Oil refiner Tesoro has upped its contributions to Tim Eyman’s undemocratic I-1053 to $90,000 since we last checked. (BP maintains the lead at $100,000, according to our review of the state Public Disclosure Commission’s online database.)
Texas-based Tesoro has the gall to call itself a responsible corporate citizen.
“Social responsibility is an integral part of our business practices—as well as our corporate culture. This is a responsibility, and a promise, we uphold to our employees, shareholders and the communities and environment in which we operate.”
Really?! Tesoro’s real-world record demonstrates a level of irresponsibility that stands out even in the oil industry. Let’s take a look at just the last few years:
- Earlier this month, we noted the company’s record $2.4 million fine for 39 “willful violations” at its refinery in Anacortes, Washington, where an April explosion killed seven Tesoro workers. The explosion was, in the words of Washington Labor and Industries, “preventable.” And the safety violations that led to this loss of life were not the first discovered by Washington regulators nor the first discovered at Tesoro facilities elsewhere.
- A fire at Tesoro’s Salt Lake City refinery is under investigation by the Chemical Safety Board and has been described as “eerily similar” to the situation that led to the deaths of 15 workers (and the injury of scores of other workers) at BP’s Texas City refinery in 2005.
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- Residents of Martinez, California, in the San Francisco Bay area, endured a plume of choking black smoke after a fire broke out at Tesoro’s nearby refinery earlier this month.
- Air quality violations at the Martinez plant in 2005 earned the company a fine of $1.1 million, one of the largest ever charged to any of the five Bay Area refineries.
- In 2008, Tesoro negotiated a settlement for 77 violations (see page 160) at the same refinery. It paid $1.5 million.
- In August of this year, the company paid another $366,000 to settle 44 additional violations, including the release of illegal amounts of carbon monoxide and ammonia.
- The US Environmental Protection Agency is suing Tesoro for violating the law by failing to test its gasoline for harmful contaminants such as cancer-causing benzene at the company’s refineries in Alaska, North Dakota, Utah, and Washington. Reports Courthouse News: “Tesoro broke the law at its Mandan [North Dakota] refinery alone ‘on no less than about 4,000 occasions’ between February 2005 and May 2006, and 600 times at Salt Lake City, the EPA says. “The company could face penalties of up to $32,500 per day.”
- Tesoro is one of the top 50 toxic air polluters in the US, according to data from the federal Toxics Release Inventory assembled by researchers at the University of Massachusetts.
- Tesoro has been switching to high-sulfur, “sour crude” at its refineries in California (page 12).This cheaper feedstock, some of which comes from the Alberta Tar Sands, results in significantly more toxic waste per barrel processed than does “sweet” crude. In 2009, Tesoro used twice as much dirty as clean crude at its California plants, according to the civil rights organization, the Ella Baker Center (pages 3 and 4).
- Tesoro’s Los Angeles refinery generates more toxic releasesper barrel refined than any of the eight other refineries in the Los Angeles region, according to an analysis we conducted of data reported to the federal Toxics Release Inventory. It produces more toxics per barrel of oil than all but two other facilities in California. Tesoro’s Bay Area refinery is the fifth ranked releaser of toxics per unit of product in the state.
- According to researchers at two California universities, Tesoro “rank(s) worst in health impacts among all companies with refining operations in the state.”
- In Washington, meanwhile, Tesoro’s Anacortes refinery is the bronze medalist for toxic pollutionper barrel of product.
If its plants are polluting and unsafe, Tesoro’s politics are no less toxic.
- Texas-based Tesoro fought tooth and nail in 2009 and 2010 in Olympia against a small increase in Washington’s hazardous substance tax, proceeds of which would have helped keep oil out of Puget Sound and other bodies of water.
- Tesoro has (as we said) pumped $90,000 into the I-1053 “yes” campaign, which would impose rule by an ideological minority in the state legislature (an end run around the legislature, which will otherwise again consider the hazardous substance tax in 2011). (You can see Tesoro’s
contributions [here and here] to the two committees that are running the pro-1053 campaign.)
- Tesoro has spent $1.5 million supporting Proposition 23 in California, a ballot initiative that would effectively gut the state’s pioneering climate protection measures. (Tesoro shareholders are in open revolt against the company’s politicking: The Los Angeles Times reports that a group of shareholders are attempting to require the company to institute board oversight before executives spend money on political campaigns.)
- Tesoro has contributed another $18,000 to candidates for the Washington State Legislature. It made, for example, the maximum legal gift of $800 to each of eight state senate candidates: all of them either staunch supporters of the oil industry’s position in the hazardous substances tax debate or swing votes in tough election fights. Among them are both Republicans (such as Douglas Ericksen) and Democrats (such as Timothy Sheldon) from among the state senate’s 17 most conservative members who would gain a veto over tax policy under I-1053. It also includes more-moderate legislators who have oil refineries in their home districts (such as Kelli Linville and Jeff Morris). (Washington Conservation Voters recently analyzed Tesoro’s legislative contributions [summarized here] and provided us the underlying data, all of it taken from the Public Disclosure Commission’s online database.)
Tesoro says social responsibility is important to it, but its words ring hollow. The firm has a record of safety and environmental violations that has earned it millions of dollars of fines, despite the laxity of regulatory enforcement in the oil business.
Let’s be crystal clear. Tesoro is not funding I-1053 because of its commitment to the environment, or to social responsibility, or to civic life in the Northwest. It’s funding I-1053 for the same reason it’s trying to gut California’s climate protection standards: money. When voters decide which box to check on I-1053, they might ask themselves, “is this good for me, or is it just good for the short term profits of companies like Tesoro?”