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Posts Tagged ‘oil spill’



Big Oil’s Hazardous Landscape on AB 32 Repeal

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

By Warner Chabot
Special to Calbuzz

When Texas oil refiners Valero and Tesoro were contemplating whether to buy their way onto the California ballot last winter, they envisioned a ripe environment for their proposition to repeal the state’s clean energy and air standards: skyrocketing unemployment rates, a Tea Party-inspired anti-regulation backlash, and increased skepticism about the science of global warming fueled by the rants of right-wing talking heads Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

Sure, the state’s landmark climate law (AB 32) was popular – with 66 percent approval in a PPIC poll and 58 percent in the Field Poll. Yes, Attorney General Jerry Brown had saddled the initiative with a deadly accurate but inconvenient title and summary (“Suspends Air Pollution Control Laws Requiring Major Polluters to Report and Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions”). And, of course, the then-cheerleaders for the ballot initiative weren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer: gadfly Ted Costa (who has since announced his opposition to the measure after being pushed aside) and first-term Republican Assemblyman Dan Logue.

But initiative strategist Mark Carpenter, a former tobacco lobbyist who fought California’s indoor smoking laws, apparently convinced the companies that those obstacles could be overcome by the deep pockets of Big Oil. After all, the $50 million or so it would take to win the campaign was chump change for an oil company that had just upped its CEO’s salary to $10.9 million, a 64 percent increase from the prior year.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the ballot.

In late April, some 1.7 million gallons of oil began gushing from a British Petroleum well in the Gulf of Mexico each day. Horrified Californians continue to be exposed daily to images of brown pelicans soaked in black oil, tar balls washing up on beaches, and devastated local economies.

That’s not exactly good PR for a ballot measure being bankrolled with $2 million from oil companies, including California offshore driller Venoco Inc. Cases in point: the immediate sharp decline in support for offshore oil drilling in California, according to a Los Angeles Times/USC poll and the defeat of a local measure to allow Venoco to begin slant drilling into the Santa Barbara channel.

Or look to the state Senate District 15 special election, as environmental champion and drilling opponent John Laird points out Assemblyman (and former Exxon employee) Sam Blakeslee’s support of the controversial Tranquillon Ridge oil drilling project.

Being associated with oil companies is political death this year.

On top of that, voters are beginning to focus on the economic downside of America’s addiction to oil. That is driving a renewed push in the nation’s capital for federal action to support a clean energy economy.

So it was no surprise then that President Obama bee-lined to California, the nation’s leader in renewable energy development, when he wanted to connect the dots between investment in clean energy and the oil spill. He put a bright national spotlight on AB 32’s renewable energy requirements, the driving force behind more than 500,000 clean tech jobs and $9 billion in solar, wind, and other renewable energy projects being built in California.

If the oil spill wasn’t bad enough for Valero’s fortunes, last week’s primary election results might be even more problematic. Two special interest propositions were dismissed by voters despite record-shattering spending by their corporate sponsors.

That will throw a wrench in Carpenter’s calculus for winning, which includes spending up to $50 million branding the oil company measure as a “jobs initiative.”

Voters and the media already are seeing through that fog, noting that it is a deceptive measure that has little to do with employment and everything to do with allowing the company to bypass pollution laws.

And no one is buying that the ballot measure is just a “temporary” suspension of the law either – particularly when the once-in-a-blue-moon economic conditions it specifies (banning implementation of the law unless the statewide unemployment rate exceeds 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters) have occurred just three times in the past 30 years.

It’s just that kind of deception that doomed Props 16 and 17.

The Valero initiative could well be strike three for special interest ballot measures, particularly because its high-profile CEO makes Enron’s Ken Lay and BP’s Tony Haywood look like church mice.

Valero chief exec Bill Kleese – recently named to MSNBC’s “Mad Money” Hall of Shame – dismisses climate change legislation as “alarmist.” He’s taken a lead role as chief attack dog in battling clean energy policy at the national scale as Chairman of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association. He also is the brains behind the AstroTurf “Voices for Energy” effort supporting Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s effort to strip EPA of its right to regulate greenhouse gases. (That measure failed in the U.S. Senate last week.).

