By Dan Bacher
An appeal in a lawsuit by the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment exposes Governor Jerry Brown’s hypocrisy in grandstanding about climate change and green energy in Paris while his administration’s has failed to protect Latino public school children from the dangerous health impacts of fracking in Kern County.
A Kern County family is appealing a court decision to dismiss their lawsuit claiming that the Brown administration’s fracking regulations disproportionately affect the health of Latino public school children, a news release from the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment (CRPE) announced on December 15. A CRPE lawsuit in July challenges state regulations on the grounds they illegally allow fracking wells to be located close to schools with large percentages of Latino students.
“The appeal highlights Governor Jerry Brown’s hypocrisy in allowing fracking pollution to harm some of the most vulnerable Californians,” CRPE stated. “As Governor Brown travels the globe touting his efforts to stop climate change and protect disadvantaged communities from the impacts of greenhouse gasses, local residents are wondering why he continues to ignore the daily struggles of their communities.”
“Governor Brown’s efforts to flight climate change are leaving communities of color behind and putting the health of my daughters and her classmates at risk,” said Rodrigo Romo, the plaintiff in the suit. “We’re not going to give up the fight to protect our children. We’re going to push this lawsuit until we can send our children to school knowing they’ll be safe.”
California’s Government Code section 11135 prohibits the state from intentional or unintentional discrimination on the basis of race. The suit, naming Governor Jerry Brown and California Oil and Gas Supervisor Steve Bohlen (who resigned recently) as defendants, claims that the state is discriminating against Latino students by permitting wells in close proximity to schools they attend.
The appeal to the Sacramento Superior Court focuses on “whether the lower court that refused to take the case ruled in error and whether the policy concerns and cases the judge cited in his decision were an abuse of his discretion,” the group said.
“In California, fracking overwhelmingly occurs close to schools that serve predominately Latino populations,” according to CRPE. “More than sixty percent of the 61,612 California children who attend school within one mile of a stimulated well are Latino. Statewide, Latino students are over thirty-four percent more likely to attend a school within a mile and a half of a stimulated well than non-Latino students.”
CRPE said the regulations fail to address the inherent danger of allowing such practices to occur within close range of sensitive receptors, such as homes and schools, even though they were intended to protect the public from the negative health impacts of fracking.
“Fracking and other types of unconventional well stimulation threaten every child’s right to a quality education,” said Madeline Stano, attorney for the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. “Governor Brown and our state regulatory agencies have failed to protect public school students and our state as a whole by adopting regulations that do not address the existing racially disparate impact of well stimulations on Latino students.”
“When fracking occurs close to schools, students are exposed to air toxins such as BTEX compounds, VOCs, and Hydrogen Sulfide that have serious impacts on their physical, social and emotional health,” said Stano.
Stano noted that Romo’s two daughters have been exposed to dangerous levels of toxic pollution and psychological stress from extreme well stimulation while attending public schools in Shafter and Wasco, California.
“Sequoia Elementary School, the school both of Romo’s daughters attended, is located within a half mile of three separate fracked wells, with one well less than 1,200 feet from the school,” she stated. “Students are often forced to stay inside for long periods of time because of the noxious fumes associated with fracking and many students suffer from serious, unexplainable illnesses that many families believe are caused by the wells.”
She emphasized that California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) “has a mandate to protect the life and health of Californians.” Romo v. Brown aims to hold Governor Brown and state regulators accountable for protecting the health and safety of California’s students.
The lawsuit occurs amidst a series of Brown administration scandals involving the virtual capture of the Department of Conservation by Big Oil and the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA).
California Oil and Gas Supervisor Steve Bohlen resigned on November 30 after an Associated Press story revealed that Jerry Brown ordered Bohlen to survey the land on the Governor’s private ranch about the potential for oil drilling. This investigation raised questions about whether the Governor was illegally using state resources for his own personal gain.
The Governor’s Office did not cite a reason for Bohlen’s departure, but did say Bohlen will return to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He will also continue to assist the Administration as an “unpaid science advisor” to the Division.
Brown appointed Ken Harris of Davis to replace Bohlen as California Department of Conservation Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) supervisor.
Court documents filed in a RICO lawsuit by Central Valley farmers against the Brown administration help bolster the claims by anti-fracking and environmental justice activists that the governor is collaborating with Big Oil on the expansion of extreme oil extraction techniques in California.
In these documents, two former senior level officials in the Department of Conservation, Derek Chernow and Elena Miller, reveal that they were fired on November 3, 2011, one day after Governor Brown issued a final order to bypass provisions of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and approve permits for oilfield injection wells. Chernrow was the director of the Department and Miller was the DOGGR supervisor at the time. (bigstory.ap.org/…)
The day after the farmers filed the lawsuit, Mark Nechodom, the oil industry-friendly director of the Department of Conservation, resigned.
The firings, hirings and resignations of oil and gas industry regulators over the past 4 years under the supposedly “green” Jerry Brown provide a window into the capture of the regulatory apparatus in California by Big Oil, Big Ag and other Big Money interests.
Big Oil is the largest and most powerful corporate lobby in California – and the Western States Petroleum Association is the largest most powerful corporate lobbying group. In one of the most extreme examples of the “fox guarding the hen house,” Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force that created so-called “marine protected” areas in Southern California. (www.dfg.ca.gov/… )
For more information about Big Oil lobbying money in California, go to: redgreenandblue.org/…
For more information about the tainted “environmental” legacy of Governor Brown, go to: www.truth-out.org/…
About Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment
Founded in 1989, the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment (CRPE) is an environmental justice organization that uses collective action and the law to support communities of color that bear the brunt of environmental hazards. With offices in California located in Delano and Oakland, CRPE represents communities and works directly with them to achieve their goals. For more on CRPE, go to www.crpe-ej.org.