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Do you trust motives of big oil companies?

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POSTED August 14, 2010 2:55 a.m.

Take a trip south on Highway 99 toward the Grapevine on a stagnant summer day.

As you approach Bakersfield you will be astounded by what you don’t see – the Sierra foothills – as you roll down the pavement dubbed “California’s Main Street.” It’s not because the foothills are too far away, as they are just 10 miles or so to the east.

It is because of the thick haze primarily from greenhouse gas emissions.

If two Texas oil companies can sweet talk you into it, you’ll help make the air being breathed by young and old alike in Bakersfield and elsewhere in California even worse.

The firms – Valero Energy Corporation and Tesoro – are spending millions to get Proposition 23 passed on the statewide ballot Nov. 2. The ballot measure suspends state law and reducing greenhouse gas emission standards to 1990 levels until California unemployment drops to 5.5 percent or less for four consecutive quarters.

The year 1990 is an interesting benchmark as is the unemployment rate being 5.5 percent or less in California.

Let’s go down memory lane in what today would pass as a gross polluter clunker getting about 12 miles per gallon. That was two years before phase one of California’s reformulated gasoline programs started.

That means Valero and Tesoro - who most opponents of the ballot measure believe want to escape tougher standards for their refineries in California - could actually shut them down and ship in refined oil products from refineries they own outside of the Golden State.

You might ask why they would do that. Simple, they can make more money. Keeping a California refinery idle which are the only ones in the nation geared to meet today’s strict California gasoline emission standards puts money in the Big Oil companies’ pockets. How, you might ask, since they have to still pay to ship the finished products to California?

The answer is simple: Labor costs. Refinery workers make a tad more in California than they do in Texas.

Now couple that with the surreal goal of having the employment rate below 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters in California. Economists get giddy when unemployment in California hovers around 6 percent. Five percent in virtual Nirvana which means the odds are they will never have to worry about the jobless rate being that low. So, in an ironic twist, a measure the oil companies claim will save jobs could actually cost California jobs.

If it sounds a bit too Machiavellian to be plausible keep in mind all of the investigations triggered because this state’s refineries conveniently had to go off line in years past in times of high demand for maintenance. Such moves helped to spike prices at the pump.

These are the same people who are now trying to manipulate you so they can snag your vote at the ballot box.

Now there are a lot of tempting things in the measure which essentially suspends Assembly Bill 32. One of them would hold in abeyance the retrofits on diesel engines that are proving costly endeavors for truckers – especially independents – who are struggling to eke out a living and comply with costly state mandates. It also would suspend retrofits on new devices at gas pumps.

It is easy to have empathy for independent truckers as well as smaller truckling firms as the cost for retrofitting diesel engines runs into the tens of thousands of dollars.

But if you really want to protect them, then there needs to be a push for the suspension of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that allows dirty diesel trucks from Mexico to spew their dirty gasses as far north as Fresno bringing goods in or out of California before they need to fill the tank again.

Most importantly, it makes no sense to undo what has been accomplished in terms of vastly improved California air quality in the past 20 years.
Does anybody remember what a Manteca summer day was like in the early 1990s?The smog was so bad that not only could you not see Mr. Diablo most days as well as the Sierra, but the Altamont Hills east of Tracy were obscured from the vantage point of driving south on Interstate 5 just south of the Tracy exit.

At the same time, any slippage in air quality will trigger the loss of federal freeway funds for the Central Valley.

It has cost all of us a lot of money to get to this point. Why should be give up our cleaner air and the investment we’ve all made as Californians – often begrudgingly – just so some Texas oil companies can do an Enron and squeeze out even more profits that comes ultimately at our expense.

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