Meanwhile, Republican and Democratic candidates alike are distancing themselves from the Big Oil initiative.

Meg Whitman, not wanting to give Jerry Brown further ammunition in the gubernatorial campaign, has refused to endorse it (as has Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado). Whitman’s distancing herself from the ballot measure comes despite her call for a one-year moratorium on AB 32. She’s declined to embrace an oil company-backed proposal unpopular among her Silicon Valley supporters, as well as suburban decline-to-state voters she views as key to victory in November.

Candidate Brown has come out strongly against the measure. Running against Big Oil, corporate special interest measures, and fat cat CEOs are all key components in the Brown playbook, and opposing the Dirty Energy Initiative fits nicely into that narrative.

It looks as if Big Oil picked the wrong time and the wrong place for this fight.

Warner Chabot is CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters

Calbuzz Secret Plan to Plug Gulf Coast Oil Gusher

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Along with the rest of the nation, Calbuzz finds ourselves in the unlikely position of rooting for the predatory greedbags at BP, desperately hoping they succeed with their latest half-baked scheme to stem the poisonous, filthy geyser of oil that their rapacious recklessness has sent spouting from the sea bottom in the Gulf of Mexico.

The avaricious thieves at BP are trying to stop the toxic torrent with a method called “top kill” which, as the New York Times explains, “involves pumping thousands of pounds of heavy fluids into a five-story stack of pipes in an effort to clog the well .”

Sounds good, but we have one important suggestion:

Instead of thousands of pounds of “heavy fluid,” why not jam up the hole with thousands of pounds of “ bungholes and bores,” the kind of self-absorbed pols and media celebrities who give Calbuzz a major pain, stuffing them down in there until the flow is stopped by the sheer mass and weight of every annoying and unbearable cretin, nitwit and schmuck we can round up.

Feel free to email us your own list of candidates, but for our money, here’s the Top 10 List of “Top Kill” nominees to squish down into the well.

1-Chris Matthews – How we wish this self-deluded pea brained, loudmouth putz, who keeps setting new standards of stupidity, would choke down a couple barrels of sulfurous crude, which might be just the thing to cure his chronic case of logorrhea. Of course, then we couldn’t watch him.

2-Glenn Beck – By itself, the combination of Beck’s fat head and fat ass could be enough to seal off the entire pipe, particularly if we throw his friggin’  blackboard in there with him. Plus: the phony tears this repulsive wiggler loves to shed on cue could take the place of that “heavy fluid” the Times keeps mentioning.

3-Gavin Newsom – The vast clouds of natural gas pouring from the well would help Newsom keep his over-inflated sense of self-importance at a high level, and he’d never even notice a couple thousand extra gallons of oil in his hair.

4-Sarah Palin – Corking up an oily hole would be cosmic justice for Ms. Drill Baby Drill and, given her latest whack job Facebook rant, she’d no doubt be well-pleased to escape the prying eyes of Joe McGinnis.

5-Arlen Specter – The ghastly and decrepit octogenarian has-been is well-suited to navigate any unexpected twists, turns and bends in the undersea pipe, given his sorry history of political contortions, not to mention his authorship of the Magic Bullet theory.

6-John Boehner – A good thick coating of rust-colored grease is just what the insufferable House minority leader needs to keep his unnatural skin color slick and shiny, not to mention that the federal deficit will likely plummet when taxpayers quit forking out for his daily spray man tans.

7-Lindsay Lohan – A mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico is just about the only place Lilo could possibly succeed in not having a drink, or getting a spoon stuck up her nose, for five minutes. The only non-pol to make the list, she’d also finally get a break from her monstrous father, Michael.

