Who is Pushing the Slow Motion Myth?

When things don’t add up, follow the money.

In my last post, I wrote about the pernicious myth that says decarbonizing our energy supply will cost too many jobs and cripple our economy. The idea sounds so reasonable it seems like common knowledge.

But somebody is spending millions to make it stick.

According to the California Secretary of State, the fossil fuel industry spent more than any other interest group on persuasion campaigns aimed at rolling back the state’s landmark climate and clean energy law known as “AB 32.”

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) a trade group whose members include BP, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell, spent $8.5 million.

But WSPA wasn’t alone.

WSPA’s big-spending cohorts included the California Chamber of Commerce at $6.7 million, Chevron and its subsidiaries at $5.7 million and the California Manufacturers and Technology Association (CTMA) at $4.6 million.

All together, this group invested $25.5 million in challenging some of the state’s environmental regulations. In an E&E News story on February 6th , Bill Gallegos of Communities for a Better Environment said:

The intent of their lobbying is to be able to continue to drill, extract, refine and produce fossil fuels at a time when California is trying to be a leader in reducing fossil fuel production and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

I suspect the Great Recession made it easy to sow fear while people were losing their jobs. With the industry’s help, the failure of federal cap and trade legislation in 2009 is now part of the “we must go slow if we go at all” mythology too.

Here’s the deception: we’re told Congress didn’t enact climate legislation because we couldn’t risk economic harm when, in fact, we took our eye off the ball and missed a golden opportunity.

Ever since then, the oil industry has spent millions to undo California’s climate law while the implementation rules were being made in a very careful and very public process.

The National Resource Defense Council’s Ann Notthoff told E&E News that because state lawmakers face term limits, new legislators are susceptible to Big Oil’s spending on the Slow Motion Myth.

WSPA and CMTA are leaders in the effort to slow down and derail AB 32 and the low-carbon fuel standard. The oil companies and CMTA’s constant complaining about our clean air and clean energy laws … they have definitely sowed the seeds of doubt in the minds of the Legislature. What the dollars allow them to do is they have a constant presence.

Bill Gallegos is absolutely right: Big Oil “increased their fear mongering in the past year, doing whatever it takes to protect their monopoly and keep all of us dependent on oil.”

Money, doubt and deception are the same weapons Big Tobacco once used to convince us that smoke-free laws would kill thousands of jobs in restaurants and bars.

That’s not what happened.

Californians have so far resisted the relentless campaign. We’ve seen this show before. But we dare not be complacent. I’ve confronted WSPA and CMTA at various public forums, where sympathetic lawmakers dismissed a successful business owner’s support for policies that deliver cleaner air and cleaner energy.

California has built the most energy efficient economy in the nation. The state’s clean energy leadership has already attracted the lion’s share of America’s private investment in new business and technologies to the state.

Even during the Great Recession, so called “green jobs” were a bright spot.

Perhaps more importantly, those of us who actually operate businesses in California know that the fear of crippling job losses and economic decline are fallacious.

The big money is driving “The Slow Motion Myth,” which says that limiting global warming would be nice, but we just can’t afford it.

In truth, as Andrew Winston noted on the Climate Report™, businesses already know that allowing climate change to continue unfettered poses a dangerous risk.

We can afford change. We can afford clean energy. Eco-efficiency is cost-effective; it saves companies money and spurs innovation.

But promoting lies isn’t cheap. It cost Big Tobacco, and now we’ve got the fossil fuel industry’s Slow Motion Myth.

When you sense that things don’t add up, just follow the money.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo courtesy of rachellemon via creative commons license.

About the Author

Tom is founder and CEO of Bowman Change, Inc., a consultancy dedicated to helping organizations reap the benefits of working with purpose—making social issues and environmental change central to their missions.