300 Elected Officials Urge Governor Newsom to Phase Out Oil and Gas Production

  • Published on February 16th, 2020

As oil and gas drilling in California has increased in recent years, a bipartisan group of hundreds of mayors, county supervisors, and local elected officials made a plea on Valentine’s Day to Governor Gavin Newsom to “show his love for California” by enacting a comprehensive Climate Emergency Plan to phase out the production and burning of fossil fuels, according to a press release from the Elected Officials to Protect California.

oil drilling in a California neighborhood

By Dan Bacher 

The lawmakers said the plan must (1) end new permits for oil and gas drilling; (2) enact 2,500-foot science-based public health setbacks on drilling, and (3) achieve 100% clean energy in all sectors. The Western States Petroleum Association and Chevron, who together spent over $14.7 million on lobbying in 2019 along, have vigorously opposed these changes in California environmental policies.

Gathered at the State Capitol with local activists including the Sacramento Climate Coalition and Mothers Out Front, the officials personally delivered a “love letter” to Governor Newsom, signed by over 300 local electeds from 49 counties, including 75 mayors. The letter highlighted the emergency action that the state must take to address the public health and climate harms caused by fossil fuels.

“Oil and gas industries continue to threaten our safety, the public’s health, and are heating up our climate beyond safe levels,” said Davis Mayor Brett Lee. “The climate crisis demands action at all levels of government. Many cities have taken action, now it’s time for the state to step up.”

In the absence of comprehensive state oil and gas policy that protects Californians and the climate, the letter highlights the rapidly growing number of policies that more than 110 local governments across the state have enacted to protect their communities from fossil fuel production and burning, according to the officials.

“Concerned that Australia’s apocalyptic fires are a dire warning for California’s increasingly life-threatening fire season, local elected officials from across the state stood in solidarity at the State Capitol and called on the Governor to declare a climate emergency,” the release noted.

“Already, more than 110 local governments in California have passed more than 165  local policies to protect their communities from fossil fuels, including phase-out plans and setbacks on oil and gas drilling, climate lawsuits or divestment from fossil fuel companies, or opposing expansion of fossil fuel production or infrastructure,” the release stated.

“With refineries surrounding the area I represent in Solano County, pollution is degrading the quality of life for many of our most marginalized residents. In the portion of Vallejo that I represent, we have high rates of asthma, cancer, other health issues related to pollution,” said Solano County Supervisor Monica Brown. “The time to transition to clean energy is now – to protect our citizens. It’s our moral obligation.”

With the climate crisis polling as the top issue for California voters, deadly fires and climate disasters worsening, the elected officials highlighted how the state’s fossil fuel production threatens the health and safety of our communities and emphasized that fossil fuel production drives the climate crisis and kills 12,000 Californians each year.

“The disastrous consequences of fossil fuel production and burning from air pollution alone — not including escalating harms from droughts, fires, mudslides, storms, and sea level rise — already cost Californians more than 12,000 lives and $100 billion dollars annually,” the officials said.

“Since Chico became the first city to declare a climate emergency, many others have followed. It’s high time the State issued a Climate Emergency Decree. That way we can start to take emergency action to abate the climate crisis before it’s too late,” said Chico Mayor Randall Stone. “It’s time we put our people above the profits of corporations.”

On November 19, 2019, Governor Newsom announced a halt on new oil extraction wells that use high-pressure steam injection drilling, an independent scientific review of new fracking permits, and a new rule-making process for public health and safety protections near oil and gas extraction facilities set to take place in 2020. The officials welcomed the state’s policy shift concerning fossil fuel production, and stand ready to work with the Governor. But they consider his actions to date “baby steps.”

The officials said transitioning to a clean energy economy will grow jobs, and stop “grave environmental health injustices” happening in low-income communities and communities of color which are disproportionately affected by fossil fuel production.

“We must start transitioning to renewable energy. It’s a golden opportunity to grow jobs, and improve the health and well-being of our citizens. We have the knowhow, now we need legislative action,” said Fireburgh Former Mayor and current City Councilmember Felipe Perez.  “Renewables can help ensure everyone has clean water. It’s time for bold action from our governor.”

