit and hard work.


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