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What Your ‘Fill Her Up’ Really Buys — Our Elections

Once you last filled up your gas tank, you will have considered where the oil came from. Today let’s think about where the money you paid went. Some of it, indeed, went to the salary of the trucker who delivered the gasoline, the woman behind the cash register, or the steel company that forged the drilling bit. And some of it went to long-running ad campaigns like Chevron’s “We Agree,” designed to make you feel pretty much as good as possible about paying a lot for long dead algae. But much of it went less savory places. The governments of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia, for instance, take an enormous cut. Even in case your last tank didn’t come from one of those countries, your purchase helped the keep the worth of worldwide oil high enough that even with the present price slump the Saudis have nothing to worry about. At last year’s prices, 3 percent of global GDP went as unearned rents to the countries (and firms) that own low-cost oil reserves — an amount equal to the entire economy of Great Britain.

Those global numbers are really too big to fathom. But locally our gasoline and diesel purchases are essentially the most lethal toxin in American politics. Just a couple of weeks out from the election it’s good to remind ourselves — a number of voters may not think the ballot counts, but big oil knows better.

Just up the road from my San Francisco home, in Richmond, petroleum equipment stock numbers worksheet answers California (population 107,000 people), for example, Chevron is ensuring that democracy doesn’t get too rambunctious in the home town of its biggest refinery. The company, whose revenues amount to $200,000 for every resident of the town, would not like Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, the town’s first Green Party mayor, for her efforts to restore town’s shoreline as public open space, and protect its residents from the fires and explosions which have rocked Chevron’s facility. So they are backing an opposing slate. Not content with spending $2.9 million on the election (about $100 petroleum equipment stock numbers worksheet answers per vote cast) Chevron also launched a fake “community” website to carry its point of view, the Richmond Standard. (Your tank of gas may have paid for this doozy.)

Moving down the California coast, sparsely populated San Benito County has only half the population of Richmond, and no major refinery or indeed any significant oil industry presence. Farmers, however, were worried about water quality threats from untested oil technologies like acid injection that could be used to attempt to squeeze heavy oil out of the county’s segment of the Monterey Tar Shale. So they put Measure J on their ballot banning such extreme oil extraction techniques.

For the reason that oil industry is just not currently extracting any significant oil in San Benito County, you might think this wouldn’t be a major threat. But thus far Chevron and others have poured $2 million into a campaign against Measure J, about $200 per likely vote cast. (To be quite honest, as someone who has run political campaigns, it’s difficult to fathom how you might spend $2 million on a campaign in San Benito. The national equivalent can be a presidential campaign that spent $12 billion!)

And even further south, where the primary big clash between environmentalism and big oil came about, in Santa Barbara County, an identical ban on extreme oil extraction techniques like acid injection is being fought by the same oil industry coalition, and in larger Santa Barbara they have spent $5 million thus far, making this essentially the most expensive local ballot measure in the nation. Here again, the ballot language allows existing oil and gas operations (that are significant in Santa Barbara) to continue, banning only new operations using extreme technology.

However the oil industry’s toxic dollar spigot has been directed outside of California as well. In North Dakota, conservation groups, hunting and fishing interests and recreational advocates have proposed that a tiny 5 percent of the state’s oil and gas revenues be used for long-range landscape conservation efforts. Despite the fact that the bill raises no taxes and places no burdens on the oil industry, the American Petroleum Institute, alarmed that it might pass, has kicked in $1 million to fight it, and total spending is predicted to exceed $2 million on both sides. Why might the industry care Because, just as in non-oil producing San Benito, any vote that suggests that oil and gas have obligations to the broader public good and limitations on their ability to use the land in any way they choose have become, petroleum equipment stock numbers worksheet answers powered by unlimited campaign largesse, more than the industry can accept.

As you read within the media about the huge sums of money that oil and gas interests just like the Koch brothers are pouring into campaigns around the country, remember that Big Oil is just not only worrying in regards to the US Senate — the oily sheen of their dollars can be found everywhere — and also you and that i provided them with those funds, because we do not (mostly) have a technique to get around without using their monopoly.

Monopolies create power. “Power corrupts,” Lord Acton said. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The Supreme Court’s recent campaign spending decisions have created such absolute power — a flood of campaign spending by Big Oil that only shows just how right he was. If we do not break oil’s monopoly on the gas tank, we won’t break their power on the ballot box.