Volkswagen Scandal Shows Why Big Oil Wanted to Gut Air Resources Board

Big Oil wanted to gut the Air Resources Board during a major climate change legislative fight earlier this month, and this week, we had yet another glimpse of why.

Volkswagen has admitted that more than 500,000 diesel-powered cars, sold between 2009 and 2015, were rigged to evade emission standards. As Timm Herdt writes in the Ventura County Star, the German carmaker was forced to confess in large part because it was caught by California's Air Resources Board.  It's the oil industry's biggest nightmare, a state agency that enforces air quality rules and is not afraid to confront the biggest industries in the world if they run afoul of California's tough regulations.

The climate change bill, SB 350, by Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León and sponsored by Gov. Jerry Brown,  proposed a targeted of 50 percent reduction in the use of petroleum by 2030, as well as creating more renewable energy and more energy efficient buildings. Big Oil's lobbyist, the Western States Petroleum Association, made an outrageous demand in exchange for standing down on their massive and misleading campaign to kill the bill: Gut ARB, the agency directly responsible for reducing air pollution created by the oil industry.

De León and Brown refused, and took out the petroleum reduction. Both of them knew that ARB has enough regulatory power to make the reduction happen without legislation. The oil industry is used to having weak and ineffectual state regulators overseeing various parts of their operations, but they have a formidable adversary in the agency. 

ARB has played a major role in implementing strict emission rules in California. The results were made plain on Monday. In a report published in the scientific journal “Environmental Science & Technology,” a study shows that the cancer risk from exposure to the state’s most significant air toxics declined 76 percent over a 23-year period in California, a direct result of regulations targeting unhealthful emissions from these air pollutants.

The nearly 70 percent drop in harmful diesel particle pollution coincided with actions taken over the years, beginning in the 1990s, to reduce diesel emissions, according to the study. In the 1990s, California adopted a reformulated diesel fuel program, started a heavy-duty diesel truck roadside inspection program, implemented particle pollution standards for urban transit buses and established standards for off-road diesel engines. In 2006, California began requiring ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel. The report stated that following the establishment of California’s statewide Truck and Bus Rule in 2008, California began requiring diesel particulate filters on trucks, dramatically reducing diesel particulate matter, or soot, from the exhaust gas of diesel engines.

Once Volkswagen was in ARB's crosshairs, it had no chance. Big Oil is afraid that it's next. 

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