The oil industry has long acted like that kid who comes over to play with your children, makes a royal mess, and then refuses to help clean up.
But now it has a new trick up its sleeve: It’s saying that if they are forced to clean up after themselves, they will charge you for it.
Score one for chutzpah.
For the past ten years, the oil industry has been fighting the popular clean energy and climate law (AB 32) that California’s state legislature passed in 2006 with bipartisan support. Their lobbying organizations have spent more than $25 million dollars opposing it. (Some estimates say twice that amount.)
They have sponsored histrionic — and widely discredited — reports alleging that complying with the law would cause job losses, plant closures, and disruptions in fuel supplies. They even backed a referendum intended to overturn the law (that voters overwhelmingly rejected.)
Other businesses, meanwhile — from automobile manufacturers to electricity providers — have been complying with the law, proving it to be not only good for the environment but also good for the economy, jobs, and public health.
Through a cap and trade program designed to reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, AB 32 has inspired innovation (such as, Tesla’s premium electric cars), attracted clean tech investment (more than all other states combined), and created jobs (clean economy jobs are growing 2.5 times as fast as traditional jobs in California.)
Carbon emissions from regulated sources have also been cut 17 percent since 2008 — which is important especially for people in disadvantaged communities that are most vulnerable to air pollution.
Now it is the oil industry’s turn to get on the pro-climate, pro-economy bandwagon, as transportation fuels (the largest contributor of carbon emissions in California) and natural gas are scheduled to come under the cap and trade program beginning January 1, 2015.
But unlike other California businesses, big oil is still complaining that the time is not right. Their lobbyists and allies are alleging, compliance will lead to significant hikes in gas prices.
In fact, a group of Democratic lawmakers led by Assemblyman Henry T. Perea (D-Fresno) introduced legislation this month proposing to delay motor vehicle fuels under the program. They say, a three-year delay is necessary to protect people in the Central Valley and other communities that are still struggling to recover from the recession.
It’s an argument that is tempting to buy into — wherever in the state you live. California, after all, has the highest gas prices in the nation, save Hawaii and Alaska. And no one wants to pay more for gas.
But does requiring the oil industry to do its fair share to reduce carbon emissions require that consumers pay for it?
There is nothing in the law that says so. And it is hard to believe they cannot afford to cover the costs themselves. The industry is the most profitable in the world, earning an average of 35 percent profit — or approximately $200,000 a minute.
So — if I can offer a little practical motherly advice — perhaps big oil should stop spending millions lobbying against California’s climate law and start spending it on innovation that would genuinely help us transition to a clean and healthy energy future.