The Andeavor refinery in Anacortes. Credit: Backbone Campaign.

Several of the world’s largest oil companies have committed nearly a million dollars to defeating Washington Initiative 1631, which would institute a carbon emission fee on the state’s largest polluters in order to fund affordable housing and green energy projects.

Two “against” campaigns have been organized to oppose I-1631. One was organized by the Association of Washington Business (AWB), and the other was created by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA). The WSPA is an oil industry group whose membership includes Exxon, Shell, Andeavor, and BP.

According to the latest campaign finance filings with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), two campaigns will spend at least $992,006.19 to defeat I-1631. The vast majority of that spending–$916,974.88–comes from out of state oil producers. The campaign will probably raise more money. Initiative campaigns can raise funds until election day, and there is no cap on contributions for PACs working on initiative votes.

Five multinational oil companies have pledged to contribute the following to the oil industry’s campaign:

  • $396,031.40, BP
  • $201,186.54, Phillips 66
  • $162,827.17, Andeavor
  • $60,067.84, Chevron
  • $56,826.50, Shell

The AWB campaign is, so far, much smaller than the WSPA campaign. The Washington lobbying group has only raised $14,500 so far. Washington businesses and trade groups have spent or pledged $75,031.31 across both “against” campaigns. Washington-based donors include a trade group for general contractors and a Tacoma oil refinery.

The WSPA campaign says that the initiative will raise the price of fossil fuels– which is, of course, the point.

“I-1631 is a flawed measure. It’s bad public policy,” says Dana Bieber, the WSPA campaign’s spokesperson. “It’s going to end up costing consumers and small businesses in the form of higher costs for electricity, and higher costs for gas.”

However, the fee that I-1631 would impose is a fee on carbon polluters, not consumers. For consumers to see fuel price increases, fossil fuel producers would have to raise prices. But Bieber says that the new tax would be to blame for any price increases, not oil companies.

“To suggest that you could have one of the largest tax increases in our state, and not have it be felt by consumers, that’s wishful thinking–that’s not how it works,” Bieber says.

Bieber listed a number of other objections to I-1631, including “unaccountable, unelected bureaucracy” that will disburse I-1631 funds. That group would be an oversight panel made up of cabinet members, community members appointed by the governor, and the directly elected Commissioner of Public Lands. Bieber also objected to exemptions from the tax for trade vulnerable industries like steel and paper producers. Bieber says the exemptions, which are defined by the 2009 American Clean Energy and Security Act, are “arbitrary, and not fair.” Bieber correctly said that exempt groups include some of the largest carbon emitters in the state.

Bieber declined to say whether the oil companies funding the WSPA campaign support carbon pricing policies in general.

“The coalition [behind the no campaign] is going to have a broad view on carbon pricing,” Bieber says. “But they can all agree that 1631 isn’t the solution. …Different members of the coalition and supporters of the no campaign will have different views on carbon pricing.”

Coalitions aside, the WSPA has a history of working against carbon pricing policy, even though the WSPA website says that the group supports carbon pricing. The WSPA has consistently worked against the implementation of cap and trade policy in its home state of California ever since the carbon pricing policy was implemented in 2006.

In 2014, a WSPA slide deck reveals that the trade group organized and funded Potemkin citizen groups to oppose carbon reduction policies in California, Oregon, and Washington, a tactic known as astroturfing. In 2015, the WSPA spent record lobbying amounts to try and forestall a long-planned portion of the cap and trade law that imposed taxes on gasoline producers.

The Yes on I-1631 campaign says that it’s not intimidated by oil company spending.

“Oil companies like Shell, BP, Chevron, and Tesoro have already pledged to spend against this initiative because they know it will hurt their bottom line,” says Abigail Doerr, the Yes campaign manager. (Disclosure: Abigail and I worked together as interns at the Washington Bus.)

“They may have the money but we have the people. This is the largest initiative coalition in state history and we are ready to stand up for the future of our state.”

31 Replies to “Big oil is already spending almost $1m to oppose carbon pricing”

      1. I don’t think the I-1631 backers have done enough to convince us that the increased revenue is needed, and I liked that I-732 brought a much-needed reduction in the the sales tax.

    1. Many of us who are backing 1631 also backed 732 and in many cases, preferred it as well, for the same reason as you. But just as 732’s defeat was an example of the perfect being the enemy of the good, let’s not repeat that mistake here. Those of us who are concerned about climate change and believe that an equitable price on carbon is the best way to rapidly reduce emissions should come together this time and get a price on carbon pollution, even if we aren’t 100% in love with how the money will be spent. It’s also important to recognize that the clean energy investments that I-1631 will fund are very popular and broadly supported and will actually do more to reduce emissions than the carbon price itself. This will be our best chance in years to get a price on carbon and make major investments in clean energy and climate change mitigation. Let’s pull together and make it happen!

