November 3rd was a bittersweet day. The day after the midterm elections, we found out that Prop 23 — the so-called “Dirty Energy Proposition” that was funded by Texas oil companies Valero and Tesoro along with the billionaire oilmen Koch brothers — had gone down in flames, which was most certainly good news. But Prop 26, Chevron’s stealth attack against California’s environmental regulations, had snuck through.
There’s room for debate about what Prop 26 will mean for California’s global warming law, AB32. There was some fear before the election that it could be even more damaging than Prop 23, which would have suspended implementation of the state’s landmark climate bill indefinitely. On the other hand, Mary Nichols of the California Air Resources Board has since said that all plans and regulations under AB32 are “on track” despite passage of Prop 26.
But one thing is indisputable: Prop 26 will make it harder to hold California’s biggest polluters accountable in the future — and that’s exactly what Chevron was counting on when donating $4 million to help pass it. The company’s California refineries in Richmond and El Segundo are two of the top ten biggest emitters of industrial carbon pollution in the state.
Currently, these types of dirty, polluting operations are charged fees by the government in order to pay for the social and environmental damage they cause. Prop 26 reclassified all those fees as taxes, however, so they now require a two-thirds vote in the state Senate in order to be passed. And as we all know, there is no getting certain legislators to vote for anything called a “tax” no matter how necessary it may be to ensure clean air, drinkable water, and healthy communities.
This is exactly the reason why Chevron tried to keep its support for Prop 26 quiet — the company knew damn well that Californians would reject its attempt to evade paying its fair share for its pollution. Because not only does Prop 26 make it harder for the state to hold Chevron accountable for its pollution, it also ensures that the taxpayers of California are now going to have to foot the bill Chevron refuses to pay.
For the record, this is a company that made $167 billion in profits last year. Of course, the company also pollutes. A LOT. Its Richmond and El Segundo refineries emitted nearly 4.8 and 3.6 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution in 2008, respectively, making them the 6th and 9th biggest industrial sources of emissions in the state.
The Richmond refinery emits the equivalent of the carbon emitted annually by 926,725 cars, the El Segundo refinery the equivalent of 696,863.0324 cars (based on this conversion rate). And the fine people of California will now be paying for the impacts those emissions have on the environment, because Chevron refuses to clean up after itself in California, just as it refuses to clean up its mess in Ecuador.
But there is still reason to find some comfort in the election results. Defeating Prop 23 wasn’t the only victory on November 2nd: Richmond’s Green Party mayor, Gayle McGlaughlin, was returned to office despite a million-dollar smear campaign run against her by — you guessed it! — Chevron. Given the amount of pollution Chevron’s Richmond refinery is responsible for, it’s probably no wonder that McGlaughlin, the Richmond Progressive Alliance, and other allies were able to beat back the Big Oil behemoth.
The election results were most definitely a mixed bag. But we can all take heart from the successful mobilizations against Big Oil’s attempts to railroad California’s energy and environmental policies. The local mobilization against Chevron in Richmond and the statewide mobilization against Prop 23 show that the people still have the power when they choose to exercise it.
Chevron’s $4 million support for Prop 26 really puts the lie to their bogus new greenwash campaign. The company thinks we’re stupid enough to believe it’s a responsible corporate citizen even while it refuses to take responsibility for its pollution in Richmond and Ecuador and is actively seeking to forestall any attempts to make the company pay for the environmental damage it has done.