Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Arnold: Chevron's Girly Man or Disney's?

Chapter I: Arnold and the Oil Company

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger released a report over the summer calling for a radical resturing of the California state government. Among the many proposals were elimination of many of the independent environmental boards that have made California the national leader in environmental protections. (And for good measure, he also proposed getting rid of the CalOSHA standards board, but who would notice?)

Well, it seems that Chevron, the giant oil company was more than a little interested in the outcome of that report - to the tune of $200,000 to Schwarzenegger's political action committees and $500,000 to the California Republican Party since his election last year.

But what could Chevron possibly have to gain?
Proposals that would benefit Chevron are peppered throughout the four-volume report. They include:
  • Streamlining the permit process for the construction of new oil refineries and the expansion of existing ones. Chevron, which owns two of the state's largest refineries in Richmond and El Segundo, wanted the state's help in revising existing laws so local government officials would be required to make decisions more quickly on construction permits at refineries.

  • Streamlining the activities of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. That agency, which issues permits for dredging and sand mining in the Bay Area, oversees activities related to Chevron's interests in the Bay Area.

  • Reorganizing the regulatory process for picking the locations for refineries, tank farms, liquefied natural gas and other energy facilities. Chevron has two proposals to build liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities in Southern California and the Mexican state of Baja California.
"California's ability to produce gasoline is shrinking at the same time demand for gasoline is rising, contributing to California's dubious position as a national leader in the fuel prices. Time-consuming, costly and complex permitting processes are among the obstacles to expanding ... California's petroleum infrastructure to meet the growing demand," the CPR report said. "The state needs to streamline its permitting processes to allow supply to more readily keep pace with demand, so that price volatility and price differentials are reduced."
It's not like the Governor doesn't know how things work:
Disclosure of Chevron's determined role in what many believe is the administration's most important political reform effort contrasts sharply with statements he made during last year's election campaign and afterward in which he promised to sweep out a corrupt system where "contributions go in, the favors go out."
Personally, I'm SHOCKED.

Chapter II: Arnold and the Mouse (and the fox and the chickencoop)

And speaking of contributions going in and favors going out, who better to appoint as the chief regulator of California amusement parks than the safety manager of Disneyland: "Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to name Richard Warner as director of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CalOSHA) as early as this week, according to sources inside the agency."

Some of you may remember CalOSHA as the agency that regulates workplace safety. But since 2000, it also has the responsibility of regulating California amusement parks.

Some are not convinced that this is the greates idea:
Warner's expected appointment comes as the state moves to finish drafting enforcement regulations for California's first amusement park safety law. Naming an industry insider to run Cal/OSHA could create a conflict of interest, safety advocates contend.

"We've had really good accident investigations, but that could change in a heartbeat," said Kathy Fackler, an amusement park safety activist who pushed for passage of the 1999 law. Fackler's then 5-year-old son lost part of his foot in a 1998 accident on the park's Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride.
Arnold's people argue that who would know more about amusement park safety than a former Disney employee?
But Lisa Odabashian, a senior policy analyst at the West Coast office of Consumers Union in San Francisco, countered that Warner's ties to Disney, which contributed $10,000 to Schwarzenegger's political action committee this year, "don't pass the smell test."

Efforts to fully implement the 4-year-old amusement park law were delayed when Schwarzenegger, soon after his election last year, put a halt to writing new regulations that affect business. Odabashian said she feared the theme park regulations could be watered down if Warner got the state post.
Disneyland may be Fantasyland for the youngsters, but it's been Toad's Wild Ride as far as safety is concerned.
Disneyland has been plagued by a spate of accidents in recent years — most of them before Warner arrived at the park.

Last September, a 22-year-old Gardena man was killed and 10 other riders were injured in a Big Thunder Mountain derailment. Inspectors from Cal/OSHA blamed the accident on poor maintenance, lack of management oversight and poorly trained ride operators.

Since then, two empty cars crashed during a test run in April, and five people suffered minor injuries when two trains collided July 8. Disneyland wasn't fined by Cal/OSHA in any of the Big Thunder Mountain incidents.

In all, nine people have died since the theme park opened in 1955, but most of the accidents were caused by unsafe rider behavior.