      1. Everything I buy or use is shipped using carbon fuels, I don’t want to pay higher prices for everything I use or buy, so I am not supporting 1631.

  1. Keep these articles coming! I anticipate we will see a monumental Astro turfing effort here, given the strides that have been made in this area on the right. If the Koch brothers are willing to spend millions to create a “grassroots” campaign just to beat back Nashville’s transit initiative, I would expect this initiative draw out every pseudo populist argument you can imagine across the blogosphere and mainstream media. And these folks will definitely create the appearance of a working class revolt against out of touch liberals. I hope our state can show the rest of the country the blueprint for how to overcome these big money, divide and conquer tactics.

  2. Money needs to be completely removed from the political process. I know this is nothing new but every time I read about the millions of dollars corporations spend to influence public opinion it makes me sick. People are drinking lead water in this country ffs, these companies are pure evil.

    1. Courts all the way up to the Supremes have long held that political speech can only be restricted to reduce the appearance and actuality of corruption. The result is that we can have contribution limits in candidate races but not in initiative campaigns.

      So, one of the prices of going the initiative route is that the proponents have to be prepared to endure pretty much unlimited spending against the initiative. If you want a more level playing field, you’ll have to go the long, tedious, gerrymandered, representative democracy route, and hope we can come up with more tools to counter independent expenditure campaigns on behalf of candidates by well-funded interest groups.

      Seattle’s democracy voucher program, with its increased spending limits when such indy campaigns are involved, seems to be a very good start. (I actually would prefer to see candidate spending limits be allowed to grow faster than indy campaigns, so as to actually incentivize spending money through the candidates directly.)

      We had democracy vouchers in the council races last year, but not in the mayoral race. The results seem to speak for themselves in terms of who has the electeds’ ears.

      1. Another possibility would be declaring that money is not speech, but that’s a more long-term solution.

    2. Money is not speech. Speech is speech.

      Remove money from the political process. Limit the heck out of campaigns. No advertisements in print, electronic, radio, or TV media, period. Make it part of the vetting process for political candidates, just like petitions and filing fees. Restrict candidates to saying what they want in person. Allow the media to continue allowing candidates to have debates, but only if all candidates are invited. And, expand the size of the voter’s guide to allow candidates two or three pages to really lay out who they are and what they stand for. No more giving one group one message and a different group a different message and manipulating the message depending on what TV channel the ad is on or which social media target group it’s aimed at. If we did this, I’ll bet we’d have some socialists, independents, greens, centrist conservatives, libertarians, and all other brands of candidate actually winning elections. Just my two cents.

      As Eric Herde said, it’s a long-term solution.

      I really dig the Democracy Voucher program in Seattle. Let’s get this statewide.

  3. Thanks to Citizen’s United fighting to make money a more powerful version of free speech than the pen or the vocal cords, I would assume there’s no way for Washington State to ban or limit out of state funding for in state elections.

    Would it be constitutionally possible to instead dictate that any political advertisement, paper, radio, tv, etc, that was paid for, partially or fully, by out of state money, must disclose that fact. A huge disclaimer like “THIS WAS PAID FOR BY OUT OF STATE FUNDING” seems like it’s not restricting speech, just clarifying.

    Of course, some fancy accounting could dance around this requirement, but a campaign like WSPA’s, where 92%+ comes from out of state, they would be hard pressed to avoid the out-of-state disclosure for their advertising.

    1. All the groups have to do to get around the “out of state” label is open up an office in Washington and donate their war chest to this combined effort. Both sides will also freely label the other side as “out of state” in their ads regardless of veracity.

      Be assured that both sides will raise as much money as they can, from wherever they can legally get it, and that the I-1631 campaign has lawyers who know how to file valid complaints with the PDC. They are not the initiative neophytes who came up with I-732.

  4. A couple years ago, Iwhile exploring the new energy exhibit at the Houston science museum, I could not help noticing that it was glorifying Big Oil, while making only token references to renewables. Particularly galling was that an entire room about offshore drilling somewhow managed to make not one reference to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

    Turns out that the exhibit was sponsored by BP, so not surprised the entire exhibit was mostly a big infomercial.

    Expect similar mis-information from Big Oil in this campaign.

    1. Hmmm. I’ve seen exhibits in other aquariums around the country, sponsored by BP, showing how old oil rigs create habitat for aquatic species.

    2. Having visited museums across the country this doesn’t surprise me. Museums tend to host whatever the wealthy locals collect or support.

      Your experience reminds me of Saturday morning cereal commercials. A 2 second flash of “as part of this complete breakfast [which you really should be eating instead of our cereal]”.

      1. Here’s a children’s museum with a lovely Bank of America exhibit:

        “They Live” is slowly becoming reality, I remember when that movie seemed like a dystopia but it’s not far from the truth. When I was a kid my elementary school was hard up for cash so Pepsi agreed to pay for a new scoreboard in our gym. The catch? We had to get rid of all our vending machines and replace them with Pepsi machines. No more cold fresh apples, no more juice, just Pepsi™ and Pepsi Brand™ products.

