United Domestic Workers of America backs bill mandating safe distance between oil wells and schools, houses
United Domestic Workers of America (UDW/AFSCME 3930) has just announced they’ve joined as co-sponsors of an amended version of Assembly Bill AB 345 (Muratsuchi), legislation originally designed to require 2500 foot health and safety setbacks from oil and gas wells in California.
By Dan Bacher
The announcement took place one day before the bill was scheduled to be heard by the California Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee on August 5. After being read for the third time, AB 345 passed the Assembly by a vote of 42 to 30 on January 27, 2020.
Today’s Senate hearing begins at 9 a.m. — and AB 345 is the first bill on the agenda. To watch the livestream of the proceeding visit: www.senate.ca.gov
The United Domestic Workers (UDW) was one of the first unions in the country to be founded by people of color four decades ago and the majority of their 118,000 members are women and people of color, according to the group.
UDW joins more than 270 environmental justice, public health, education, political, and other labor organizations that have signed on as supporters of AB 345, a bill that proponents say “would keep oil and gas extraction away from sensitive communities.”
Unlike other states including Texas, Colorado and Pennsylvania, the “green” state of California requires no health and setbacks between homes, schools, childcare centers, hospitals and other facilities and oil and gas wells.
For example, Texas requires 250 foot setbacks around fracking operations, by no means sufficient, but much better than California that has zero setbacks because of the enormous power Big Oil and Big Gas wields in California. Dallas, Texas mandates even stricter setbacks — 1500 foot setbacks around oil wells.
AB 345 requires establishment of an environmental justice program
As amended, AB 345 would require the establishment of an environmental justice program at the California Natural Resources Agency, and require the Geologic Energy Management Division of the Department of Conservation to adopt regulations to protect public health and safety near oil and gas extraction facilities.
The bill says the Department shall “consider a setback distance of 2,500 feet from schools, playgrounds, and public facilities where children are present,” although it doesn’t require this as the original bill did.
Specifically, this bill would:
1) Require the Secretary of the agency to create an environmental justice program within the agency to identify and address any gaps in existing programs, policies or activities that may impede the achievement of environmental justice.
a) Subject to available funding, the secretary shall establish a grant-based reimbursement program to help facilitate meaningful participation in rulemaking and other regulatory processes at the agency, as specified.
2) Require the department to adopt regulations by July 1, 2022, to protect public health and safety near oil and gas extraction facilities.
a) The regulations shall include safety requirements and the establishment of a minimum setback distance between oil and gas activities and sensitive receptors, as provided, based on health, scientific, and other data.
b) The department shall consider a setback distance of 2,500 feet from schools, playgrounds, and public facilities where children are present.
c) The department shall consider including in the regulations enhanced monitoring and maintenance requirements.
d) Prior to adopting the regulations, the department shall consult with environmental, environmental justice, public health advocates, public health authorities, and other experts, as specified.
e) The regulations shall use the best available existing health and safety science and data, and community-based expertise, and the department shall consult with the State Air Resources Board and incorporate results and expertise from their ongoing air quality monitoring program.
f) The department shall hold at least four pre-rulemaking workshops in regions near oil and gas extraction operations, as specified.
g) On or before January 1, 2022, the department shall provide an update on the status of the rulemaking, as specified, to the relevant legislative committees with jurisdiction.
3) Establish a state mandate, as specified, and provide that no reimbursement to local entities be required for specified reasons.
Doug Moore, Executive Director of UDW, explained the union’s decision to back AB 345 today.
“We represent over 6,500 home care workers in Kern County alone,” said Moore. “Last year, the American Lung Association named its largest city, Bakersfield, as the city with the worst air quality in America. Our members are low income women and people of color and we are tired of our communities being the first choice for environmental hazards. We support AB 345 because the people who breathe the air and drink the water should have a say in where oil and gas extraction sites are located.”
“We are excited to welcome United Domestic Workers as a co-sponsor of AB 345,” said Ingrid Brostrom, Assistant Director of the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. “Workers and residents suffer the same harm when dangerous land uses, like oil/gas extraction, occur near homes or workplaces.“
Kobi Naseck, VISIÓN Coalition Coordinator, said, “For too long, our opponents have used a false dichotomy of ‘labor vs. the environment’ to divide us. This is a bill that protects the health and safety of workers and their families who are continuously exposed to fossil fuel pollution, on and then off the job. We’re thrilled to elevate the stories of home care and child care workers who all too often are among the first and worst affected by fossil fuel pollution in California.
California regulators approve new fracking and oil drilling permits
Despite California’s image as a “green” and “progressive” leader, there has been a big expansion of oil and gas drilling in the state by both Governors Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom — and most of these new wells are located in communities with above average poverty rates and/or communities of color. Numerous industrial oil operations in the state are located sited dangerously close to homes, schools, and healthcare and childcare facilities.
“Oil production sites use and emit fine and ultra-fine particulate matter, hydrogen sulfide and known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors such as benzene and formaldehyde,” according to the Last Chance Alliance. “Proximity to oil development causes and contributes to health effects such as headaches, upper respiratory illness, nausea, nosebleeds, increased cancer risk, and infertility. Those most likely to live near an oil extraction site in California are also those likely to be most negatively impacted: low-income families and families of color.”
