Oil companies lobbying against California spill cleanup bill

'We can't allow Big Oil to put their profits before community health and safety,' activist group says

A heated budget battle in Sacramento over more oil-spill protection for rivers, lakes and other inland bodies of water has prompted a last-minute lobbying blitz by formidable adversaries: the oil industry and environmentalists.

As the Legislature moves this weekend to put the finishing touches on a $107-billion state budget, one flashpoint for controversy has been Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal for a program to prevent and clean up crude oil spills from rail-car and pipeline accidents. It also calls for a fee to pay for the program.

This week, business groups, led by the Western States Petroleum Assn. and the California Chamber of Commerce, sent out an "alert" to lawmakers that they opposed Brown's plan, which will be part of the 2014-15 budget package.

And Wednesday, a deep-pocketed climate change activist group waded in. released a statement Wednesday afternoon strongly criticizing oil companies for opposing the oil spill prevention and response plan.

"The oil industry shamelessly tried to pull the wool over the eyes of Californians by publicly opposing a common sense and prudent long-term solution for funding oil spill cleanup," said spokeswoman Suzanne Henkels.

Henkels' organization is bankrolled mainly by Tom Steyer, a billionaire and retired Bay Area hedge fund manager. Steyer has been active in efforts at the Capitol to tax crude oil at the wellhead. He also supports a moratorium on extracting oil using a controversial method called hydraulic fracturing and opposes the proposed Keystone Pipeline linking Canada and the Gulf Coast.

Steyer and say they support comprehensive spill prevention programs to ensure that train loads of volatile oil from Canada's tar sands and the Bakken field in North Dakota don't threaten California communities.

"We can't allow Big Oil to put their profits before community health and safety," Henkels said.

Brown's oil spill prevention program contains $6.7 million to expand a 23-year-old coastal oil spill program to inland waters.

The oil industry says it opposes paying for the program with a fee of 6.5 cents per 42-gallon barrel when the oil arrives at the refinery.

Instead, they want to separate coastal activities from inland ones and pay only a 3 cent fee for the inland prevention and spill response.

Brown's plan is "overly broad and is not narrowly focused on areas where there may be a real risk from potential oil spills by rail," the alert to lawmakers from the oil companies and their allies said.

Twitter: @MarcLifsher

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