Lawmakers Call on Senate Energy Committee to Reveal Witnesses’ Oil Ties before Senate Hearing on Gas Prices

February 22, 2023

New research reveals the Senate Gas Prices Hearing will be stacked with witnesses opposing the price gouging penalty

Sacramento, CA — New research shows today’s Senate Informational Hearing on high gas prices and a price gouging penalty will be stacked with witnesses in favor of Big Oil and opposed to holding refiners accountable for fleecing Californians at the pump. 

Four of the witnesses organized by the Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee have deep associations with the oil and gas industry, and specifically with the five Big Oil refiners targeted via SBX1-2 for a price gouging penalty or windfall profits cap. 

Big Oil-tied witnesses include:

  • John Wenger – Appearing on behalf of the Clean Fuels & Convenience Alliance, he is actually a lobbyist for the firm Sloat Higgins Jensen & Associates. That firm and Wenger personally also lobby on behalf of Chevron, one of the Big 5, and he and the firm also formerly lobbied for Aera Energy (a JV between ExxonMobil and Shell). 

Wenger has lobbied against transparency in chemicals used in fracking and monitoring of underground storage, against oil well setbacks legislation signed into law in 2022 by Governor Gavin Newsom, and against companies disclosing their entire greenhouse gas emissions portfolios, among other things, according to lobbying disclosure records.

  • Michael Mische – Appearing as a Professor of Business at USC, Mische is also a paid consultant who works for the Saudi Arabian government, a government that owns and oversees the largest output of oil on the planet. Though he has not disclosed it in any of his previous writings opposing both federal and state price gouging penalties and accountability for oil companies, he is the Lead Advisor in developing the country’s Vision 2030 policy overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as serving as a Senior Advisor to the Saudi Public Investment Fund. 
  • Dave Hackett – Appearing as Chairman of the Board for Stillwater Associates, Hackett previously worked as Supply Operations Manager for Mobil Oil. 

The President of Stillwater for nearly 25 years before stepping down from that position, the firm maintains a client list that includes PBF Energy, Aera Energy, Koch Refining, Oxbow Carbon (owned by the younger Koch brother, William “Bill” Koch), Koch Petroleum, American Petroleum Institute, Western States Petroleum Association, and others. Two senior Stillwater officials also maintained long careers at both Marathon Petroleum and Chevron, respectively.

  • James Sweeney – Appearing as a Senior Fellow affiliated with Stanford University, Sweeney has previously received industry money for his work from Exxon, the American Petroleum Institute, and ARCO, according to an archived university biography. Further, many of the programs for which he has affiliations at Stanford have received industry money, including from Chevron, Phillips 66, Aera Energy, ExxonMobil, Aramco, and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.

Sweeney also works as a legal expert witness for the firm Cornerstone Research, which has represented Chevron to defend it against price-fixing allegations and on behalf of ExxonMobil to defend the company against New York’s lawsuit against the oil giant for its climate denial practices (better known as the “ExxonKnew” litigation). In his own Cornerstone expert testimony work, Sweeney has also worked for Chevron and Phillips 66 and also defended the Trump Administration in the landmark youth climate case filed against the federal government.

In the past, Sweeney also defended Enron against its market manipulation practices leading to the early-2000’s energy crisis in California. In 2003, he said “The problem was not too little regulation, but too much” of the state’s electricity deregulatory policy during that era.

Elected officials across California are calling on State Senator Steven Bradford, Chair of the Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee to require the witnesses to reveal their ties to the oil industry.


“The oil industry is using Putin’s war and inflation as shields to hide their price gouging. Big Oil made $200 billion last year while all across our state families were struggling to make ends meet because they raised prices at the gas pump. What the fossil fuel industry has been doing is criminal. Enough is enough,” Heidi Harmon, former San Luis Opibso Mayor, Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA) California Leadership Council Co-chair. “Now the public hearing is stacked with people who have questionable ties with the fossil fuel industry in order to sway opinion. This is against the principles of our democratic system. I call on State Senator Steven Bradford, Chair of the Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee to require all witnesses to reveal if they have ties to the oil industry.”

“In my community  many people live paycheck to paycheck. With gas prices skyrocketing last year too many had to cut back on food and medicines for their families just to fill their gas tank, so they could work. It’s unconscionable,” said Felipe Perez Firebaugh Mayor, Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA) California Leadership Council. “Now that we finally see an opportunity for justice to be served, with a plenty for this oil and gas industry price gouging, there appears to be people that will be testifying – who have ties to the oil and gas industry. This is a public forum, where lawmakers hear from the people of our state about their concerns. It’s not meant to be abused by industry. From now on, all who testify need to disclose conflict of interest ties to keep the integrity of our democratic process.” 

“Across the country gas prices dropped when prices in California skyrocketed. Corporate greed is hurting innocent Californians who are already dealing with inflation, and the ravages of the climate crisis that fossil fuel usage continues to fuel. These corporations don’t care about consumers. It’s up to our lawmakers to right this wrong for the people of California, their health, economic well-being and for our national security. A windfall profits cap must become law,” said Phillip Williams, Councilmember, Yurok Tribe, veteran, Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA) CA Leadership Council member.  “As if to add insult to injury, the oil industry allies will be providing testimony in a public hearing. That’s a clear conflict of interest. In a law court their testimony would be stricken from the record.” 

Elected Officials to Protect America: EOPA is a network of current and former elected officials who care deeply about protecting the planet and people. EOPA is committed to solving the climate crisis, ensuring environmental justice, and protecting our lands and waters. EOPA educates through value-based storytelling, training lawmakers, and connecting elected officials to inspire strong environmental leadership.

EOPA California is a statewide, non-partisan network of California elected officials committed to protecting our communities, public health, and climate for all we represent.