8-Bill Clinton – That massive pie hole of his is big enough to head off half the goo destined for the coast of Florida, and the cruel sacrifice of him not being able to hear himself talk for the first time in six decades is worth the chance he might win a special citation Nobel, finally getting even with that anti-fossil fuel goody-goody Gore.

9-Rand Paul – He’s no doubt right that Barack Obama’s bashing of BRITISH Petroleum is un-American, so here’s his chance to be a hero on behalf of private enterprise, nice and cozy in the one place he doesn’t have to worry about people who look different plopping down in a seat next to him.

10-Arnold Schwarzenegger – Putting aside the high-value, practical plugging worth of his bulging pecs, lats and glutes,  the guy ain’t good for much else, let’s face it.

Black Gold, the sequel: On Tuesday, we told you about Democrat John Laird whacking Republican Sam Blakeslee with an ad about offshore oil in the special election race in the 15th senate district, one of two  campaigns in the neighborhood where the issue takes center stage.

A little further south, a hotly contested primary battle in the 35th Assembly District, in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties,  has Democrats and environmentalists divided in their support for coastal advocate Susan Jordan and S.B. city councilman Das Williams.

The district has been ground zero in the long-running battle over the now defunct Tranquillon Ridge plan, and the Jordan-Williams match-up is the political manifestation of local polarization over the project.

Jordan is married to termed out 35th AD Assemblyman Pedro Nava, who led the successful fight against T-Ridge in the Legislature, and when she first announced her candidacy to succeed him last year, Williams said he was backing her.

But Jordan was fighting fiercely against the offshore proposal, which was backed by other local enviros, including Williams, who in short order  dropped his backing of her to declare his own candidacy, saying he was doing it because of T-Ridge, co-sponsored by several Santa Barbara green groups and PXP oil company.

Fast forward to the present, and the two are exchanging volleys of mailers and angry charges on the subject. Williams, seeking to inoculate himself, sent out a brochure  highlighting his past opposition to drilling, without mentioning the politically complicated PXP matter; Jordan counter-punched hard, with a mailer featuring a big ole color photo of the Deepwater Horizon exploding and burning, with a screamer headline: “Das Williams supported the PXP oil drilling deal – even after the Gulf spill.”

At which point the local Democratic county committee, which is led by a close pal of Williams, called a press conference to denounce Jordan for alleged dirty campaigning, a move that served to make it more likely that the PXP offshore drilling will be the decisive issue in the race.

We’re just sayin’: One of the big issues in the T-Ridge debate was whether or not the state would have the power to enforce end dates for PXP to stop drilling off federal platforms near Santa Barbara, a key feature of the proposal.

Jordan, among others, repeatedly insisted the authority on the federal leases would eventually rest with the U.S. Minerals Management Service. and that the agency has a natural pro-drilling bias that could upset the whole deal. After reading the new Inspector General’s report on the MMS, it’s hard to argue with that position.

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Whitman Speaks: Oil, Taxes, Spending & Poizner

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Meg Whitman says the disastrous oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has caused her to change her position on offshore oil drilling in California, adding that she no longer is certain technology can make it safe.

“Right now,  I’m a ‘no’ on offshore oil drilling,” Whitman told Calbuzz.

In an interview on Thursday,  the front-runner for the Republican nomination for governor said the economic and environmental damage inflicted by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon and the huge gush of undersea oil that has followed convinced her to shift her stance on drilling off the coast of California. Again.

Last year, she stated that she began her campaign for governor as an opponent of drilling off the coast, but subsequently learned more about new technologies, which she had come to believe all but eliminated the risks of offshore extraction:  ”When I started this process, I was against offshore oil drilling, and then I began to understand deeply the new technology that is available to extract oil from existing wells,” she said last summer.

But in this week’s interview with Calbuzz, Whitman said she has changed that position:

Historically I was against offshore oil drilling, but I am the living example of someone who believes technology can enable you to do things you’d never dream you could do. So I wanted to look into slant drilling…and convene a group to say, you know, ‘is this possible to do with zero to minimal environmental risk?’

