The three CA Senate Democrats who voted against setbacks bill took $142,206 from Big Oil & Gas

Oil wells in California next to a field where children play. Photo courtesy of Consumer Watchdog.

By Dan Bacher | 

Three California Senate Democrats who voted with Republicans against an amended version of AB 345, a bill that would require the establishment of an environmental justice program at the California Natural Resources Agency, received $142,206 in donations from oil and gas corporations.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg, Senator Anna Caballero and Senator Ben Hueso joined Republican Senators Andrea Borgeas and Brian Jones to defeat the legislation in a 5 to 4 vote in a Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee hearing on August 5.

The amended bill would require the Geologic Energy Management Division of the Department of Conservation to adopt regulations by July 1, 2022, to “protect public health and safety near oil and gas extraction facilities.” 

Those regulations would 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.” They would also “consider a setback distance of 2,500 feet from schools, playgrounds, and public facilities where children are present.”  

Prior to adopting the regulations, the department would have to consult with environmental, environmental justice, public health advocates, public health authorities, and other experts, as specified.

California, unlike other states, currently requires no health and safety setbacks between oil and gas wells and homes, schools, child care center and other facilities. In other words, the oil and gas companies can — and do — drill wells next to houses and other facilities in California, despite the state’s “green” and “progressive” facade.

Below are the career oil and gas donation totals for the Senators who voted against and for AB 345, according to Follow the Money, as compiled by Donny Shaw, editor and co-founder of

Voted against AB 345:

Bob Hertzberg: $82,757
Anna Caballero: $15,349
Ben Hueso: $44,100
Andrea Borgeas: $20,000
Brian Jones: $67,300

Voted in favor of AB 345:

Ben Allen: $2,500
Hannah Beth Jackson: $12,000
Bill Monning: $700
Henry Stern: $1000 (signed a no fossil fuel pledge)

While the Senate Democrats voting for AB 345 only received $16,200 from oil and gas companies, the Senate Democrats voting against received $142,206. The total in oil and gas donations for those voting against the bill comes to $229,506 when you include the Senate Republicans. 

Big donations from Sempra Energy and oil industry in 2018 election cycle

In the 2018 election cycle. Senator Bob Hertzberg received $26,800 in contributions from the oil and gas industry,  including $6,200 from the California Resources Corporation and $8,800 from Sempra Energy, the owner of SoCalGas, the company responsible for the Aliso Canyon gas blowout in 2015.

Senator Ben Hueso received $20,600 from oil and gas corporations in that cycle, including $8,800 from Sempra Energy, $5,000 from Philips 66 and $4,500 from the Tesoro Corporation.

Senator Anna Caballero received $15,000 from the oil and gas industry in the 2018 election cycle, including $5,000 from Chevron, $3,250 from the California Independent Oil Marketer Association, $2,000 from Exxon Mobil, $1,500 from BP North America, $1,099 from Sam Eastman, $1,000 from Conoco Phillips, $1,000 from 711, $250 from Sturdy Oil Company and $250 from Laura Sanborn. More information:… 

Construction trade unions have also joined the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) in an alliance, Common Ground, to defeat AB 345 and other measures to impose any further restrictions on the oil industry in California, so their contributions to legislators should also be considered when looking at donations to legislators.

Common Ground describes itself as “part of a joint labor management committee between the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California and the Western States Petroleum Association.”

In addition to the donations from the oil and gas industry in the 2018 session, Senator Hertzberg has received $17,600 from the California Pipe Trades Council, $17,680 from the Southern California Pipe Trades Council 16, $17,600 from the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, $17,600 from the California State Council of Laborers, $8,800 from the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California and $6,900 from Laborers Local 300.  

Senator Hueso has received $26,190 from the California State Council of Laborers, $17,600 from the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California and $17,000 from the California Pipe Trades Council.

Senator Caballero has received $26,400.00 from the California State Council of Laborers, $17,600 from the State Building and Construction Trades Council, $17,600 from Northern California Carpenters Regional Council, $8,800 from the Northern California District Council of Laborers and $8,800 from the California Pipe Trades Council, $8,800 from the Laborers Pacific Southwest Regional and 8,500 from the Southern Regional Council of Carpenters.  

Elected officials call on Governor to take action on setbacks and halt permitting  

Unlike most other oil and gas producing states, including Texas, North Dakota, Colorado, Maryland and Pennsylvania, California has no health and safety setbacks around oil and gas wells, due to the enormous power of the oil and gas industry in California.

For example, the City of Dallas requires 1500 foot health and safety setbacks around oil wells. The State of Texas requires 250 foot setbacks around fracking operations — by no means sufficient for health and safety, but much better than California’s zero setbacks.  

The Elected Officials to Protect California want to do something to change this situation, in light of the defeat of AB 345.

“There are one million people residing within a five square mile radius of the Inglewood Oil Field, which sits atop the Newport Inglewood fault line,” said Meghan Sahli-Wells former Culver City Mayor, and current Councilmember. “Disaster could strike at any time. Its infrastructure is nearly 100 years old. Within the past few years, there have been several leaks and spills. Then there are the air contaminants that are responsible for countless respiratory conditions. We have to protect our people, not the fossil fuel industry.”

“I’m proud to serve as Co-Chair of Elected Officials to Protect California, where more than 310 of us signed a letter asking the governor to take action to halt permitting, and phase out fossil fuel production once and for all,” she added.

