California's Friendly Neighborhood Citizens Groups Are Really Just Big Oil in Disguise

California's Friendly Neighborhood Citizens Groups Are Really Just Big Oil in Disguise

Californians for Energy Independence. California Drivers Alliance. Save Our Jobs. Just a few grassroots groups playing their role in American civil society, right?

Here's the thing: Those and more than a dozen other groups are actually run by one of the largest oil and gas lobbying groups in the U.S., and they're trying to gut California's climate change laws.

That comes from Western States Petroleum Association's presentation, which ended up being leaked to the NPR-affiliated Northwest News Network. The leaked documents show a web of grassroots-sounding organizations created by the oil lobby to fight "aggressive anti-oil initiatives in the west."

The slideshow: The organization's PowerPoint presentation begins by telling members that it's the best of times, and it's the worst of times. (Those are the actual headings on the first few slides.) It's the best of times because U.S. crude oil production is at its highest point since 1997. It's the worst of times because, as the photos in the presentation show, people are protesting the fossil fuel industry all over the country.


The web of "grassroots" organizations is a response to that. As the presentation says, "In 2014 WSPA has activated a significant number of campaigns and coalitions that have contributed to WSPA's advocacy goals and continue to respond to anti-oil initiatives in the West."


While people had previously accused WSPA of astroturfing — the term used when a large group bankrolls what's made to look like a grassroots campaign — it's another thing to see the strategy laid out in the group's own plans.

WSPA President Cathy Reheis-Boyd has pushed back, saying in a statement that the slides were used in a presentation and there's nothing secret about them: "The fact we are engaged in partnerships with a large array of business and consumer coalitions isn't a secret to anyone familiar with our active engagement on behalf of our members in all of the states for which are responsible."

What it means: The big focus for the group is California's AB 32, an environmental bill passed in 2006 that created new greenhouse gas and other emissions standards. A new cap-and-trade program is going into effect next year as part of those regulations.

WSPA and its smaller groups are calling it a "hidden" gas tax and calling on people to complain to their representatives and stop it from being passed. There's a bigger fear here — if cap-and-trade succeeds in California, it could spread to other nearby states that WSPA works in, like Oregon and Washington.

Not many things are hard if you're a giant oil industry group. But connecting with voters does seem to be one of them.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Matt Connolly

Matt has written for Mother Jones, the Washington Examiner and Chicago Public Radio among many others. He's a resident of Washington, D.C., but much like Bruce Springsteen and pork roll he is a product of New Jersey.

MORE FROM

Sam Brownback: 3 things to know about Trump’s nominee for ambassador-at-large for religious freedom

Brownback was a key sponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which created the job he's now nominated for.

Hundreds rally in Times Square to protest Donald Trump’s transgender military ban

“I’m out here to support my trans brothers and sisters who have been serving our military for years and years and years."

Several Republicans are strongly denouncing Trump’s military transgender ban

“Anybody who wants to serve in the military should serve in the military. I don’t agree with the president.”

Worried Trump might pardon himself? Blame Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton might not have been "thinkin' past tomorrow" when he pushed for broad executive privileges.

Harry Truman desegregated the military 69 years ago. Today, Trump banned transgender troops.

Truman wanted to end discrimination in the military "as rapidly as possible."

Here is a timeline of Donald Trump’s relationship with Jeff Sessions

Trump continued his Twitter attacks on Sessions Wednesday — reportedly while the embattled attorney general was in the White House.

Sam Brownback: 3 things to know about Trump’s nominee for ambassador-at-large for religious freedom

Brownback was a key sponsor of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which created the job he's now nominated for.

Hundreds rally in Times Square to protest Donald Trump’s transgender military ban

“I’m out here to support my trans brothers and sisters who have been serving our military for years and years and years."

Several Republicans are strongly denouncing Trump’s military transgender ban

“Anybody who wants to serve in the military should serve in the military. I don’t agree with the president.”

Worried Trump might pardon himself? Blame Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton might not have been "thinkin' past tomorrow" when he pushed for broad executive privileges.

Harry Truman desegregated the military 69 years ago. Today, Trump banned transgender troops.

Truman wanted to end discrimination in the military "as rapidly as possible."

Here is a timeline of Donald Trump’s relationship with Jeff Sessions

Trump continued his Twitter attacks on Sessions Wednesday — reportedly while the embattled attorney general was in the White House.