Gas prices in California: Oil tax to see action in January


When might Californians get more details about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal to enact a windfall profits tax on oil companies, which newly elected state lawmakers are set to consider in a special legislative session beginning on Dec. 5?

The specifics of the proposal aren’t likely to surface until the start of the special session, the same day legislators will be sworn into office, Newsom’s office told CalMatters political reporter Alexei Koseff and me on Monday.

And lawmakers don’t expect to take substantive action on the issue until January, when the next legislative session starts in earnest.

The office of Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, said in a statement: “The Dec. 5 session will be focused on swearing in of new members and organizational matters, and may include taking steps to establish and organize the special session. We anticipate working with the Governor and his team on the special session/windfall penalty and rebate issue once we convene in January.”

Katie Talbot, a spokesperson for Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon of Lakewood, told Alexei that although the special session will be gaveled in on Dec. 5, meetings aren’t expected to begin until January.

Newsom has proposed returning revenue from the new tax to Californians in the form of rebates — potentially similar to those the state is currently sending to millions of residents — but the special session timeline suggests it could be a while before checks start landing in residents’ mailboxes, if they land at all.

Indeed, approving a new tax could be a politically perilous move for newly elected lawmakers facing their first vote — and could be unpopular amid concerns of an impending recession and California’s projected $25 billion budget deficit for the next fiscal year. Lawmakers are also expected to introduce their own ideas during the special session.

Meanwhile, the California Energy Commission is slated to hold a meeting on Nov. 29 with oil industry executives and experts to seek more information about gas price spikes, refinery disruptions and record industry profits. Regulators are also set to discuss strategies to “insulate consumers from price shocks” ahead of the state’s 2035 ban on the sale of new gas-powered cars.

1
Newsom’s office won’t share location of personal trips

Gov. Gavin Newsom addresses the media after a meeting with local leaders on homelessness in Sacramento on Nov. 18, 2022. Photo by Rahul Lal, CalMatters

The Newsom administration has a new communications policy when it comes to the governor’s trips: “When the Governor is traveling for official state business we will provide information about his travel. When the Governor is on personal or family travel we will not provide details about his trip until his return due to security concerns,” Newsom spokesperson Erin Mellon told me in a Monday statement. Although the administration has previously shared information in advance about Newsom’s personal or family trips — including last year’s Thanksgiving vacation in Mexico and this year’s spring trip to Central and South America — that has changed in recent months, starting with Newsom’s summer trip to Montana to visit his in-laws and including his current Thanksgiving family vacation.

Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor and former president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, told me, “I don’t think that he’s under any sort of legal or arguably moral obligation to tell us where he is vacationing.”

But, Levinson added: “For critics of Newsom,” it raises the question of ” ‘Why did you stop being forthcoming, basically? Why did you stop telling us? Do you have something to hide?’ My … guess is he’s probably sick of the criticism about where he goes, including visiting his wife’s family. … It seems to me that it would be entirely in keeping with his personality to simply decide that the criticism was unfounded, and he can go on vacation and not tell us.”

Levinson continued: “I think that when you decide to become president, you really give over virtually all aspects of your privacy. And I’m not sure that the same is true for being a governor. … Particularly if (Newsom) does want to run for president, then I think he knows those moments are gone forever … and he won’t be able to have those types of vacations again.” 

2
Feds approve $1 billion to keep Diablo Canyon open

The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant near San Luis Obispo has been providing electricity since 1985. Photo by Lionel Hahn, Reuters

California’s last nuclear power plant, which provides about 10% of the state’s electricity, just took a big step toward staying open past its planned 2025 closure date: The U.S. Department of Energy announced Monday that PG&E, the operator of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, was awarded a grant of about $1.1 billion to help keep the facility open. The move comes about two months after a controversial, last-minute process that culminated in Newsom and state lawmakers authorizing a loan of as much as $1.4 billion for PG&E to keep Diablo Canyon open until 2030 to help stabilize California’s fragile energy grid. Anti-nuclear advocates opposed the action, noting that the aging facility near San Luis Obispo is located close to earthquake fault lines and could pose safety issues.

PG&E said in a statement it will use the federal money to pay back the loan and “lower costs for customers” if the plant’s operating license is extended, which still requires additional federal and state approvals. It also said the plant has “an excellent safe operating record and is subject to rigorous regulatory oversight.”

Newsom said in a statement: “This investment creates a path forward for a limited-term extension of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant to support reliability statewide and provide an onramp for more clean energy projects to come online.”

Laura Deehan, state director of Environment California Research & Policy Center, said in a statement: “It’s disappointing to see the federal government throw PG&E more than a billion in taxpayer dollars for an outdated and potentially dangerous power source, when cleaner, safer and more affordable energy solutions exist. … California should turn a new leaf and lean into building the electric system of the future.”

3
CalMatters editor-in-chief to lead new investigative journalism desk

David Lesher (center) at the CalMatters offices in Sacramento on April 6, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

CalMatters editor-in-chief Dave Lesher, who seven years ago helped found the award-winning nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom covering state policy and politics, is stepping into a new role: leading CalMatters’ California Accountability Project, which will combine old-school shoe-leather reporting with artificial intelligence technology to help journalists identify and dig into stories and never-before-seen trends to hold government officials and agencies accountable, CalMatters membership manager Sonya Quick writes.

Lesher: “This is an exciting opportunity to do something once again that I believe will change California for the better and perhaps change journalism with a team of investigative reporters and new technology tools designed to help journalists cover the policymaking process. I’ve always believed it’s easy to make people angry at government, but that alone doesn’t help. … It’s time to add the Accountability Desk with a new layer of transparency and a watchdog capacity that’s essential for a nation-sized state with a $300 billion annual budget.”

CalMatters CEO Neil Chase: “CalMatters is a success today because of Dave’s vision and his unique ability to execute on that vision while protecting our journalistic quality and reputation for unbiased work. That’s why I’m so excited about what he’s doing next: The vital accountability journalism that California needs and deserves.” 

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