L.A. City Council Committee votes to pursue a citywide phase-out of oil and gas drilling

  • Published on December 4th, 2020

On December 1, the Environment, Climate Change, and Environmental Justice Committee of the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to move toward a citywide phase-out of oil drilling. The motion passed by the Committee directs the City Attorney to draft an ordinance declaring oil and gas extraction sites “non-conforming land uses” in city limits.

L.A. City Council Committee votes to pursue a citywide phase-out of oil and gas drilling

By Dan Bacher 

The motion, introduced by Council President Nury Martinez in her last meeting as the Committee’s Chair, also advises the City Planning Department to report back on the necessary budget and staff requirements to address oil wells in residential neighborhoods, including hiring an expert to complete an amortization study.

“I know the feeling of living in a neighborhood with incompatible land uses. I know the impacts and frustrations it has in these neighborhoods,” said Martinez.

Councilmembers Paul Krekorian and Paul Koretz seconded the motion, signaling the Committee’s acknowledgment that oil and gas extraction is an incompatible land use in the City of Los Angeles.

The motion the Committee passed Monday must now go before a full L.A. City Council vote. A date has not been set for the discussion of the motion. 

The Committee acted on the conclusions of a recent City Attorney report confirming the City’s legal authority to take this action, according to a press release from the STAND-L.A. Coalition. At a meeting of the same committee two weeks ago, the City Attorney’s office indicated their willingness to defend such an ordinance against legal challenges from the oil industry or oil companies.

The coalition said the unanimous vote came after “years of community organizing and advocacy from residents impacted by oil drilling and environmental justice advocates with the STAND-L.A. coalition, urging the City to protect public health by phasing out neighborhood oil drilling.”

Active, idle, plugged and buried oil and gas wells are spread throughout the city.

“Among 26 oil and gas fields lie roughly 819 active, 296 idle, 3,181 plugged, and 933 buried wells according to the city,” reported Nathan Solis of Courthouse News.

Environmental justice advocates called into the hearing supporting the motion to move towards phasing out oil drilling in Los Angeles city limits.

“We must transition fairly,” said Martha Dina Argüello, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility—Los Angeles. “We hope you will consider the process of amortization – jobs will not be gone tomorrow. We will fight next to our brother and sisters in labor.”

“We need to fight for racial and environmental justice as we fight. the cumulative impacts of pollution that make us more vulnerable to climate change and #COVID19. We need to set the tone for what our future will look like. No one should have to choose between their work and their health. It is time to lead Los Angeles into the future,” Arguello concluded.

Councilmembers also echoed advocates’ calls for the City to help create a “just transition plan” supporting fossil fuel workers in family-supporting jobs in other industries as oil wells are phased out.

“The just transition away from oil production in LA has been going on for a long time already,” said Krekoran.  “I’m satisfied we will not see a budget impact and I would be prepared to move forward to instruct the LA City Attorney to not just create a buffer—but to make oil extraction in the City of LA, in all zones, a non-conforming use.”

On the other hand, oil industry workers said the motion would endanger their livelihoods during a pandemic.

“Our industry is in the crosshairs, but everyone uses our energy,” Mike Costigan of IBEW Local 11 told the Committee. “Please consider our working families.”

STAND-L.A. coalition members issued statements praising the vote and thanking the Committee Members.

“Today’s win is indicative of the hard work & organizing that environmental justice groups have put into this fight for the last four years,” said Hugo Garcia, Esperanza Community Housing Coalition. “As Councilchair Nury Martinez acknowledged during today’s meeting, this has been a long and slow process, but today’s motion confirmed that it has not all been for nothing. This is a win for frontline communities, public health, and environmental justice. We thank Nury Martinez for this monumental final action as committee chair and look forward to working with the next chair in 2021 to realize this motion.”

“Black Women for Wellness commends Councilwoman Nury Martinez for her courageous work with leading the Environmental Climate Change and Environmental Justice committee to this unanimous decision on setting back oil drilling from our homes, community and children,” said Robert Akil Bell, Grants Manager, Black Women for Wellness. “Public health and racial justice are intimately intertwined with environmental justice and this step forward acknowledges years of community organizing to bring attention to the impacts of oil drilling on our health.”

“South Los Angeles will breathe a bit easier but we know our work is not done. As this goes before the entire Los Angeles City Council, we will work to encourage and embolden every city council member to STAND with us, to put community over oil corporation dollars, to value health, seek just transitions and lead with courage toward an environment that sustains our future on this planet,” Bell stated.

“In the midst of a global pandemic, the action taken by Energy, Climate Change, and Environmental Justice Committee to pursue a plan to phase out oil drilling in Los Angeles is more timely than ever,” said Gloria Medina, Interim Executive Director, SCOPE. “The cumulative threat to public health has been made abundantly clear by the devastating and disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 to communities exposed to high levels of pollution, predominantly BIPOC, working-class families. We applaud the committee’s decision to protect constituents on the frontlines of this crisis and pave the way towards a sustainable clean energy economy that benefits workers and communities.”

“Today, Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Paul Krekorian, and Paul Koretz took an important step toward ending the era of toxic fossil fuel extraction in our neighborhoods,” stated Richard Parks, President of Redeemer Community Partnership. “History now has its eyes on the City Council. And so do all Angelinos who want their children to grow up in a healthy and safe environment.”

“Wilmington and other frontline communities have waited so long for the City of LA to listen to our concerns and prioritize our health,” said Wendy Miranda, Wilmington community member and intern for Communities for A Better Environment. “We appreciate the strong unanimous vote by the committee to pass this motion and are grateful for all the work and organizing efforts that environmental justice organizations have done for the past 5 years. We look forward to days without toxic oil drilling next to our homes, schools, and community facilities. Days with revitalized lands where our families, children, neighbors, and workers can live and work without having to sacrifice their health. Today was a big win for environmental justice communities.”

“Today’s unanimous vote was a major breakthrough that demonstrates the power of community organizing and persistence,” said Shane Murphy Goldsmith, President & CEO, Liberty Hill Foundation. “We are proud supporters of STAND LA and the grassroots community groups who have been fighting to protect their neighborhoods from the harmful impacts of continued oil drilling for years.  This is one of the key environmental justice issues facing Los Angeles, and we celebrate the leadership shown today by Council President Nury Martinez, Councilman Paul Koretz and Councilman Paul Krekorian. Thank you for standing with those who are most vulnerable and putting us on the path to a just and equitable transition to renewable energy, clean air and healthy communities.”

“The Energy, Climate Change and Environmental Justice committee showed real leadership today in acknowledging that it is time to transition away from oil extraction in Los Angeles,” said Martha Dina Argüello, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility—Los Angeles. “We want to thank Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Paul Krekorian, and Paul Koretz for advancing this motion and dispelling the misconceptions perpetuated by the oil industry about the potential economic and legal implications of declaring oil drilling a non-conforming land use. Today the long-ignored public health concerns of residents were heard: no more drilling where we are living. As a coalition that has worked on this for many years, we hope that the rest of the City Council will show the bold and courageous leadership we heard in the Committee meeting today.”

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.