California’s Love Affair With Oil

Joanna Schroeder

Last week, the Southern California Association of Governments turned down $11 million in stimulus money for Pearson Fuels to install 55 E85 stations. Huh. And this shortly after the expanded rules were announced for the Renewable Fuels Standard not to mention the Low Carbon Fuel Standard that went into effect on January 1.

What would cause the most notorious state, hailed around the world for its progressive environmental policies, to shun a lower carbon fuel? Hmmm…could it maybe, just possibly be that it is blinded by it’s Big Love for Big Oil?

Let us for a moment, take some time to reflect on California’s torrid affair with oil.

Last year California Lawyer Magazine Awarded its Clay Awards which are given to lawyers who show extraordinary achievements. Lawyers John Daum and Mary Nichols both won a Clay Award for two very different achievements. Daum won for his co-counsel regarding the worst oil spill in environmental history – the Exxon Valdez. But he didn’t win for his work to hold Exxon accountable for its actions – he won the award because he was able to lower the punitive damages that were to be paid to fisherman, landowners and others to one-tenth of the original damages. The magazine writes, “This was truly a signature punitive damages case, and it could have major implications for environmental and other torts in the future.”

While Daum was given an award for his work in defending Big Oil’s environmental offenses, Mary Nichols, who is the chairman of the California Air Resources Board and Daum’s wife, was given an award for her role in passing the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. This piece of legislation is intended to reduce CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. While the final rules are just now coming through the pipeline, the policy could potentially regulate all areas of energy use including land use and will be enforced through a “cap-and-trade” program. It is important to note that through this program, Big Oil doesn’t have to reduce its CO2 emissions solely through alternative fuels. If they bring to market technology that reduces CO2 but still uses fossil fuels, the technology will still meet policy requirements.

Not allowing to let the relationship fizzle, the state rekindeled its love with its latest proffering and now its sizzling once again.Less than two weeks ago, Governor Schwarzenegger appointed oil lobbyist Cathy Reheis-Boyd, “a global warming advocate” and currently the President of the Western States Petroleum Association, as chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force. The MLPA is a debacle in and of itself (23 percent of all off shore oil reserves are believed to be off the coast of California) and it is important to note that Reheis-Boyd has been tasked with monitoring marine protection at the same time oil companies are in a lobbying frenzy to expand drilling operations off the California coast.

The affair has become more sordid indeed.

The state of California seems to be taking on a new mistress – the environment — and like most people having an affair, is making promises of divorce while buying his wife (or husband) more elaborate and expensive gifts with no intentions of ever leaving. This relationship is doomed. Eventually someone has got to go, but in the meantime, we’re caught in the middle of a bad reality TV show yet we can’t look away.

I’m all for balancing environmental policy with a comprehensive energy policy that favors clean energy. But we’re never going to reach our clean energy and security goals if we keep kowtowing to Big Oil and creating policies that are too difficult for developing clean energy technologies to achieve. There is a divorce in order. California needs to walk away from its failed relationship with oil (it was good while it lasted) and marry his mistress – the environment.

BTW – I’m dedicating this week to oil so check in tomorrow for my book review of “Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil.”