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Oil Refiners Ramp Up Fight in Favor of California’s Prop 23

In the absence of meaningful legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions in Washington, the fight surrounding California’s ballot measure, Proposition 23, is rapidly becoming the biggest — and most highly funded — energy issue in the current campaign season.

Prop 23, as I’ve blogged previously and Think Progress has enumerated in even greater detail, is an initiative sponsored by Texas independent oil refiners Valero and Tesoro. It has also received a gift of $1 million from Koch Industries. Its goal is to repeal California’s landmark law, AB 32, which seeks to limit greenhouse gas emissions in the state. Now the Wall Street Journal is reporting that both sides of the fight on Prop. 23 are upping their game:

On Tuesday, the president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association solicited financial support for Prop. 23 from the group’s members. “I am pleading with each of you—for our nation’s best interest and for your company’s own self-interest,” wrote Charles Drevna in an email that was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. [...]

Meanwhile, a loose coalition of environmental groups and individuals, including clean-technology investors, has geared up to oppose Prop. 23.

Former Secretary of State George Shultz plans this weekend to hold a fund-raising event to fight Prop. 23 at his home near Stanford University. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a vocal opponent of Prop. 23, is expected to attend.

Tom Steyer, a San Francisco hedge-fund manager, has contributed $2.5 million to the opposition campaign, while the National Resources Defense Council has given nearly $1 million. Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr has given $500,000, according to filings.

No matter how you slice it, the environmental groups will be out-financed, but it looks like they have popular opinion among Californians on their side, for now. Meanwhile, WSJ notes that, at least so far, oil companies are divided as to whether they should pour money into the race:

Several big oil companies have steered clear of supporting Prop. 23. Royal Dutch Shell PLC opposes the measure, while Exxon Mobil Corp., BP PLC and Chevron Corp. remain neutral. Unlike Valero and Tesoro, these oil giants have broader operations, such as finding and pumping oil, in addition to refining and marketing it. AB 32 primarily affects oil refiners, because refining emits far more greenhouse gases than the extraction of oil.

“From the standpoint of the major oil companies, they could benefit if the independents [such as Valero and Tesoro] go out of business,” said Ann Kohler, an energy analyst at Caris & Co. “There’s a sort of chess game going on.”

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