By Emily Hoeven
As California gas prices approach record highs — though costs could soon drop by as much as $1 per gallon — there’s “9.5 billion reasons I think people should be appreciative that the state’s recognizing the stress and strain that families are going through,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday.
The governor’s comments — made during a San Francisco press conference at which he renewed a climate partnership with the leaders of Washington, Oregon and British Columbia — refer to the $9.5 billion worth of rebates that California is set to begin sending today to millions of residents to help cover the rising cost of living.
But it could take a while for the payments — which range from $200 to $1,050 — to actually reach Californians. According to Newsom’s office, around 8 million direct deposits will start arriving in bank accounts between today and Nov. 14, while an estimated 10 million debit cards will be delivered in the mail between Oct. 25 and Jan. 15.
Meanwhile, Newsom — who’s seeking a second term as governor in the Nov. 8 general election — is reiterating his call for state lawmakers to enact a windfall profits tax on oil and gas companies and send the excess money back to Californians in the form of rebates.
- In a Thursday fundraising email, Newsom’s reelection campaign urged Californians to sign a petition in support of his windfall tax proposal: “I’m just not going to stand by while millions of people are getting ripped off. But it will have to pass the legislature to happen, and I want them to know you’re with me.”
But, given that the state Legislature isn’t set to return to Sacramento until January, any further relief — if approved by lawmakers — is likely to be quite a ways off.
And Newsom declined to specify Thursday if he’s planning on calling a special legislative session, which would allow for lawmakers to consider his proposal sooner.
- Newsom: “We’re making that determination in real time, and I’ll let you know when it’s made. … I’m quite confident we can achieve the result intended.”
- Republican Assemblymember Kevin Kiley of Rocklin wrote in a blog post: “If Newsom does re-convene the Legislature, he’ll be sending the (Democratic) Supermajority into a trap. I’ll use the opportunity to force a new vote on suspending the gas tax, and we’ll see if they’re willing to oppose it again as ballots land in mailboxes.”
Any further move is likely to escalate the Newsom administration’s ongoing battle with the oil and gas industry, which doesn’t seem to have taken kindly to the governor dropping terms such as “petro-dictators” and “big polluters,” or to him accusing oil companies of “laughing all the way to the bank while making the planet uninhabitable for future generations.”
In a response posted Thursday to the California Energy Commission’s letter last week asking five oil refinery executives to explain the dramatic uptick in prices at the pump, Paul Davis, senior vice president of PBF Energy Western Region, suggested the state’s own policies were to blame. (Newsom’s office retorted that some executives were “evasive,” while “most didn’t respond at all.”)
- Davis wrote: “The laws and policies being implemented to decrease domestic crude oil production within the State are adversely affecting refining operations within the State. … It must be recognized that, since 1980, approximately one million barrels per day of crude oil refining capacity has been permanently shut down in California.”
- He added: “The ability to import gasoline into California is limited as there are only a few refineries outside of California that manufacture the specific fuel blends mandated by the State’s regulations. With a ~120,000 barrels per day refinery scheduled to be shut down in the East Bay in 2023, the State’s gasoline supply and demand profile will be further challenged.”
But the energy commission has thus far seemed skeptical of the oil industry’s arguments. “All options are on the table to ensure Californians aren’t paying higher gas costs at the whims of the oil industry,” chairperson David Hochschild said in a Wednesday statement.