I will say what has happened in Louisiana I think has raised the bar on what, you know, technology is going to be able to have to do, and what we can assure ourselves of. Because, gosh, you look at what has happened in the Gulf, the economic devastation of the shrimpers, the fishermen. I mean you’re starting to see it now go on the north shore of the coast of Florida there, the hospitality industry is at risk.

So I think it has absolutely raised the bar in terms of what we would need to feel comfortable with to go forward. So right now, I’m a no on offshore oil drilling.

Following a town hall meeting in Santa Barbara, Whitman in our interview also discussed several other key issues:

Taxes – A Public Policy Institute of California poll released Wednesday included new data on how voters feel about taxes: 62% of those surveyed said they would favor a state income tax increase for the wealthiest people in California; 58% said they would support higher taxes on corporations;   solid majorities said they would consider a tax increase to pay for K-12 education (69%), higher education (54%) and health and human services (54%).

“It doesn’t influence my thinking,” Whitman answered, when asked whether such majority views would affect her policies as governor. “My view is we should not be raising taxes on anyone in California.”

Asked what she would say to parents of students at public schools that are losing teachers and small class size programs, and who are willing to pay higher taxes for schools, she added:

I’d say we have a philosophical disagreement on how to right the economy in California…I mean, I don’t think people really do understand that a 12.6 percent unemployment rate not only has tax revenues decreasing, it has costs going through the roof. It’s the worst of all possible worlds – you’ve got a financial pincer – revenues going down and costs going up so we’ve got to get Californians back to work and then we’ve got to eliminate another $15 billion of costs out of that budget.

Spending – The $15 billion figure is what Whitman claims, with slim  evidence, can be rooted out in “waste, fraud and abuse” in state government, a task she has said she will assign a “statewide grand jury” to investigate. She acknowledged in the interview that she would need the support of the Legislature to pass a measure to authorize such a body, which she said should contain 18 members. She offered this elaboration:

We’d fill those 18 spots from the grand jury pool in the 58 counties that have a fully vetted grand jury pool, and then this grand jury would be convened. The Inspector General* would identify issues of fraud and waste and abuse. Serve some of that up to the grand jury who would then have the power to indict and subpoena.

Immigration – Last year, Whitman said during a visit to the California-Mexico border that illegal immigrants “should do some things that would ultimately allow a path to legalization.” GOP rival Steve Poizner has used her comment to portray eMeg  as a supporter of amnesty for illegals; “path to legalization” is a phrase used by supporters of comprehensive immigration reform which opponents say is code for “amnesty.”

Confronted with her earlier statement, Whitman insisted she was not signaling support for amnesty, offering this explanation:

In my view, that was not a statement in support of amnesty…What I was referring to, which has been taken out of context, is I was referring to a guest worker program, I was talking about agriculture; that we had to find a way to have a stable work force for agriculture, and that I have never been for amnesty, I was not for amnesty at the time and you know (Poizner) has chosen to jump on this issue.

Poizner – Whitman had harsh words for her Republican foe, whom she accused of twisting her words:

As you know,  Steve Poizner has not been on the illegal immigration issue before about six weeks ago.** I mean, this is sheer political opportunism. He has not been to the border as a candidate until six weeks ago, he never talked about this as insurance commissioner, in fact he was on the other side of this issue when he ran for Assembly (in 2004), he was in fact in favor of (former President) Bush’s comprehensive immigration reform, which many people thought had amnesty in it. so this is the classic case of someone willing to say or do anything to get elected.

*The Office of Inspector General, now held by Laura Chick, was created specifically to oversee the spending of federal stimulus funds in California. Whitman’s proposal would involve an expansion of those duties.

**Poizner first raised the issue of illegal immigration in a big way at the Republican state convention on March 12, although he previously had discussed it in interviews.

Kaboom! And a Happy Earth Day to You, Too!

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

It may be a tad early to assess the political impacts of the explosion and sinking of an BP oil rig off the coast of Louisiana, but it seems safe to say that the horrific images of the disaster won’t speed up the cause of the controversial Tranquillon Ridge project in California.

