The oil industry and oil trade associations in California spent millions of dollars last year to kill off legislation that would have meant the significant take-up of electric vehicles in the state.
Global brands – including BP, Shell, Exxon and Chevron – local oil and gas companies and trade bodies, spent more than $22 million (£15 million) on lobbying in California last year – a record – according to official figures.
Spending spiked in the third quarter of the year, when the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act (SB 350), was being considered.
During that summer there was also a rather blatant campaign spreading fear-mongering rumours about what the law entailed for car users.
In October 2015, SB 350 passed – but without the key clause calling for a 50% reduction in petroleum use by vehicles by 2030.
This would have meant lift off for the electrification of the transport sector in California and would have been the equivalent of removing 36 million (non-electric) cars and trucks from the road.
The lobbying comes as oil majors scramble to present a future in which electrification plays little or no role. In its most recent energy forecasts BP predicted almost nobody will drive an electric car even by 2035.
In the third quarter of 2015 (July to Sept) – the crucial time period for SB 350 – the oil industry basically tripled its lobbying spend from $3.68 million in Q2 to a total of $11.5 million in Q3.
Chevron, BP, Shell and Exxon all increased their spending in the July to September period — Chevron spent $1.8 million over the summer.
But the biggest lobbying splurge at that time was by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the most powerful oil lobby in the region. Shell, BP, Chevron, and ExxonMobil are among its members.
WSPA spent $6.7 million in Q3, a massive surge, as you can see below.
After the key clause was removed spending returned back to base levels.
Clean energy lobbyists were also spending while the Californian Legislature was cogitating over the bill – but as the LA Times points out their lobbying firepower was much smaller. A climate advocacy organization called NextGen Climate Action spent $1.2 million advocating for the bill.
It’s hard to know exactly where the WSPA money went. The vast majority of their big spend – more than $6 million – over the summer was filed under “Other Payments to Influence”.
What does this mean? We don’t really know, and that’s likely the whole point. It could be that WSPA was using those millions to fund its anti-EV campaign.
In 2014 the trade body was busted – through a leaked powerpoint presentation – for orchestrating a campaign involving fake ‘grassroots’ front groups protesting against the possible implementation of a climate emissions law (AB 32). (A slide from the deck, which Energydesk has seen, shown below.)