The push from elected officials comes after the Bureau of Land Management announced its analysis of the potential effects of hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas resources on public lands and Federal minerals within the planning area in California.

Despite its reputation as a “global climate leader,” California is one of the nation’s top oil-producing states. Oil produced in California is some of the dirtiest and most climate-damaging crude in the world, according to the group.

The officials said that Governor Newsom has taken “small steps” with the recent moratorium on certain types of drilling, yet there is no comprehensive plan to ramp down extraction.

In fact, the officials noted that more than 21,000 permits for new drilling have been issued since 2011. Of these new oil and gas wells permitted by the state, 76 percent are located in communities with above-average poverty rates for California, and 67 percent are located in communities of color.

“We seriously need to reduce emissions and the only way to do that is to phase out the production and use of dirty fossil fuels. Gov. Newsom should take strong steps to protect Californians from the worsening effects of global climate chaos, which include fires, floods, drought and toxic air,” said Millbrae Vice Mayor Ann Schneider. “It’s outrageous, our kids can’t play outside on bad days. During those days the air is so dangerous our recreation, public works and landscape employees can’t work outdoors.”

Elected county, city, school board, and local officials from across the state, who launched Elected Officials to Protect California in 2018, are taking action both within their respective jurisdictions and across California to end the extraction of dirty fossil fuel that harms their constituents and the environment.

“The most damaging health risks of oil and gas drilling occur within a one-half mile radius of active oil and gas development, according to the California Council on Science and Technology. Yet, California has no statewide policy limiting the proximity of drilling to homes, schools or other sensitive areas. According to a recent poll, nearly two-thirds of California voters support phasing out oil and gas drilling within half a mile of homes, schools and other vulnerable sites,” the organization said.

More than 6 million people, including tens of thousands in California, marched in the September Climate Strike demanding action to phase out fossil fuels. More than 750 organizations in California and around the world are urging the Golden State to set a global precedent by announcing a statewide plan to completely phase-out existing dirty fuel production and enact 2,500 foot setbacks on drilling to protect public health and the climate.

The letter and signatories of Elected Officials to Protect California are at californiaelectedofficials.org.

Western States Petroleum Association, Chevron spent $14.7 million on lobbying in CA in 2019 

Why has oil and gas drilling expanded under the Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom administrations and why does California lack health and safety setbacks around oil and gas wells that other states have? The answer: Deep Regulatory Capture by Big Oil and Gas.

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in California, placed first in the annual lobbying “competition” in California in 2019 with $8.8 million spent on influencing legislators, the Governor’s office and other state officials, a position it captures most years.

The San Ramon-based Chevron spent the third most money on lobbying in California last year, spending a total of $5.9 million.

When you add the $8.8 million from WSPA and the $5.9 million from Chevron, that comes to a total of $14.7 million spent of lobbying between the two oil industry giants.

Most notably, the money spent on lobbying by WSPA, Chevron and other oil companies was successful in preventing the Legislature from approving Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi’s AB 345, a bill to ensure that new oil and gas wells not on federal land are located 2,500 feet away from homes, schools, hospitals, playgrounds and health clinics,

Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez made it into a two-old bill after pulling the bill from the Assembly Appropriations Committee that she chairs on May 16.

According to state campaign finance data unveiled by investigative journalist Steve Horn for the Real News, Gonzalez has received campaign money throughout her career from Tesoro ($13,000) ExxonMobil ($3,500) CA Independent Petroleum Association ($7,000), Chevron ($11,300), CA Building Industry Association ($10,300), and State Building and Construction Trades Council of California PAC ($34,300). For more information, read: Why Did the California Assembly Table Oil Setbacks Bill? therealnews.com/…

Unlike many other oil and gas producing states including Texas, Colorado and Pennsylvania, supposedly “green” California currently has no health and safety zones around oil and gas drilling operations.

For example, the state of Texas requires the fracking operations maintain 250 foot setbacks from homes, schools and other facilities while the City of Dallas mandates 1500 foot setbacks around oil and gas wells.

However, despite the flurry of oil industry spending on AB 345 and other bills last year, the bill has made considerable progress this year in the Legislature, passing the Assembly Floor by a vote 42 to 30 on January 27:  www.dailykos.com/…

AB 345 is now in the Senate. The bill has been read for the first time and has gone on to the  Committee on Revenue & Taxation (RLS) for assignment.