The strange bedfellow alliance among and between Governor Arnold, several Santa Barbara environmental groups and the Houston-based oil company PXP recently re-launched their effort to resurrect the project, after it was turned down by the State Lands Commission and the Legislature last year.

Now, the metastasizing oil spill*** in the Gulf of Mexico, and the apparent loss of the lives of at least 11 oil workers that followed a blow-out on a rig on Tuesday night – Earth Day – provide a sudden and grim reminder of the high stakes of offshore drilling.

The T-Ridge plan calls for the lands commission to award PXP a lease to drill in state waters, the first since the 1969 Santa Barbara spill, from an existing platform in federal waters. Environmentalists on both sides of the internecine warfare over the issue insist that their position represents the  best way to prevent more spills like that now engulfing the Gulf.

In the move that split old alliances and fractured California’s environmental community, local groups in Santa Barbara have pushed the T-Ridge plan as a way to trade more drilling in the short run for less in the long run, exchanging their political support for a PXP lease to slant drill into state waters for the oil company’s legal promise – which they insist is ironclad – to cease all drilling from four federal platforms in the area within 14 years.

Amid all the political, legal and financial wrangling over the issue for the past two years, it’s hard to imagine a more powerful argument against  drilling than that presented by pictures of firefighters vainly battling the deadly and violent blaze that sunk the oil rig. It’s worth noting that the T-Ridge platform is located just over three miles from shore, far closer to land than the  Deepwater Horizon rig that sank about 50  miles off the coast of Louisiana.

Many backers of the governor’s proposal have argued that oil drilling operations have undergone huge technological advancements in the past 40 years, making unlikely a massive spill like that poisoned the Santa Barbara Channel in 1969.

Among those who have embraced the technology-makes-it-safe argument are Republican wannabe governor Steve Poizner and his front-running rival, Meg Whitman.

“When I started this process, I was against offshore oil drilling,” Whitman told reporters in Santa Barbara last year, “and then I began to understand deeply the new technology that is available to extract oil from existing wells.”

For the record, Jerry Brown does not support the T-Ridge proposal. As Attorney General, and the lawyer for the State Lands Commission, Brown’s staff recommended that the commission reject PXP’s project last year. As a candidate, Brown “does not believe off-shore drilling is the answer to our problems,” said campaign flack Sterling Clifford.

*Update: Early fears of huge spill may be unfounded.

**Update II (4/24): Now they’ve found an underwater leak a senior Coast Guard official describes as “a game changer.”

***Update III (4/27): Spill now 40 miles X 50 miles - so much for “unfounded” fears.

****Update IV (4/29): Send in the Marines.

FYI: The Associated Press reports “Since 2001, there have been 69 offshore deaths, 1,349 injuries and 858 fires and explosions in the gulf, according to the Minerals Management Service. ”

Weed whacker alert: In order to jump start the T-Ridge proposal, PXP needs to file a new application for a hearing before the lands commission and, so far, has not done so, SLC executive officer Paul Thayer told Calbuzz.

Thayer said that the commission staff, analyzed a revised version of the agreement between PXP and the Environmental Defense Center several months ago. The commission rejected the original proposal last year and still has problems with it, despite some improvements, he said.

The “beneficial aspect” of the new agreement it reviewed is that it strengthens the state’s ability to intervene legally if PXP does not honor its terms, he said. But the final authority over end dates for drilling from facilities in federal waters still rests with the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service, not the state: “Ultimately, MMS controls what’s going on out there.”

Thayer also cited the “precedental value” of the existing 41-year old prohibition against any new drilling leases in state waters, which has been in force since the 1969 Santa Barbara spill.

“California’s congressional delegation has made use of that,” in fighting against expansion of drilling in federal waters off the coast of California, he said.

P.S. Kudos to KQED’s John Myers for getting Abel Maldonado on the record about his stance on T-Ridge this week, in advance of his confirmation vote for lieutenant governor, a post from which he gets a deciding vote on the project on the lands commission.

