Op-Ed: We can’t afford to shutter California’s aging oil refineries yet
It was the beginning of March. Inside a tent at the back of a gas station near the edge of Chinatown, a dozen or so young California farmers were gathered. They were there because they could help pay their tuition for the University of California’s Extension service. They weren’t just there for the talk – they were there to prove that they would be willing to spend what they needed to afford to come in the back door. But it was a far cry from being able to afford to attend college.
A few years before, when the state tried to force growers to pay more in tuition fees, they said no.
“We weren’t asking for a tax on gasoline or groceries,” said Jonathan Lueck, a farmer who grew up near the area and now lives on the outskirts of San Francisco.
“We were asking for a tax on our land,” he said. “The state didn’t understand what we were saying. We said, we don’t want to be taxed to make money for a state university.”
Farmers’ refusal to pay taxes on their land in California – or anything else – has been a sore spot in the state for years. But a new push by Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature to force California’s 10 largest petroleum refineries to close by 2030 – or face steep fines – is likely to backfire, forcing them again to resist.
And it won’t be the last time state officials try to collect taxes from local farmers.
The move by Brown, a Democrat, and two Republican lawmakers – Senate President Darrell Steinberg and Assemblyman Travis Allen – comes at a time when it appears that the nation’s largest oil companies are also weighing whether to close the refineries. And that’s not good news for California’s farmers.
Here in California, there’s a strong argument against the tax. It will hurt the economy and be more expensive than it should be. More importantly, it’s wrong on principle.
The argument against the tax is a simple one. The main reason California has oil wells, refineries and pipelines is because the state government has given the companies permission to drill in areas where no other company wants to drill. The state gets a share of the oil output, which is used for transportation and other uses.
The argument against the tax would be even stronger were it not