Oxy, Tesoro and Valero: Drilling at the Ballot Box

In the aftermath of Katrina, nearly everyone pitched in to help (except George Bush, but that’s an old story).  Even Wal-Mart lent is vaunted logistics expertise to the devastated Gulf Coast.

This time around, in a man-made disaster more insiduous than Katrina, the oil industry that chomps at the drilling bit to pump crude from any crevice without regard to consequence, sits idly by, unwilling to lift so much as a pen to help out in the Gulf.  Worse still, Occidental Petroleum, Tesoro and Valero, along with a few secretive allies, have put up over $2 million to pass an initiative here in California that would effectively elminate AB 32, our land mark green economy and clean air legislation, simply to make more money from fouling our state. They see BP and raise a California.

That’s why Courage Campaign Thursday called on those companies to donate at least that much money to efforts to rehabilitate the Gulf, to help the tens of thousands whose lives have been upended or worse by the petro-sharks.

The usually incisive Josh Richman of the Contra Costa Times  had this to say:

But… really? Isn’t demanding that Tesoro and Valero pay to mitigate a BP oil spill sort of like demanding that Honda recall and fix Toyota’s cars? Think what you will of out-of-state oil companies buying a California ballot initiative to protect their profits, but it’s odd to advocate expanding one company’s responsibility and liability to an entire industry just like that. Or, were we supposed to think that big oil – one of the world’s richest, most politically connected industries – would instantly abandon all of its political efforts and slink away due to BP’s ecological and economic trainwreck

It does not seem odd at all. Honda did not seek to weaken safety laws when Toyota began to fail. Imagine if Honda had put millions of dollars into a ballot measure that called for a moratorium on safety checks for five years. You can’t.  No other industry would be so brazen and outrageously rapacious.  That’s the analogy here.  

A well-run company (think Berkshire Hathaway) works toward sustainability which is in the best interests of its shareholders.  Putting tons of oil into the sea and investing in legislation that encourages similarly destructive practices is short-term thinking at its worst. This is the same thinking that allows employee-CEOs to become billionaires by cutting corners and taking profits without investing in the future.  It’s not only legitimate to call on these companies to help out when their industry fails so blatantly, it’s a kind of litmus test.  If they are not willing to help out when people, animals and the nation itself are drowning in dirty crude, we can imagine what will happen if they pass this legislation in California. Screw California and the country:  we want our bonuses.

The end of a green economy and a continual reliance on oil at any price from any place will not be their problem.  It’ll be ours.

I used to work at Occidental Petroleum.  I know that companies can do bad and good.   Oxy, Valero and Tesoro should at least take a page from Wal-Mart’s book–no corporate Boy Scout–and lend a hand in this time of need.  It won’t make them any money, but it’s what good citizens and sustainable businesses do.