Want to see the latest and greatest disinformation about big oil, clean energy, and fossil fuels? Look no further than your boomer uncle’s Facebook feed. If you look at any post about EVs or solar from government officials in places like New York, California, or even New Mexico, you’ll see every talking point imaginable against clean energy, legitimate or bogus.
While much of it is the latter, there are some fair points made. One I’ve seen many times looking at New Mexico are people mentioning the state’s dependence on fossil fuel tax revenue. The thinking is that drilling bans, encouraging less oil use, and anything else that disrupts the status quo could end up putting a big dent in the revenue that comes from fossil fuel extraction. So, these commenters are usually telling the government to not do that (even though you’ll see them later speaking out against government spending of all kinds).
The report mentions a number of states and counties this is a problem for, but one of the most interesting ones is Taft, California:
“Property taxes from oil and gas fund Taft’s well-kept parks and recreation centers. The local college built a new classroom and hired staff to teach anatomy with funding from Chevron. Millions of dollars in donations from oil companies support the Taft Oil Technology Academy, a popular high school program where students learn petroleum geology, fly drones and research topics like carbon dioxide recycling.”
The county Taft is in, Kern County, produces over two-thirds of California’s oil, but it’s also one of the state’s biggest suppliers of solar and wind power. But, the money from putting in solar farms comes and goes quickly, with little in the way of continued revenue for the county. So, when the state government tried to shut down drilling, this put the county at odds with the state government (a common problem in rural California counties). They’re suing the state government, threatening to stall out solar construction, and doing anything else they can to stop the halting of oil drilling.
Why are they hanging on so hard? Because the county doesn’t have much else going for it. Local residents told the New York Times that they think the county won’t have anything else to tax if everyone loses their jobs and the county loses revenue from the oil fields, so they feel like they have no choice but to fight renewables for survival.
It isn’t hard to find many other parts of the country where this is also true. Oil fields in Texas and New Mexico are accustomed to boom and bust cycles, but they’re not prepared for a permanent loss of those jobs and population. State governments that are heavily dependent on these income streams are also likely to drag their feet on renewables or count on other states to buy the oil if they themselves don’t want it used as much locally. So, any national effort to seriously reduce oil production will hurt.
There are no easy solutions, but this is something we need to be careful to not blunder into. With some planning and strategic foresight, the problem could be solved. If states don’t plan ahead, the consequences for some communities will be catastrophic and the transition to renewables will be slowed.
Featured image provided by Needpix, Creative Commons Zero License.