The four congressional representatives who have accepted $10,000 in donations from Independent Petroleum Association of America this election cycle — including Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy — voted for a bill in June that would slash royalties paid by oil companies to the government.
The Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act reduces the amount energy companies would pay after oil shale mining from 12.5 percent to 1 percent and also gives states power to allow oil and gas drilling off their coasts by ending a federal drilling moratorium.
The association’s Wildcatters political action committee gave $140,500 to 43 of the 232 representatives who voted for the bill and $12,500 to four of the 187 representatives who voted against it, according to a Tracy Press analysis of campaign and voting records. More than 90 percent of these representatives also voted for Pombo’s American-Made Energy and Good Jobs Act in May, which would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.
The association claims to represent more than 5,000 companies that produce 60 percent of U.S. oil and drill 90 percent of the nation’s oil and natural gas wells. All told, the group divided $372,500 among congressional and Senate incumbents and challengers from both parties this election cycle.
The Center for Responsive Politics calculated that the oil and gas industry contributed 83 percent of its $13.6 million in congressional contributions to Republicans this election cycle. Pombo was among the top 10 recipients of oil and gas money, with more than $120,000 tipped into his campaign coffers, according to the center.
“Congressman Pombo and the other like-minded members of Congress support efforts to increase supplies of American energy,” said House Resources Committee spokesman Brian Kennedy, who also works on Pombo’s re-election campaign. “Individuals and entities that share that view and that goal are inclined to support members of Congress who are leading the charge, just like the Sierra Club or Greenpeace are likely to support members of Congress who oppose any and all new domestic energy production.”
The Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, which employs nine people in Pleasanton in an anti-Pombo campaign, has spent more than $1.4 million dollars this year trying to unseat the congressman, according to campaign manager Ed Yoon.
“We support renewable energy sources like wind, solar power and bio-diesel,” said Yoon. “But we have problems with Congressman Pombo trying to do more drilling that increases man-made carbon dioxide emissions that are scientifically proven to cause global warming and that can also produce ecological disasters.”
Pombo has consistently linked energy independence to national security, saying the United States is overly dependent on oil from regions such as the Middle East.
“We salute Chairman Pombo and the House Resources Committee for reaching a bipartisan compromise to move this country forward toward greater energy security,” said Barry Russell, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, in a June press release after the Deep Ocean Energy Resources bill passed Pombo’s committee. The bill passed the House eight days later but now is stalled in the Senate.
“The fact is, resources fuel our economy,” Pombo said as he praised the bill during the June 21 committee meeting, according to committee records. “They are the building blocks of our society. Without them, we produce nothing. Restricting balanced access to them in America is tantamount to cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.”
The Sierra Club, an environmental group that is campaigning against Pombo, opposes the bill.
“This is the kind of energy bill you get when you let the oil industry write the legislation,” Sierra spokesman Eric Antebi said by e-mail. “There is way more energy contained in a chocolate-chip cookie than in the equivalent amount of domestic shale that Pombo is talking about.”
Oil-shale mining extracts oil deposits locked in layers of shale, a type of hard sedimentary rock, by heating it to as much as 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The shale can be heated by mining companies in the environment, including in bodies of natural water, or it can be removed and heated elsewhere.
The resulting energy products can be used to fuel power plants and can undergo further refinement. Though no oil shale mining currently exists in the United States, Canada is at the vanguard of exploiting oil shale and many in the U.S. want to follow suit.
Cars, buses, airplanes and other vehicles spewed more than 23 tons of uncombusted gasoline particles into the San Joaquin Valley Air Basin every day last year, according to California’s Air Resources Board.
The San Joaquin Valley is home to some of America’s most polluted air, and it fails health-related air pollution standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to the San Joaquin Valley Air District’s Web site.
Pombo’s opponent, wind-energy engineer Jerry McNerney, said at a recent campaign forum with Pombo that he wanted to use the Central Valley’s agricultural, wind and solar resources to create a local alternative energy industry, and he argued that intensive research and development could see cars built within five years that get 100 miles per gallon of gasoline.
“Can you imagine what it would do to gas prices if we were all getting 100 miles per gallon” McNerney said.
Pombo put his faith in the marketplace to improve fuel efficiency and appeared to mock those who have been waiting since the 1970s for 100-mile-per-gallon carburetors.
“Obviously, our cars today are much more fuel efficient than what they were 30 years ago,” Pombo replied at the forum. “The truth of it is, car companies have a huge incentive to produce automobiles that get better gas mileage.”
Average fuel efficiency improved from around 13 to 22 miles per gallon between 1975 and 1987, but it dropped back to 21 miles per gallon by 2005, according to a study published by the EPA last July.
Honda and Toyota are leading the way among major automakers in providing fuel-efficient cars, according to recent Associated Press reports. Honda advertises that its 2007 Insight hybrid gets 66 miles per gallon, while Toyota advertises that the 2007 Prius hybrid gets 55 miles per gallon.
• To reach reporter John Upton, e-mail email@example.com.