        There’s no limit to the ways these leeches will make money.

  5. I normally would vote against I-1631 because I think it is bad policy. But given the one-sided way in which the EPA and the Trump administration has handled all things environmental I’m inclined to vote for it. I just wish they would take all the soy beans banned from export to China and turn them into cheap fuel for Eastern Washington communities to compensate for the effects of the bill.

    1. Turning nutritious food into fuel is the lowest and worst use of it. Turning the inedible leftovers into biofuel is still probably a less-preferable use than turning it into fertilizer. And then, the biodiesel still releases CO2 into the atmosphere, albeit much less than gasoline does.

      If the price of soy beans falls, we vegans will finally get the price break we should have realized over meat grown with government subsidies a long time ago. Bring on the soybean glut! Just, please, stop spraying it with Roundup.

    2. Sure make a glut and starve farmers out of business just so you can put soy in your latte. Every farmers first consideration. Seeing how the alternative to soy fuel is gasoline i think you have you’re priorities confused.

      1. I don’t drink coffee, either, FWIW.

        The alternative to gasoline isn’t biodiesel. It’s electric batteries. Preferably on transit.

        Or bike pedal power. Or walking those few blocks you don’t need to drive.

      2. Hilarious! You’ve obviously have never lived in a rural community. I haven’t seen much transit from I-1631 offered to rural communities. The sustainability of a maintenance facility is prohibitive enough for it to be realistic. And batteries for farm machinery? Ooooo K. Electric charging structure in Wilson Creek Wa for pickups? Too funny! I can see a farmer making a supply run to Moses Lake Walmart in his Leaf. I wonder what its tow capacity would be?

      3. Lampooning electric vehicle charging facilities like rural areas aren’t littered with hole in the wall gas stations is more than a bit ironic.

  6. I’m sorry, but this paragraph makes no sense:

    “However, the fee that I-1631 would impose is a fee on carbon polluters, not consumers. For consumers to see fuel price increases, fossil fuel producers would have to raise prices. But Bieber says that the new tax would be to blame for any price increases, not oil companies.”

    Is the author trying to cast doubt on the veracity of that statement? Oil refining is an incredibly capital-intensive, low margin business. If a significant new tax is imposed on it, of course that cost is going to passed on to consumers. In fact, that’s the whole point as noted earlier in the piece: raise prices of carbon intensive fuels.

    Even if the ad campaign is funded by out-of-state special interests, the message “this will raise gas prices” is true. And likely persuasive: you can’t counter “it also lowers taxes” like you could with I-732.

    1. They’ve had bumper profits for decades, while offloading their costs onto the environment. They don’t get to cry foul when we try to change that to hold them partially accountable.

      1. Not to mention subsidies.

        “The three largest fossil fuel subsidies were:

        Foreign tax credit ($15.3 billion)
        Credit for production of non-conventional fuels ($14.1 billion)
        Oil and Gas exploration and development expense ($7.1 billion)

        The three largest renewable fuel subsidies were:

        Alcohol Credit for Fuel Excise Tax ($11.6 billion)
        Renewable Electricity Production Credit ($5.2 billion)
        Corn-Based Ethanol ($5.0 billion)”

    2. Everything I buy or use is shipped using carbon based fuels, so if it is taxed everything goes up! I don’t want that NO on 1631!

  7. Couple of questions for the relevant corporations- and anyone else knowledgeable:

    1. If you win the election, and get protection from taxes you’ll have to pass along- how much price relief can you promise your customers for typical time period usual for these measures?

    2. You’ve been working with carbon products for a long time. No chance you can shift your political expenses to creating non-poisonous products that will bring you more money than your campaign funds?

    Giving you an opening, guys. Especially the Kochs- all I’m getting from Public Radio is passing mention that one of you is on the Board. Stop letting these bike-loving liberals beat you up. Silencing allegations your bikes are laying around all over Seattle. Hey…isn’t all that green and yellow stuff former carbon pollution?

    However, I’ll hand out yard signs with no price increase at all for legal permission to attach a little coal burning engine to run a midget generator for my laptop. Can’t find a chivalrous way to access average outlet anymore.


  8. OK. We all agree that need to raise obscene amounts of money has to come out of country’s politics. Question: How? Couple ideas, for starters.

    1. Every single candidate challenge their opponent to reveal names of donors, and amounts. And stay onto them about it. Also, name some possibles- don’t think there’s any law against that. Electorate should just start to get a feeling about who’s either dodging or lying.

    2. Do same for amount of office time, on the clock, that their every elected representative spends on the phone raising money.

    3. And while they’re caught up fighting off these challenges, nail them good and hard on their other shortcomings. 2016 proves that allegations and suspicion win elections.

    Just some thoughts.


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