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Was State Senator Rubio (CA) Auditioning For Job at Chevron?

2:53 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Chevwrong

The power of the petroleum industry in California may be unparalleled in the states. Its lobbying machine is stupendously successful. For instance, California remains the only significant oil producer that does not tax oil extracted in the state. It has very weak–perhaps the weakest–regulation of oil and gas extraction, particularly hydraulic fracturing of deep deposits, known as “fracking.” State environmental laws are under constant attack.

State Sen. Michael Rubio, a Central Valley Democrat elected to his seat in 2010, was in an ideal spot to show whose side he was on in these fights.

Rubio, who resigned from the Senate Feb. 22 to work for Chevron as its chief California lobbyist, was chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, which oversees oil industry environmental issues. In 2011-12, he was a key Democrat on the Senate’s energy committee.

His most recent official action was an inaction: He was scheduled to co-chair his committee’s hearing on fracking with Sen. Fran Pavley. The hearing took place, airing widespread frustration with the weakness and loopholes of current and proposed state regulation of fracking. Rubio, however, was a no-show.

It’s obvious now that on Feb. 12 he was getting ready to jump ship to Chevron, and likely in no mood to hear citizen fears about water pollution, spoiled land and even fracking-induced earthquakes. But Rubio did, in his short tenure, leave a record that Chevron was surely tracking with admiration.

In hindisght, his biggest moment in the spotlight would have been his months-long campaigning on behalf of a corporate effort to weaken the California Environmental Quality Act. The changes would have particularly benefited the oil, energy and property development industries. The proposals didn’t become law, but they’re not dead yet. Rubio will just be working them from the other side of the fence.

In May 2012, Rubio also cast the deciding “no” vote against a bill (SB 1054) by Sen. Pavley that would have merely required oil companies to notify residents and businesses nearby in advance of fracking activities. The bill, vociferously opposed by the Western States Petroleum Assn. and other oil lobbyists, failed. Industry opponents of the bill recognized Rubio for his role in leading the opposition that killed a bill with wide public support.

Rubio also supported, and may have encouraged, the governor’s firing of two state energy regulators in 2011 after oil lobby complaints about their tightening of oversight.

(Oil and energy weren’t the only supporters he was courting. Rubio also championed the profits of Blue Cross over the pocketbooks of customers. He withheld his vote in 2011 from a measure that would have allowed the state insurance commissioner to reject health insurance rate increases that could not be justified. In the state Legislature, an abstention from voting is effectively a “no” vote, but with no accountability. It’s the coward’s way out. )

Judy Dugan

Chevron certainly knows what it’s getting with this new top lobbyist.

Rubio stated that he was leaving his elected post two years early to spend more time with his family, including a disabled child. No matter how much that weighed in his decision, the fact remains that his status as a state senator (however briefly) greatly inreased his value to Chevron. His pay will grow by multples. Because there is no law against such a quick trip through the revolving door–from overseeing an industry to lobbying for it–Rubio could be schmoozing his fellow legislators right now, and spreading money to their campaigns. His constituents, meanwhile, are stuck with no representation until a special election that’s perhaps months away.

Posted by Judy Dugan, former research director for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

If the President Wants Cleaner, Safer Gas and Oil, Give Consumers Knowledge and Power

2:34 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

Fracking PondIt was a relief to hear more than a passing reference to climate change in President Obama’s State of the Union Speech, including promises of more support for wind and solar power. But the oil industry heard nothing to even cause even a smidgen of concern.

Asking Congress to “get together to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change” should have been marked in the transcript as a laugh line. And the presidential promise to “keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits” was an emergency alert for communities under siege from natural gas fracking and states–particularly California–whose dwindling supply of clean water is being sucked away by both oil companies and climate change.

While the president pledged support for “research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and our water,” technology is only as good as the corporations willing to pay for it as well as put safety above profit. What citizens want is information and a say in the process. Right now they have precious little of either.

