Oil industry executives and lobbyists are once again in high gear, having launched a renewed assault on California's clean air policies. The latest evidence is the closed-door meeting they held in Southern California recently to discuss California's popular clean fuels law, known as the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which aims to reduce air pollution and our dependence on oil.
The goals of clean fuels law are worthy with direct impact on the health and well-being of all Californians. Unfortunately, it seems the purpose of the meeting was to undermine public confidence in California's clean fuels law and keep Californians dependent on dirty fuels.
Fueling California, the oil-funded group that convened the meeting, purports to represent the interests of consumers, but is instead focused on ways to undermine the popular fuel standard. The standard will cut carbon pollution from gasoline and diesel fuels by 10 percent by 2020, and is a critical step forward to implement California's clean air and public health laws.
California's clean air laws, including AB 32, will save lives, reduce hospitalizations and emergency room visits from air pollution related illness, and save billions in medical and health care costs for businesses and individuals in California each year.
What is the oil industry plotting? It's hard to imagine that it is developing a strategy that will achieve similar or greater emission reductions, or that it has consumer interests at heart.
As a former public official and current chair of the American Lung Association in California governing board, I have watched big polluters do everything they can to stop California's leadership in advancing a clean energy economy.
Fueling California doesn't represent the view of most California's consumers at all. In fact, the group is stacked with executives and lobbyists with ties to the petroleum industry. Meanwhile, groups that actually represent millions of California residents were shut out of the meeting.
The oil giants that support rolling back California's clean air standards make more money in a single minute than 96 percent of Americans make in a year. It is no surprise that oil and gas companies spend more than $100 million a year to buy access to lawmakers in Washington and Sacramento. Meanwhile, Californians spent more than $60 billion on dirty fuels like gasoline and diesel in 2011 alone.
Petroleum companies go to the extraordinary length of setting up groups like Fueling California under the pretext of representing consumers because real popular approval is beyond their grasp. In fact, they tried the more direct route in 2010 with Proposition 23, when oil companies spent $10 million on a ballot measure to derail California's clean air law. But voters saw through their campaign, rejecting the measure with more than 61 percent of the vote.
Meanwhile, Californians of color continue to bear an unfair share of the burdens of our petroleum-fueled economy. Communities near refineries, freeways and other hot spots of pollution experience higher rates of chronic illness.
Last summer, a massive explosion at Chevron's Richmond Refinery released a toxic cloud that caused widespread breathing problems and sent 15,000 residents from surrounding communities to emergency rooms. In our petroleum-fueled economy, we must avoid situations where profits come before the health of our communities.
While all industries have a right to participate in the regulatory process, they should be open with the public. Instead, the oil companies are using excessive amounts of money to influence policy and give a distorted impression of consumer opinions.
It's time for the petroleum industry to pull back the curtain. It needs to start being transparent about who is behind its efforts, be honest about its agenda -- and stop fooling California.
Marsha Ramos is chairwoman of the American Lung Association in California.