Bill to create special exemption for Kern Oil & Refining Company is dead for this year

By Dan Bacher | 

Updated 11:45 a.m. | 

Under pressure from a coalition of environmental justice groups, a bill that would have created a special exemption for oil refineries in Kern County was moved to the inactive file the night of Friday, September 13. 

“The bill is DEAD!” said Gustavo Aguirre Jr, Kern County Director of the Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN) after Senator Hurtado asked that AB1299 be moved to the inactive file.

Opponents said the bill would put the health of local residents, including many children, at risk in Kern County, the center of the state’s oil industry.

“Thank you @Senator_Hurtado — we knew you would do the right thing for the Valley and the community of Hilltop and Lamont,” wrote CCEJN in a tweet. “We welcome you to visit the community and learn more about the Environment Injustice that happens here everyday!” 

“I was excited to see members of my community come and engage about AB 1299 to make their voices heard,” said Assemblymember Rudy Salas. “I look forward to bringing the local stakeholders together on this important issue so we can find ways to reduce bureaucratic red tape, implement clean air mitigation efforts faster and preserver of good middle-class jobs in the valley in the upcoming legislative session.” 

As this year’s Legislative Session neared its final day Friday, Senator Hurtado, Assemblymember Salas, Senator Grove and the Senate leadership on September 10 reintroduced AB 1299. 

The last-minute bill was a classic case of gut and amend, when a volunteer firefighter bill in the inactive file was gutted and amended on September 10 and replaced with a new bill that exempted one oil refinery, Kern Oil, from state air quality monitoring requirements set to go into effect January 1, 2020.

Salas and the Kern Oil & Refining Company argued that the company should be exempt because it produces 25,000 barrels of oil per day, compared to the larger refineries targeted by the AB 1647 that process between 85,000 and 269,000 barrels per day.

According to the company, "California’s large refineries process between 85,000 and 269,000 barrels per day. Kern’s small production volume using lower hazard processes means the overall risk of emissions is magnitudes lower than the big refineries. Kern’s refinery operations are in a sparsely populated, rural area of Kern County, as opposed to the densely populated, urban centers of its larger counterparts. The monitoring system contemplated in the legislation does not make sense for a facility of the size and emission profile of Kern, which nonetheless already complies with daily and monthly requirements imposed by its local Air Pollution Control District.” 

Supporters of the legislation include the California Chamber of Commerce, Karen Goh, Mayor of Bakersfield, the Kern Oil & Refining Company, Leticia Perez, Supervisor, 5th District, County of Kern and  Zack Scrivner, Supervisor, 2nd District, County of Kern.

Opponents include the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, American Lung Association, Audubon California, California Air Pollution Control Officers Association, California Environmental Justice Alliance, California League of Conservation Voters, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Race, Poverty, and the Environment, Central California Environmental Justice Network, Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, Climate Hawks Vote, Coalition for Clean Air, Communities for a Better Environment, Community Water Center, Earthjustice, Greenpeace, Leadership Council for Justice & Accountability, Mothers Out Front, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club California and Voices in Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods.

According to a coalition of opposed groups, “This bill would weaken current refinery monitoring requirements for small refineries in rural communities... Monitoring systems are important preventative and informational measures that help ensure public health and safety. Rural communities are entitled to the same protections as urban communities.” 

On Thursday, the environmental and environmental justice community blasted the passage of Assembly Bill 1299 out of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.

“AB 1299 exempts emission monitoring of toxic pollutants from a refinery in Bakersfield, California, in the shadow of a farmworker community and in a region that already has the most polluted air in the entire country,” according to a press release from environmental justice advocates. “One of the refineries targeted for this change is located across the street from Fuller Acres, a rural community with just under a thousand residents (a third of whom are children). 77 percent of people who live in the neighborhood adjacent to this oil refinery are Latino/a.”

E.J. advocates also say there is also a broader concern that this bill would set a dangerous precedent for additional oil refineries in rural communities to receive similar exemptions. Air monitoring systems are important preventative and informational measures that help ensure public health and safety. 

“Rural communities are entitled to the same protections as urban communities,” said Katie Valenzuela, Policy & Political Director, California Environmental Justice Alliance. “This bill is an affront to extensive health data and the decades of advocacy and community organizing to combat the negative impacts of oil in our communities. These communities have a right to know what is in the air they’re breathing.”

“Our communities deserve clean air and good jobs. We need our elected officials Assemblymember Salas, Senator Hurtado, and Senator Grove to fight for that - not a giveaway to a refinery with extensive health and safety violations on record. Our electeds must be accountable to their constituents who are paying the price of the impacts of Big Oil in their communities,” she said.

“We urge our decision-makers to stand with the most impacted communities before industry interests. Our elected officials still have the chance to do the right thing by voting no on AB 1299 on the Senate Floor,” said Valenzuela.


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