When Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) renewed his request this month to audit the state agency in charge of spending billions of dollars generated from California’s primary climate change program, he knew what the response from his opponents would be.
“I think the environmentalists are going to point you over here and say he’s taking oil money, he’s trying to block the program,” Gray said in an interview. “I’m not trying to block the program. I’m for fighting climate change.”
But in pushing for the audit, Gray got a big assist from the oil industry. The industry’s main lobbyist wrote the request.
Metadata in the Microsoft Word document in the draft request obtained by the Los Angeles Times shows that its author is Eloy Garcia. Garcia is the lead lobbyist for the Western States Petroleum Assn. or WSPA, which represents oil companies in Sacramento.
The letter that Gray and more than a dozen other lawmakers sent to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee on Aug. 4 was word for word the same as Garcia’s draft.
Garcia did not respond to a request for comment. But Gray’s chief of staff, Trent Hager, confirmed Garcia wrote the letter. Hager said when lawmakers returned from summer recess at the beginning of August, his office called WSPA for help with the audit request and used Garcia’s draft.
Hager said he knew the oil industry’s involvement would be criticized.
“People are going to use this as a distraction,” Hager said. “But I’ve been here long enough to say it is not unusual at all for the [Natural Resources Defense Council] or WSPA or whoever to draft letters because they tend to have the policy expertise when we have questions.”
The audit committee didn’t take up Gray’s request at its final meeting of the year last week. Gray and other lawmakers have pressed for more oversight over the California Air Resources Board, the administrator of the cap-and-trade program that requires businesses to pay to pollute.
The votes of Gray and other business-aligned Democrats are considered key to extending greenhouse gas reduction targets and renewing cap and trade, the major debate at the Capitol this month. The oil industry has major sway over the debate, and Gov. Jerry Brown negotiated with WSPA over the issue earlier this year.
Times staff writer Melanie Mason contributed to this report.