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A new "oil conspiracy" campaign from the Western States Petroleum Association aims to kill clean energy regulations in California, Washington, and Oregon.

Policy & Politics

New Oil “Conspiracy” Aims For West Coast Hat Trick, Could Lose Hat

A new “oil conspiracy” campaign from the Western States Petroleum Association aims to kill clean energy regulations in California, Washington, and Oregon.

A major new petroleum industry campaign is afoot to shoot down clean energy regulations in all three West Coast states, which is no surprise because that’s what the US petroleum industry should be doing in the face of a shrinking domestic market. So, good luck with that. While the “oil conspiracy” may meet with some short term success, it’s not going to hold up for long.

Our friends over at Bloomberg Businessweek broke the story and you can get a good overview of the new “oil conspiracy” from reporter Brad Wieners, so we’re going to focus on why this thing could work, or not.

solar energy thwarts oil conspiracy

Solar panels being installed at Los Angeles Air Force Base (cropped, by Lou Hernandez).

The New Oil Conspiracy — Why It Could Work

The “oil conspiracy” is a creature of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) which is the oldest and apparently most powerful organization in the industry. Tap into its member list and you’ll find all the heavy hitters: BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell to name a few.

As described by Wieners, the new campaign is “a highly coordinated, multistate coalition that does not want California to succeed at moving off fossil fuels because that might set a nasty precedent for everyone else.”

The guiding document is a 32-slide PowerPoint under the slogan Energy Proud, targeting Washington and Oregon along with California. It lists several ongoing “grassroots” campaigns funded by the industry, with a particular focus on the supposed “hidden gas tax” cleverly buried within clean energy regulations.


So far, so good. You got your patriotic button-pushing slogan, strong anti-tax messaging and the corollary “we’re all for the middle class and the poors” messaging, and various “grassroots” groups with slick ads and newspeak names like “Oregonians for Sound Fuel Policy” and “California Drivers Alliance.”

To top it off, you have the conspirators distracting attention from their conspiracy by accusing the other side of conspiring — namely, conspiring to hide a hidden gas tax.

WSPA is doing all the right things, so what could possibly go wrong?

The New Oil Conspiracy — Why It Won’t Work

The folks over at WSPA might want to take a look over the edge of their bunker to see why it’s not going to work.

Fundamentally, the timing is off. For one thing, the oil and gas industry is currently engaged in a hardcore game of global chicken with itself, and prices at the pump have been dropping like a rock. That takes the edge off the “hidden gas tax” message.

The timing is also off in terms of competition from alternative fuels. The petroleum industry has already lost the technology battle. A few years ago you wouldn’t think that wind, solar, or biofuel could go mano a mano with fossil fuels on price, but the cost of clean energy has also been falling through the floor.

Then there’s the “your lying eyes” factor. Just a few years ago, it was almost impossible to see living proof that electric vehicles are the wave of the future. Now it’s going to be harder to justify buying that new gasmobile when your neighbors are trading stories about their EV experiences (that’s going to include fuel cell EVs as of 2015 — but we digress).

The new oil conspiracy is also up against a counter “conspiracy” best exemplified by the Tesla Motors media juggernaut. Quite simply, in the past few years major new players have emerged in the motor vehicle and clean energy fields, and they have their own deep pockets to tap when it comes down to dueling ad campaigns.

Oil Conspiracy Vs. The Troops

Finally, it’s going to be really hard to push that patriotic “Energy Proud” angle when the troops that we supposedly support are going gung-ho for alternative energy, including EV-to-grid technology and other clean mobility solutions. That goes all the way from utility scale alternatives at domestic bases, to expeditionary energy in war zones.

To cite just a couple of examples, earlier this week we were mentioning a major new Navy clean energy initiative in California, and Los Angeles Air Force Base is also staking out green turf.

So, it looks like WSPA has its work cut out for it. Stay tuned.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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