By Debra Kahn, POLITICO PRO

May 2, 2019

Several oil groups are ramping up their spending this year in California, including a $1 million ad campaign aimed at state and local restrictions on the industry, according to new state filings.

The heavy political spending comes as Gov. Gavin Newsom begins to flesh out his energy policies and local governments pass measures to curtail oil and gas drilling.

Californians for Energy Independence spent $1 million in the first quarter of the year on a campaign by the firm Winner & Mandabach, including TV and digital ads statewide. The campaign also emphasized Ventura County, where the Board of Supervisors voted last week to place a 45-day moratorium on drilling new wells in an agriculture-heavy area where petroleum-related gases were found in groundwater wells. The county could extend the ban for up to two years, the Ventura County Star reported.

Chevron, which contributed $706,000 to CEI this quarter, spent $2.3 million on lobbying for the quarter, compared to $993,000 in the last quarter of 2018 and $1.2 million a year ago. The California Independent Petroleum Association, a group of smaller producers, also gave CEI $28,000 out of $240,000 total in lobbying fees — an increase from last quarter, when it spent $190,000.

CEI spokesperson Shannon Murphy said in an email the ads are "designed to remind Californians that oil and natural gas production in California is powered by diverse workers who take pride in what they do."

"In addition, the ad points out that oil and gas production provides $1.7 billion in state and local tax revenues to fund important public services including schools, first-responders and fire safety in communities across the state," she said.

The fight in Ventura County is just the latest attempt by local officials to rein in petroleum production. It follows successful fracking bans in Monterey and Butte counties in 2016 and a failed measure in San Luis Obispo County in 2018.

"They've been spending a lot," said Tomás Rebecchi, a Ventura-based senior organizer with Food and Water Watch, of industry campaigning. "An attack on one is an attack on all right now."

On the state level, anti-oil groups speculate that industry is anticipating executive action by Newsom, who campaigned on his opposition to expanded offshore drilling, refused contributions from oil companies and last week asked the California Energy Commission to investigate persistently high gas prices, citing the potential for industry to use them to "undermine our clean air and safety standards." He told the Los Angeles Times last month he would detail his stance on energy policy in the coming weeks.

"Don't neglect the fact that gas prices are really high and people are really angry and this is the first governor who hasn't taken oil money," said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. "The threat level for the oil industry in Sacramento has got to be red flag."

CEI hasn't reported being active on the state level since 2015, when it spent $178,000 on bills including CA AB356 (15R), which would have required well operators to monitor groundwater near underground oil tanks and disposal wells, and CA SB248 (15R), which would have required the state increase disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing and other well stimulation. Both bills failed.

Chevron also reported spending on events with staffers for the Coastal Commission, State Lands Commission, Department of Fish and Wildlife and San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, and lobbying on more than two dozen bills. Those included CA AB40 (19R), a bill already pulled by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) that would have had the state Air Resources Board write a strategy to phase out internal-combustion cars by 2040; and CA SB44 (19R), a bill by state Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) that would have had ARB set 2030 and 2050 goals for reducing emissions from heavy- and medium-duty trucks.

Chevron also gave $112,000 to the Western States Petroleum Association, which reported spending $1.9 million on lobbying, including $382,000 with the public relations firm Digital Turf. WSPA spent $2.6 million in the last quarter of 2018.

One glimpse at WSPA's spending to influence lawmakers: The group shelled out $5,035 for a March event at the Mix Downtown with Sens. Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno) and Steven Bradford (D-Gardena); Assemblymembers Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), Heath Flora (R-Ripon), Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park) and Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach); and staffers for Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) and Sen. Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park).