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In Ominous Sign for Country, Big Oil Attempts to Hijack Democracy in Central California County

Industry pours $8 million into brazen attempt to revoke common-sense environmental law
WASHINGTON -

Big Oil is investing millions of dollars to overturn democracy in a small county on California’s Central Coast. The matter will come to a head in a monumental but so-far largely ignored Ballot Measure vote on June 7.

This hyperlocal but nationally relevent fight is over Measures A and B, two ordinances passed by Ventura County’s Board of Supervisors in 2020. Those measures aimed to close a loophole that allows oil and gas operators to drill new wells under the rules of antiquated permits that do not require the environmental reviews or safety measures that apply to new permits.

Within days of the Board of Supervisors’ decision, Aera Energy – jointly owned and operated by Shell and ExxonMobil – contributed nearly $1.5 million to a new political action committee, Working Families for Jobs and Energy Independence, to fight the ordinances. The PAC gathered enough signatures to put the loophole closures back on the ballot in January 2021, essentially shutting down the Supervisors’ regulations until the voters decide the issue.

Since then, Aera and other oil giants have flooded Ventura County with $8 million worth of advertisements, roadside signs and billboards. The Western States Petroleum Association has become the de facto mouthpiece for the oil industry’s Ventura County campaign, framing the local election in international terms: Stop the Energy Shutdown.

That misleading narrative is bad enough, but the risk is that the industry money will constitute a democracy shutdown. As UC San Diego political scientist Thad Kousser put it, “Direct democracy, like our representative government, is…vulnerable.  We have unequal access to the ballot right now. It’s no longer the people’s process.” 

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