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Big Oil's 'Grass-Roots' Groups in California

Oil companies fund “grass-roots” websites to turn the public against California’s carbon laws
Big Oil's 'Grass-Roots' Groups in California
Photograph by Shutterstock

When oil companies mounted a public campaign in 2010 to roll back California’s nation-leading greenhouse gas restrictions, the effort backfired in a big way: 62 percent of the state’s voters rejected Proposition 23, which would have suspended California’s goal of slashing carbon emissions by the end of the decade. It was a major setback for the industry and strengthened the resolve of environmentalists and politicians to discourage the use of fossil fuels. On Jan. 1, 2015, the state’s cap-and-trade system is scheduled to expand to include gasoline, diesel, and other fuels used for transportation, which the California Air Resources Board estimates are responsible for 36 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Once again the oil industry is suiting up. The restrictions will cripple the economy and cost jobs, lobbyists say. But instead of making a direct plea to the public for support to delay or repeal the changes, oil companies are quietly working to make it look like Californians are spontaneously rising up in protest against the climate standards. In recent months, groups have popped up that appear to be grass-roots organizations started by ordinary people opposed to the rules. In fact, they’re paid for by the oil industry.