The increase in oil and gas drilling permits in recent years — and fact that California has no health and safety setbacks like many other states do — is a result of the millions of dollars every year that WSPA and oil companies spend every year on lobbying state officials, including the Governor’s Office and state regulatory agencies, as well as the many millions spent by the oil industry on campaign contributions to politicians and campaign committees.

Both the Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom administrations expanded oil and gas drilling in California in recent years. The Brown administration approved 21,000 new or reworked well permits and Newsom’s regulators had approved over 4,049 new or reworked permits as of November 4, 2019. In addition, state regulators, while opposing new offshore drilling leases in federal waters off California, have increased offshore drilling permits in state waters under existing leases.

At the same time that California officials are approving new oil and gas wells, a reportby the California Council on Science & Technology reveals that California taxpayers could be on the hook for more than $500 million to plug thousands of “orphan” wells drilled and abandoned by oil and gas companies.

The study, “Orphan Wells in California: An Initial Assessment of the State’s Potential Liabilities to Plug and Decommission Orphan Oil and Gas Wells,” was conducted at the request of the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), now called the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM), under the California Department of Conservation.

“An initial analysis of readily available information suggests that 5,540 wells in California are, as defined, likely orphan wells or are at high risk of becoming orphan wells in the near future,” the report states. “The State’s potential net liability (subtracting available bonds held by CalGEM) for these wells is estimated to be about $500 million.”

The Western States Petroleum Association (www.wspa.org) describes itself as “a non-profit trade association that represents companies that account for the bulk of petroleum exploration, production, refining, transportation and marketing in the five western states of Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.” WSPA’s headquarters is located in Sacramento, California. Additional WSPA locations include offices in Torrance, Concord, Ventura, Bakersfield, and Olympia, Washington.

The association is led by Catherine Reheis-Boyd-Boyd, the WSPA President and former chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” off the Southern California Coast.

The group spent $2,482,133 lobbying in 2019’s third quarter after spending $4,126,703 in the first 2 quarters of the year. WSPA’s expenses for the fourth quarter of 2019 were $2,216,688.92. Here are the expenses as listed on the California Secretary of State’s website:

2019-2020 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

LOBBYING PAYMENTS MADE
SESSION QUARTER GENERAL LOBBYING P.U.C. LOBBYING
2019-2020 4th $2,216,688.92 $0.00
2019-2020 3rd $2,482,133.00 $0.00
2019-2020 2nd $2,153,712.76 $0.00
2019-2020 1st $1,972,990.62 $0.00

For the entire 2017-2018 Session, WSPA spent a total of $15,768,069. The group spent $7,874, 807 to influence California government officials in 2018. Of the four quarters, WSPA spent its most money lobbying, $2,649,018, in the eighth quarter, from October 1 to December 31, 2018.

Over the past decade, WSPA and Big Oil have topped the list of spenders on lobbying the Legislature in California. During the 2015-2016 Legislative Session, the oil industry spent a historic $36.1 million to lobby lawmakers and officials in California.

WSPA and Big Oil wield their power in 6 major ways: through (1) lobbying; (2) campaign spending; (3) serving on and putting shills on regulatory panels; (4) creating Astroturf groups: (5) working in collaboration with media; and (6) contributing to non profit organizations.

According to Cal Matters (calmatters.org/…), here are the five top spenders of 2019:

  • Western States Petroleum Association, $8.8. million.
  • California Teachers Association, the public school teachers’ union, $6.9 million.
  • Chevron, $5.9 million
  • California State Council of Service Employees, representing state workers, $4.4 million.
  • Edison International, $3.3 million

Here are the five top spenders over the past five years:

  • Western States Petroleum Association, $43.3 million.
  • California State Council of Service Employees, $24.3 million.
  • Chevron, $19.9 million
  • PG&E, $18 million
  • California Hospital Association, $17.5 million.

For more information about WSPA and Big Oil, go to: California’s Biggest Secret? How Big Oil Dominates Public Discourse to Manipulate and Deceive: https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/06/07/californias-biggest-secret-how-big-oil-dominates-public-discourse-to-manipulate-and-deceive/

About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.