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.”