AB 345 advocates say that the bill “would put California on a path to creating common-sense health and safety buffers between oil extraction sites, the pollutants they generate, and communities already overburdened with some of the worst pollution in the country.”
The bill came under strong opposition from the oil industry and some labor unions last year — and was eventually made into a two year bill by Assembly Appropriations Chairwoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego). Gonzalez has received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from both the oil industry and labor unions that oppose AB 345. For more information, read Steve Horn’s article: Why Did the California Assembly Table Oil Setbacks Bill? https://therealnews.com/columns/why-did-the-california-assembly-table-oil-setbacks-bill.
Oil industry lobbies against AB 345
The oil industry, led by the Western States Petroleum Association, the most powerful corporate lobbying group in California, is strongly opposing AB 345.
In a group sign-on letter, the Western States Petroleum Association writes in opposition that “AB 345 will result in a significant loss of jobs and cost the state BILLIONS” and notes that the Assembly Appropriations Committee analysis states that the bill could “cost up to $4 billion dollars in lost state and local revenue, as well as subject the state to significant legal liability under the takings clause of the US Constitution.”
They further claim the loss of jobs statewide would also be significant with approximately 7,000 high wage, blue collar, and union jobs lost, according to the California Senate Analysis.
In addition, WSPA says AB 345 “undermines the Governor’s recently established regulatory process. AB 345 pre-determines the outcome of the current regulatory process and MANDATES that it adopt a statewide setback requirement, and specifically to consider a 2,500-foot setback, with no regard to what the science and data concludes.”
Governor Newson ended a moratorium on fracking permits in April when the California Geologic Energy Management Division approved 24 new permits for Aera Energy LLC. Including Chevron’s new permits, Newsom has now granted a total of 48 fracking permits since ending the moratorium, according to Hollin Kretzmann of the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Because each permit allows an operator to frack the same well multiple times, the actual number of fracking events authorized is 360,” explained Kretzmann.
The fracking will occur in Kern County, the center of the oil industry in California that already suffers from some of the poorest air quality in the nation. This means more environmental injustice for low income communities and communities of color.
1400 new oil and gas well permits issued so far this year
In addition to the fracking permits, Newsom has also approved drilling permits for more than 1,400 new oil and gas wells so far this year. CBD obtained this number by adding the weekly numbers from CalGEM’s reports for new wells.
The number of oil permits issued under Newsom since he took office in January 2019 now totals 7,474 according to a report by the FracTracker Alliance and Consumer Watchdog. The permit numbers and locations are posted and updated on an interactive map at the website: NewsomWellWatch.com
It would cost more than $9.2 billion to properly plug California’s existing oil and gas wells, and operators have not set aside nearly enough money to pay for this legally required cleanup, according to a California Council on Science and Technology report.
“Approving these permits is especially dangerous now, after multiple studies have shown air pollution increases our vulnerability to coronavirus,” Kretzmann said. “Each new well and fracking event is another step backwards for public health and climate change.”
Why the increase in oil drilling permits?
Why has Big Oil been able to get what it wants in California during the midst of the coronavirus pandemic? Here’s why: “green” image aside, California is a major oil drilling state and the oil industry is its largest and powerful corporate lobby.
Last year the Western States Petroleum Association, the single most powerful lobbying organization in the state, pumped more money into lobbying than any other organization in California, spending a total of $8.8 million. The San Ramon-based Chevron pumped the third most money into lobbying, a total of $5.9 million. The lobbying expenses of the two oil industry giants came to a total of $14.7 million.
During the first quarter of 2020, at the same time that the Newsom Administration approved 1,623 new permits, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), spent $1,089,702 lobbying state officials.
Chevron spent even more: $1,638,497 in the fifth quarter of the 2019-20 legislation session to influence legislators, the Governor’s Office and other state officials. The two oil industry giants combined to spend a total of $2,728,199 lobbying in the session’s fifth quarter.
Big Oil’s well connected lobbyists
Steve Horn, investigative journalist, recently revealed in Capital and Main Governor Newsom’s connections to lobbyists working for Aera Energy, which received 24 drilling permits from the Newsom Administration in April: https://capitalandmain.com/gavin-newsom-hands-out-fracking-permits-to-connected-driller-0619
“Aera, which also received 24 permits from the California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) on April 3 during the early days of COVID-19, has well-connected lobbyists in its corner who work for the firm Axiom Advisors.
One of them, Jason Kinney, headed up Newsom’s 2018 transition team and formerly served as a senior advisor to Newsom while he was lieutenant governor. He is also a senior advisor to California’s Senate Democrats. The other, Kevin Schmidt, previously served as policy director for Newsom when the latter was lieutenant governor. Aera paid Axiom $110,000 for its lobbying work in 2019 and, so far in 2020, has paid $30,000, lobbying reports reveal.”
Big Oil’s tentacles extend far and wide in California politics. Lobbying is just one of the methods that Big Oil uses in California to exercise inordinate influence over California regulators. 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.
A classic example of deep regulatory capture in California is how Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” in Southern California at the same time that she was lobbying for new oil drilling off the West Coast. Yet dozens of “environmental” NGOs strongly supported the oil lobbyist-led process that created so-called “marine protected areas” that fail to protect the ocean from fracking, offshore drilling, military testing, energy projects and other human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering.