Oil companies trying to block California clean air laws

Smokestacks

OAKLAND, Calif. - Texas-based oil giants Valero and Tesoro, among the biggest polluters in the nation, are the main backers of Proposition 23, which would suspend California's clean air laws.

A new study exposes the two oil companies bankrolling the ballot initiative as among the worst polluters in the nation. The companies contributed more than $4 million to place the proposition on California's November ballot.

Prop. 23 would suspend California's air pollution control laws "until the state unemployment rate drops to 5.5 percent or lower for one year," according to the Legislative Analyst's Office.

That has happened three times in the past 30 years, the Associated Press reported. California's current official unemployment rate stands at 12.3 percent and, given the depth of the economic crisis, even the most optimistic forecasts project high unemployment rates for years to come.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom blasted Prop. 23 as "deceptive" at a press conference August 10 that released the study.

Titled "Toxic Twins," it describes the companies as "repeat offenders" illegally spewing hundreds of thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals from refineries in California into the atmosphere, endangering the lives of millions.

The study, conducted by the Oakland-based Ella Baker Center and the California Environmental Justice Alliance, also reveals that "the people who bear the biggest health burdens from these facilities are disproportionately people of color."

People living within 2.5 miles of the Valero and Tesoro facilities in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area are 63 percent African American, Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander, according to the study.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed suit earlier this year against Tesoro for widespread violations of the Clean Air Act. The two oil companies have been the main defendants in more than 30 lawsuits alleging contamination of the environment with the additive MTBE.

In July, after 44 notices of violation of air quality standards over a three-year period, Tesoro agreed to pay a measly $366,375 fine to the Bay Area Quality Management District.

For its part, Valero disclosed in January that it was pursuing a settlement with the South Coast Air Quality Management District in regard to 29 violation notices.

In July Valero reported its best financial figures in two years and Tesoro cited similar improvements in earnings last year, in large measure, by expanding their California capacity to process "heavy and sour crude oils," the dirtiest types of oil refined.

Prop. 23 promoters argue that AB32, the 2006 state law reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, is costing businesses millions of dollars and more than a million jobs.

But Ian Kim, director of the Green-Collar Jobs Campaign, said, "Clean energy standards have led to hundreds of thousands of jobs and are leading the economic recovery."

Mayor Newsom charged Prop. 23 "will harm the emerging clean energy industry, negatively impact the health of Californians, and discourage innovation."

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