Media Blitz from Oil Industry Tries to Stoke Fears About “High Gas Prices”

Huge banner ads in the LA Times and other outlets proclaim that “unelected state regulators” are circumventing the law and raising gas prices

Maybe Jarred is sad about breathing bad air? Image: https://cacostcontain.com/
Maybe Jarred is sad about breathing bad air? Image: https://cacostcontain.com/
Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

The ads show a Latinx mom with three kids, looking at the camera with concern. “We can’t afford runaway energy and fuel costs” is printed across the photo.

A particularly sad-looking young fellow in a safety vest and hard hat named Jarred—first name only—stands next to the words: “We can’t afford more costs to fuel.”

An older black gentleman the ad says is Will, a farmer in the Central Valley, stands in a straw hat, crossing his arms and looking disgusted. “We can’t afford higher energy bills,” says his ad copy.

It’s part of a media blitz by a group calling itself “Californians for Cost Containment” that is actually a project of the Western States Petroleum Association, aka WSPA, aka the biggest oil lobbyist in California.

Newspapers around the state also carried op-ed pieces today with the same message: fuel prices are too damn high, and unelected officials at the state Air Resources Board are breaking the law to raise them even higher.

Except that’s not what’s happening. At today’s California Air Resources Board meeting, the agenda includes discussion of proposed updates to the cap-and-trade program as directed by the legislature. Amendments are being discussed, but no action on them will be taken until the new year.

WSPA’s fear-mongering ads are based on staff presentations that show a worse-case scenario for gas prices in 2030. But that doesn’t take into account the rest of the story, including projections that overall costs for people—like the diverse group of everyday citizens used in WSPA’s ads—could very likely be reduced in other ways by 2030.

The wonky policy WSPA is currently attacking—and has always attacked—is around how to negotiate prices for allowances under cap-and-trade. Industry wanted a firm price ceiling, but others, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, argued a low price ceiling could theoretically lead to “unlimited pollution at a set price” –not a desired outcome for a program that aims to cap pollution.

The updates include discussions about how and where to set a price ceiling and WSPA is unhappy with the way the discussion is going. So they attack the ARB as “unelected regulators,” even though the legislature specifically delegated the question of how to set the price ceiling to the experts–who happen to work at the ARB.

The Air Resources Board hearing is happening now—today and tomorrow—and covers many more topics than just this one. For example, ARB staff has only just begun to look at the total social cost of emitting carbon, as they are required by the legislature to do. The results of their analysis–a departure from the cost-benefit analysis they have been using since cap-and-trade was launched–are likely to show much higher costs on the other end of the balance sheet. That is, the traditional way of looking at cap-and-trade has focused on what it costs to reduce emissions. In contrast, measuring the social costs of carbon will put the focus instead on what it costs everybody–in terms of health and economic well-being—to have to deal with those emissions in the first place.

That is likely to be very bad news for the oil industry.

  • 1 Less Car

    Wow, how much is a Tesla 3 white guy?

  • Kevin Withers

    “CA voters approved the ARB agenda when they shot down Prop 23”

    The ARB agenda? That’s just not correct. What they did: chose to not link AB32 with quarterly unemployment numbers. Nothing more, nothing less.

    https://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_23,_the_Suspension_of_AB_32_(2010)

  • Marcotico

    CA voters approved the ARB agenda when they shot down Prop 23 in 2008~2010 ( i don’t remember the exact year, I think it was ’08). That prop was a prop that would have suspended AB32 the Global Warming solutions act until the state experienced three consecutive quarters of economic growth. It too was largely funded by the Oil Industry and the voters thoroughly rejected it, and supported Cap and Trade.

  • City Resident

    We’ve long since figured out prices for pollution, when it comes to trash and wastewater. (We pay for the trash that the garbage company hauls off and for the sewage we produce.) As for the air pollution we generate, the cost of this is largely socialized and subsidized by poorer regions and by future generations. It’s beyond time for this to change.

  • neroden

    (1) Take the subway, or the train, or bike, or walk, instead of driving. Bonus: save lots of money.
    (2) Buy an electric car like the Tesla Model 3 and stop worrying about gas prices.
    (3) Buy an efficient plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt — use electricity most of the time and buy gas once or twice a year at most for a road trip.

  • Kevin Withers

    Putting a “social cost” on it damn sure is.

  • City Resident

    Clean air is not a social issue.

  • Kevin Withers

    CARB is too busy trying to be an example for the world,

  • Ian S

    Each gallon of fuel we burn contributes to climate change and air pollution, which has measurable costs on society. Burning gasoline increases air pollution, which leads to (among other issues) higher incidence of asthma in children and higher health care costs for society.

    CARB isn’t making up numbers out of thin air. They are looking at the best evidence they can to determine what those costs are. The fact that we don’t know exactly what those costs are doesn’t justify ignoring them, because it’s very clear that they have a major impact on our community.

  • ride_it_like_you_stole_it

    Leave the dinosaur juice in the ground and go electric. Electric cars drive better than gas cars anyway and with solar panels, you will pay $0 to get around once the panels pay for themselves in 5-8 years. After that. you’ll be basically making money on the panels.

  • Kevin Withers

    CARB is going to decide what the “social costs” and “economic well-being” cost per gallon of fuel? Seriously?

    They might as well try to put some per/gallon cost on happiness. Ludicrous…

  • Flatlander

    Hand-wringing about gas prices is obnoxious. Assuming you drive 15,000 miles per year, which is around average, you’re buying only around 500 gallons of gas at 30 mpg. So a whopping $1 gas tax (SB1 eight times over) would set you back only $500. It’s not nothing, but that’s not going to make or break the annual budgets for more than a minuscule percentage of households. And then there are dozens of ways that most people could save much more. Maybe switch to Geico or something…

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