Oil Lobbyists Fattened up Lawmakers with $13,000 Meal on Eve of Fracking Vote. Photo: (AllGov California, 2013)
The California Senate recently passed up an opportunity to safeguard our air and water quality by failing to pass SB 1132, a moratorium on fracking in the state. In spite of polls showing overwhelming voter support for the bill, the allure of $25 million in Big Oil lobbying money proved too tempting. The Sierra Club is fighting back, joining with local groups and dedicated volunteers to prohibit fracking in Santa Clara and San Benito Counties.
On May 29th, supporters of a statewide fracking moratorium failed to muster enough votes in the California Senate to pass SB 1132. The bill, introduced by Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), would have placed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in California, and would have required the state’s Natural Resources Agency to conduct an independent environmental review of well stimulation practices in the state. The final tally resulted in a 16-16 tie, with eight abstentions. Not surprisingly, the vote split almost evenly down party lines, with three Democrats joining Senate Republicans in defeating the bill. And given the rapid expansion of fracking in the country, campaigning—for and against SB 1132—was predictably robust.
The Sierra Club’s Loma Prieta chapter joined with a broad coalition of environmental and other progressive groups in garnering support for the bill. Among the many groups that united in favor were Californians Against Fracking, MoveOn.org, 350.org, and the Center for Biological Diversity. Locally, the Loma Prieta chapter engaged with community organizations and concerned residents, and hosted a number of fracking-related events. Currently, hard-working volunteers in the chapter’s Fracking Action Committee are working toward a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in Santa Clara County. They are collaborating with local advocacy groups like Stop Fracking the Environment (SAFE), a creative and dedicated student group from Homestead High School. The committee is also supporting San Benito Rising, a passionate grassroots environmental group, in their efforts to pass a ban on fracking in San Benito County.
In this David versus Goliath battle, the petroleum industry stepped into the sandals of the Philistine giant, fortified with its vast cash reserves and enviable access to state legislators. This last gets to the heart of why SB 1132 failed to secure the requisite votes in the Senate, despite the many polls showing that a wide majority of Californians oppose fracking. A new report from the non-partisan watchdog group, California Common Cause, highlights the exponential growth of lobbying activity in Sacramento from the petroleum industry. Since the opening of the current legislative session, nearly $15 million of oil industry cash has flowed into the coffers of California politicians and state agencies. Almost a third was provided by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the state’s largest oil industry lobbying firm. In fact, the Secretary of State’s office reported that between the years 2009-2014, the WSPA showered more than $25 million on Sacramento legislators and agencies. The American Lung Association estimates that during that same period, the entire industry spent over $45 million in the Capitol trying to influence our leaders.
With the loss of SB 1132, the Sierra Club California and other opponents of fracking must develop new strategies for protecting the state’s precious natural resources. The oil industry is surely not resting on its laurels; the WSPA is shifting its attention to new regulations. A recent statement by WSPA president Catherine Reheis-Boyd demonstrates that the association’s $25 million was well-spent:
“There is no longer a place in California for the emotion-fueled demands for a moratorium of hydraulic fracturing. Continued demands for moratoria and other extreme measures have no audience in the Capitol.” (Catherine Reheis-Boyd, Looking Forward on Hydraulic Fracturing In California)
We cannot allow the oil industry to buy the future of California. The Sierra Club needs its members—now more than ever before—to tell our legislators that this state is not for sale. The Loma Prieta chapter is urging its members to join with millions of others who oppose fracking in California.
Author Bio: Mark Finhill is a Fracking Action Committee intern for the Chapter, and is currently pursuing a B.S. in environmental studies at San Jose State University