Live from the California Nurses Association: Queen Meg!

The latest in guerrilla theater from the CNA, Queen Meg, escorts, a horse-drawn carriage and a proclamation that reads:
“In honor of her $150 million campaign treasury, the people of California do hereby crown Meg Whitman as Queen Meg of California.  Her husband Griffith Harsh IV is crowned Prince Griffith of Palo Alto, and the Whitman-Harsh royal motto shall be ‘Healthcare for the nobility, Education for the few, Prisons for all.’”

No: Arnold’s Plan is a Quick and Dirty Power Grab

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Garamendi PhotoBy Lt. Gov. John Garamendi
Special to Calbuzz

The Schwarzenegger Administration, through the California Department of Finance, wants to “drill baby drill” off the Golden State’s coastline, and they’re willing to undermine 70+ years of checks and balances to do it. Will we let them get away with it?

In late January, I joined California Controller John Chiang in a two-to-one vote of the California State Lands Commission (SLC) to reject what would have been the first new oil lease in California waters in more than 40 years.

As chair of the SLC, I take my responsibility as a steward of the environment very seriously, and I did not think the proposal was in the best interests of the state. Beyond the inherent environmental risks posed by all new drilling projects, I did not think assurances included in the proposal to decommission oil platforms decades down the road were enforceable.

Unfortunately, the Department of Finance is unable to take “No” for an answer. For the first time in our commission’s 70-year history, their proposal is to bypass the SLC and permit the Department of Finance to authorize the oil lease off the Santa Barbara coast. Let’s keep in mind it was 70 years ago that a major scandal (link) at the Department of Finance led to the State Lands Commission having the authority to issue leases.

What is wrong with this picture? Plenty, and at the expense of California.

The Schwarzenegger Administration refuses to tax Big Oil companies that now extract oil in California to fund critical health care services, children’s programs and education. This tax would generate $1.2 billion dollars annually.  On Monday, the Governor warned he will veto the budget bill package including an oil production tax.

Instead the administration is taking the quick and dirty way out. Big Oil has offered to California $100 million dollars to seduce the state into granting the first new oil drilling lease in California since the Santa Barbara oil spill 41 years ago, a spill that covered hundreds of miles of ocean and over 30 miles of sandy beaches with more than three million gallons of crude oil.

Learning from history means not blindly repeating the mistakes of the past.
At an open hearing of the SLC last month in Santa Monica, Controller Chiang and I again joined together to voice our opposition to this power grab, backing a resolution calling on the legislature to reject the Department of Finance’s proposal. During public comment, 12 environmentalists agreed with our position – including representatives from the Sierra Club and Environmental Defense Center – while not a single individual rose in support of the Department of Finance’s end-run around the SLC.

”We cannot get away from the fact that this is the first new offshore oil lease in 40 years, and if I sound upset, it’s because I am,” said Susan Jordan, director of the California Coastal Protection Network. “I have never seen such a blatant power grab.”

“We don’t always agree with the decisions made by this body, but we recognize and support the hard work of your staff and the public process designed to enforce the protection of our precious state lands,” added Joe Geeber, California Policy Coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation.

The science is clear; drilling for new oil now exposes our coast to the potential devastation caused by an oil spill and contributes to the greenhouse gases that chill our ability to combat global warming. As I’ve said in the past, California must focus on becoming a renewable energy leader and leave the extraction of new sources of fossil fuels to the 20th century.

But you don’t have to agree with me to appreciate the larger issues at stake.
To bypass the SLC and give the Department of Finance authority to approve this oil lease threatens the independence of the SLC, a commission designed to be an independent environmental watchdog.

More than 35 environmental organizations are opposed to the Department of Finance’s plan, including some that were initially supportive of the oil lease proposal. To allow the Department of Finance to usurp the independent commission responsible for protecting our state lands and waters means we will lose one of the most important safeguards available to California ‘s natural habitats.