So the citizen’s challenge to President Obama and Congress has to be this:

  • We want knowledge and the oil industry demands secrecy about its drilling, its safety procedures, the toxic chemicals it injects into wells and the effects of drilling on land, water and air.
  • We want responsibility and the oil industry wants deniability about chemical and methane seepage (to protect it from liability for the damage it causes, from poisoning our water to killing farm stock after leaks from wastewater ponds like the one pictured above).
  • We want advance information about new drilling and the industry wants no discussion with communities before the drill bits hit the soil; dangerous fracking gets far less advance scrutiny than solar and wind projects.
  • We want the environmental and quality of life effects of drilling measured and balanced before deep new fracking and injection wells go up next door; the industry calls such requests “job killers.

Judy DuganPresident Obama rightly praised the growth of cleaner cars and called for more conservation and greener buildings. He left no wiggle room in his speech for climate-change deniers, not with American coastal communities being submerged by rising seas and ever-more-frequent giant storms like Sandy. Yet that firmness doesn’t track with his praise for clean-burning natural gas. Any clean-air benefit in combustion has to be balanced against the high volumes of methane–which is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide–in the gas fracking process.

He praised growing North American energy independence–yet such “independence,” in a global market like oil, will do exactly nothing to reduce U.S. gasoline prices. And the worse cost is the acceptance of filthy tar sands oil from Canada, which pollutes at every stage from extraction to refining.

Everything in politics is a tradeoff, and President Obama has at least put energy conservation and climate change back on the national radar. What we need to see now is a commitment to saving our air, land and water for generations to come, rather than accepting the false “job killer” mantra of industry and its empty promises to put safety over profit.

Posted by Judy Dugan, former research director for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

Natural Gas Drillers: ‘We Don’t Need Your Stinking Air Rules’

4:22 pm in Uncategorized by Consumer Watchdog

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Whenever regulators try to clean up our air or water, industry issues its standard “job killer” press release. Let your children keep their asthma and we won’t shut down our (oil, gas, coal) (refinery, drilling facility, surface mine), is the general theme. No surprise, then, that a coalition of deep-well natural gas drillers responded sternly to proposed national clean-air regulations on their almost entirely unregulated industry:  ”This sweeping set of potentially unworkable regulations represents an overreach that could, ironically, undercut the production of American natural gas,” said the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Yet the real shock in the story is that we allow energy companies take vast quantities of fresh water, add largely unregulated chemicals and force it under high pressure into deep shale beds to fracture rock and release natural gas. The gas rises back up like soda water and releases the gases it collected underground (methane) and the chemicals added by drillers, sometimes morphed by heat and pressure into something more dangerous (cancer-causing benzene).

It turns out that in 2005, the Bush Administration got Congress to exempt this “fracking” technique from federal clean air and water rules.

Here’s the result, described by a Texan living in the middle of it, as told to Propublica.com:

I live and work in south central Texas. The nations new hotspot for fracking. The enviromental destruction Fracking has caused in the last 5 years is unbelievable. The air quality in this rural area is worse than in most large cities. The wholesale destruction of the ecosystem is unimaginable. The amount of water used in fracking is irresponsible in a water scarce region.

The Environmental Protection Agency is acting to curb the smog-causing methane and other air pollutants because of a federal lawsuit by environmental groups. Its selling point for the regulation is that the drillers could actually make money by capturing and selling the methane. Conspicuously absent is any mention that methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide–though of course it’s now so unfashionable to believe in global warming, much less talk about it.

Federal regulators are still prohibited by the 2005 law from controlling the ruination of vast amounts of clean water in drought-ridden states and the contamination of drinking water. So it’s left to the states. Expectably, Pennsylvania and New York are acting. But Texas, the free-market state, will take the asthma, please, and its drillers, from Exxon down, will no doubt do all they can to cripple the federal regulations before they’re final.

See ProPublica’s pioneering series on fracking, and the damage the industry has inflicted from New York to the Southwest, here.
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Posted by Judy Dugan, research director for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.