Greenpeace Calls on CA Legislators to Protect Californians from Polluter Greed

by Amy Moas

December 6, 2022

Greenpeace USA Chief Program Officer and labor leader Tefere Gebre calls on CA legislators to put working Californians over polluter greed.

© Andri Tambunan / Greenpeace

On December 5, 2022 the California State Legislature commenced a special legislative session to explore a price gouging penalty for oil companies at the direction of Governor Newsom in order to impose a significant financial penalty on companies’ excessive profit margins, and to return that money to everyday Californians. Greenpeace USA activists released banners off the rotunda balcony in the California State Capitol Building urging the Legislature to “Make Big Oil Pay” and put “People Over Profits” while Tefere Gebre, Chief Program Officer at Greenpeace USA and former Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO, sent the following letter to every member of the California State Senate and Assembly.


Subject:  Price Gouging Penalty is vital for workers and families

Members of the California Legislature,

For some of you, this is a new and auspicious day – a fresh start in a new public office – and for that, I congratulate you. I look forward to meeting and working with you in the coming years to protect Californians and ensure the state thrives.

Today was also a big day for Greenpeace USA activists who just moments ago deployed banners inside the State Capitol rotunda to ensure everyone who walks the halls of the building today knows that one of the most pressing questions before you is as simple as valuing people over profits.

It is clear to all of us that something about the record high gas prices Californians are paying does not add up. Gas prices have hit previously unimaginable levels while oil companies announce billions and billions in profits. We are not being fooled, we know our hard earned money is going straight to their pockets and to their shareholders. But there is little we can do about it. You, on the other hand, can put people over profits and make Big Oil pay – putting an end to this unjust financial pain. I urge you to rapidly pass Governor Newsom’s price gouging penalty.

Gas prices have climbed as high as $9 a gallon in some parts of California, far more than elsewhere in the US. The record statewide average for retail gasoline was $6.41 – a soaring cost that’s further fueling a cost-of-living crisis for many Californians. When industry lobbyists and their lap dogs try to blame environmental regulations and a lack of drilling permits, it has always been to distract us from the real math: that the oil companies have been unaccountably ratcheting up their own profits through the roof with no end in sight. Californians are suffering the consequence of a market controlled by five big oil refiners who make 97% of the state’s gasoline, which allows them to artificially alter the price of gasoline.

Let’s look at the numbers from the last few months. Exxon had its biggest quarterly profits ever this year. Chevron had its second biggest quarterly profits ever. BP made $8 billion, up from $3.3 billion and on track to shatter previous records. Phillips 66 brought in $5.4 billion in profits, up from $402 million. Marathon’s profits reached $4.48 billion, up 545% from this same time last year.

These numbers are astronomical. As Governor Newsom said just last month: “greedy oil companies are ripping you off.” And with eight oil companies operating in California making $63 billion in less than 100 days during the third quarter of 2022, this is an extremely fair characterization.

Greedy oil CEOs are ‘feasting’ on a series of calamities and catastrophes – allowing them to rake in record high profits, far beyond other years’ margins. There is a clear connection – the record high prices are going straight to profit. It’s past time for basic accountability for Big Oil’s big profits. You all have the opportunity to protect your constituents and ensure the industry reins in these unjust prices. Without any action by legislators, the price gouging will continue.

With a cap on this greed, everyday Californians can have happier, healthier, and less stressful lives – all while the fossil fuel industry will absolutely continue to make a standard profit.

It is not uncommon for the oil and gas industry and its allies to claim they have the mantle of looking out for working Californians on any number of issues – but we can see clear as day that this is simply a myth.

For example, earlier this year, oil workers at a refinery in Richmond, California, were forced to go out on strike for several months without pay, demanding meager pay increases to account for the cost of living in the Bay Area. Even though Chevron posted massive quarterly profits during the strike, they wouldn’t budge an inch. The same corporate greed that hurts everyday Californians at the gas pump is also hurting the very same industry’s workers who aren’t immune from that price at the pump, even as they fight for fair family-sustaining wages.

But what’s more, climate change, propelled by oil companies, hurts workers plain and simple. The heatwaves and wildfire this state went through over the summer are but mere examples. Workers are forced to endure dangerous temperatures, dealing with toxic levels of wildfire smoke, and any number of health and safety hazards brought on by the climate crisis.

Sadly, all of this is nothing new. Polluter greed has been harming our state and hurting its people for far too long with little to no accountability to show for it.

For decades, the oil industry’s massive profits have funded their disinformation campaigns and powerful lobby to delay climate action, while dumping pollution into neighborhoods and treating communities as sacrifice zones. Too many of you in the Legislature have fallen beholden to this industry because of the massive amount of money it pumps into California state politics. But that money is not more important than standing up for what is right for your constituents, who are paying far more than is necessary at the gas pump. To make matters worse, many of these companies leave behind their aging oil and gas drilling infrastructure, using shady lobbying of regulators, bankruptcy, or other legal maneuvers to try to pass off the bill for cleanup to taxpayers. It’s a story as old as the industry itself – they pass on their costs to consumers, who are struggling just to make it to their jobs everyday, all in the name of passing the wealth to CEOs and top executives.

The oil industry is currently spending their record profits to undermine our democracy with disinformation, delay action on climate change, and attempt to overturn public health protections for communities living next to toxic oil drilling sites. Your leadership and commitment back in August resulted in the passage of SB 1137, which establishes a 3,200-foot buffer zone between oil wells and communities in California. Greenpeace USA and our supporters will not forget those of you who decided to side with California communities on this issue. But now the oil industry is spending millions of its record profits to overturn this popular setback policy and brand these commonsense protections as a “power shutdown” –  just as fast food companies are corrupting the democratic process with a flood of money to overturn the fair fight on better wages for fast food workers.

Not to mention, Big Oil is trying to use this moment to push for new drilling permits in order to entice investors and maximize profits. But new drilling will not lower the cost of fuel. And approving new permits won’t reduce pain at the pumps – it will only help Big Oil maintain a permanent grip on this state’s future and on our wallets.

Californians deserve better than they’re getting – and oil and gas companies cannot be allowed to run rampant all over California. Reining in profits is popular both with the people of California and with Governor Newsom himself. You have a responsibility and power to protect California families against greedy polluters bleeding the state dry.

I’m writing, urging you to put an end to the oil and gas industry’s record windfall profits. It’s better for people, their wallets, the environment, and our democracy. California’s communities and families are asking you to stand with them and Governor Newsom in protecting Californians against polluter greed. Big Oil’s windfall profits are threatening the very place we call home.

In Solidarity,

Tefere Gebre
Current: Chief Program Officer, Greenpeace USA
2013-2022:  Executive Vice President, AFL-CIO
2008-2013: Executive Director, Orange County Labor Federation
[email protected]

CC:

Governor Newsom
Lauren Sanchez, Office of California Governor
Wade Crowfoot, California Natural Resources Agency
Amelia Yana Garcia Gonzalez, California Environmental Protection Agency
Samuel Assefa, Office of Planning and Research
Natalie Palugyai, California Labor & Workforce Development Agency
Lorena Gonzales, CA Labor Federation
Dana Williamson, Chief of Staff, Office of California Governor
Jason Elliott, Deputy Chief of Staff, Office of California Governor
Amy Moas

By Amy Moas

Amy Moas, Ph.D. is a senior forest campaigner for Greenpeace based in Las Vegas. She focuses on combating the drivers of deforestation around the world including palm oil, pulp and paper, and illegal logging.

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