Groups funded largely by oil companies have spent $2.7 million in California to defeat candidates for the state legislature who support strong climate action.
The groups are targeting lawmakers who supported S.B. 32 and S.B. 350, both pieces of legislation designed to rein in California’s greenhouse gas emissions and boost adoption of renewable energy technologies, E&E Publishing’s Greenwire reported.
S.B. 350, which was signed into law last year by Governor Jerry Brown, requires California to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources and double the energy efficiency of existing buildings by 2030. S.B. 32, which did not pass, would have required the state to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
“Oil companies are trying to push back” against renewable energy and other efforts to decarbonize California’s economy, Mike Young, California League of Conservation Voter's associate director for campaigns and organizing, told Greenwire. “You're seeing an industry that is very concerned about losing its monopoly.”
But they’re not pushing back openly, they’re doing it through front groups, like an organization with the unwieldy name Coalition to Restore California's Middle Class, Including Energy Companies who Produce Gas, Oil, Jobs and Pay Taxes. That group has spent $1.8 million in an attempt to sway 10 races towards anti-climate candidates.
Chevron Corp., Tesoro Cos. Inc., Valero Energy Corp. and Occidental Petroleum Corp. are among the companies that have plowed $7.5 million into the Coalition to Restore California’s MIddle Class since 2014, according to Greenwire.
Chevron has also given $1.1 million to another organization with a perplexing name: Keeping Californians Working, Dentists, Housing Providers, Energy & Insurance Agents. That group has spent $900,000 on behalf of eight candidates this election cycle.
These oil-funded groups are often supporting and opposing the same candidates. One of the candidates they’re opposing is state Sen. Jim Beall, a Democrat who co-authored S.B. 350 and S.B 32 and is currently running for re-election.
“The political battle that's taking place in Sacramento is to 'teach a lesson' to these legislators that are strong environmentalists,” Beall told Greenwire. The Coalition to Restore California's Middle Class has funded ads for Beall’s opponent, Assemblywoman Nora Campos, who is also a Democrat.
Campos, who is seeking to take Beall’s seat in the upper house of California’s legislature, did vote for S.B. 350 last year — but only after a provision that would have scaled back the state’s use of oil by half was stripped out. Backing oil-friendly, moderate candidates has become a crucial tactic for oil companies as the Republican base continues to shrink in liberal California.
The state has a top-two primary system, in which the two candidates with the most votes advance to the general election, regardless of their political party. This has created an opening for the oil industry to try and build a more moderate wing of the Democratic Party in California by supporting oil-friendly candidates — in addition to “teaching a lesson” to legislators who oppose the oil industry’s influence in the state.
But California legislators willing to stand up to the power of the oil industry say they are undaunted. “I hope to teach a lesson to them,” Senator Beall said. “I'm going to fight back. I'm not going to let them beat me.”
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