Chevron, which has been dodging political and legal bullets over a 2012 fire at its refinery in Richmond, is under fire from farmers, especially Republican farmers, over hefty political contributions to a group that backs Democrat Leticia Perez in her state Senate battle with Republican farmer Andy Vidak.
What makes the situation especially dicey is that the San Joaquin Valley Senate seat that one of them will fill after a special election next month was vacated by Democrat Michael Rubio after Chevron hired him as a political affairs executive.
Chevron gave $100,000 to Californians for Jobs and a Strong Economy in April. That organization spent $230,000 to support Perez in the May 21 preliminary matchup between Perez, a Kern County supervisor, and Vidak. He came within a few votes of defeating Perez outright in that election. The two are now dueling for the seat in a July 23 runoff.
Chevron this month donated another $150,000 to the committee. Farmers supporting Vidak not only complained but began organizing a boycott of its products. They took their complaints to Chevron's local "jobbers," who supply petroleum products to farmers. They, in turn, complained to Chevron.
One jobber's letter to the company this week said that its donations could seriously damage its agricultural business, adding "I am doing my best to respectfully defuse a time bomb of negative publicity towards Chevron from the ag community."
Chevron told the Fresno Bee that while its donations were aimed at helping Perez in the first election, it is not involved in the runoff.
While Chevron was receiving heat from the right over the Senate seat, those on the left were roasting the firm during a hearing of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. A pending measure, Assembly Bill 26, implies that it and other refineries would be given proceeds of the state's new "cap-and-trade" program to clean up their operations.
The bill, supported by labor unions and carried by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, is aimed at requiring that any construction work financed by cap-and-trade funds be done under state "prevailing wage" laws. One of its provision, however, would require that work at refineries use outside contractors rather than the refineries' own employees. That, critics said, would pave the way for refiners to get priority. Democrats on the committee took turns portraying Chevron as a poor corporate citizen, citing its refinery fire.
The criticism was strong enough to for Bonilla to promise amendments before the bill continued to a floor vote in the Senate.
PHOTO: A tanker truck passes the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond on March 9, 2010. Associated Press/Paul Sakuma