Nearly 8,500 active California oil and gas wells are located within 2,500 feet of homes, schools, and hospitals, disproportionately impacting people of color and economically disadvantaged communities, the group pointed out.

Oil and gas drilling presents a huge risk to communities of color

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, between 2011 and 2018, of the more than 21,000 new oil and gas wells permitted by the state, 76 percent were located in communities with above-average poverty rates for California, and 67 percent were located in communities of color.

Exposure to toxic air contaminants and other pollution caused by oil and gas wells is a significant threat to public health, according to the California Council on Science and Technology

A 2019 review commissioned by the city of Los Angeles states that the majority of relevant peer-reviewed studies have found that close proximity to oil and gas production is associated with exposure to high concentrations of dangerous air pollutants. 

“The development of oil and gas immediately adjacent to places where people live, work and play poses hazards and risks to public health . . . some minimum distance from sensitive receptors should be considered,” wrote the study’s authors, Seth B.C. Shonkoff and Lee Ann L. Hill with Oakland-based nonprofit PSE Healthy Energy.

“In our letter to Governor Newsom we also asked him to start protecting people now with an instantaneous 2,500 foot setback, or safe zone, from oil and wells dangerously close to schools, homes, and businesses,” added Councilmember Sahli-Wells,. “This recklessness with people’s lives has to end. We need the Governor to step forward and lead on this issue. We have to value people’s lives, not corporation profits. AB 345 would have had a chance to pass if he’d come out to publicly support it.”

Californian Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi’s bill, AB 345, would have given California’s Natural Resources Agency until July of 2022 to adopt public health and safety regulations covering nearby oil and gas extraction areas. 

“My AB 345, a top priority environmental justice bill, passed the Assembly,” tweeted Assemblyman Muratsuchi when the bill’s 42-30 victory vote took place on January 27, 2020, months before its defeat in the Senate Committee. “This bill will establish oil drilling buffer zones to protect children and families living near oil extraction sites.”

But the oil and gas industry waged a lobbying campaign against the bill in the State Senate. The Western States Petroleum Association, the most powerful corporate lobbying organization in California, strongly opposed AB 345.  

Oil and gas operations combine with agricultural operations to poison San Joaquin Valley communities

“My constituents are the ones who breathe the air and drink the water. Many work hard in the fields unaware of the toxins they’re breathing in,” said Felipe Perez, Fresno City Councilmember and Steering Committee Member of Elected Officials to Protect California. “I was a farm worker when I first came to America. I suffered from headaches, nausea, and nosebleeds. A friend had a miscarriage. Our lives matter.”

“We need the governor to lead. He has the power to help bills pass. In the time of COVID-19 my people are worried about their increased risk of infection simply because their zip code has put them at greater risk. This is a health emergency. These are essential workers. Newsom needs to take action. Why hasn’t he?” asked Perez.

Oil production sites emit hydrogen sulfide and known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors such as benzene and formaldehyde, according to Perez.

In the light of the failure of AB 345 in the Senate Committee, Perez is urging Newsom to issue an executive order to mandate health and safety setbacks around oil and gas wells in California for the first time.

“Even if AB 345 doesn’t pass, Governor Newsom has the power of the executive order. I know there would be legal action against any such order, but leading means standing up for the people you represent, all the people, not corporations,” concluded Perez.

According to a recent poll, 79 percent of Californians support the creation of a health and safety buffer zone between communities and oil extraction.

“There currently is no binding commitment from the Newsom Administration to create any kind of health and safety buffer zone,” said Councilmember Elect Katie Valenzuela, Steering Committee Member of Elected Officials to Protect California. and CEJA Action Political and Policy Director. “Protecting the well-being of low-income, Black, and brown community members with a legislatively-mandated setback is the kind of emergency action that California needs to counter the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis.”

Katie Valenzuela responds to Hertzberg

During the heated hearing on August 5, Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg verbally attacked Valenzuela regarding the bill, shocking many participating in or watching the hearing. He accused Valenzuela of misleading community groups, and of failing to “do the homework” or “read the bill.”

“I was there to testify as a primary support witness,” said Councilmember Elect Katie Valenzuela, Steering Committee Member of Elected Officials to Protect California. and CEJA Action Political and Policy Director. “As a resident of Oildale, CA, I was sent to the hospital too many times. By insulting my intelligence, my intentions, and my integrity he also insulted the broad coalition of nonprofit advocacy and community groups who have worked tirelessly to pass AB 345 into law,” said

The United Domestic Workers, along with more than 270 environmental justice, public health, education, political, and other labor organizations, signed on as supporters of AB 345.

“Senator Hertzberg addressed me with language that is all too reminiscent of the disregard and devaluing of lives of people of color that perpetuates environmental injustices,” said Valenzuela. “The Majority Leader doesn’t seem to think that there is a problem, despite ample scientific evidence and community testimony to the contrary. So I’ve invited him to join me on a tour of oil fields in Kern County where I grew up so he can see what is happening for himself – at his earliest convenience.” 

Many elected officials had hoped that Newsom wouldn’t be as beholden to the oil and gas industry as Governor Jerry Brown was, but now they question his intentions.

Newsom Administration approved 48 fracking permits

Newsom’s oil and gas regulators have approved a total of 48 fracking permits, mostly in Kern County, since the moratorium he announced last year ended this April. Being the center of California’s oil industry, Kern County already has some of the poorest air quality in the nation. It also has large communities of color, many of whom work as farmworkers in fields frequently sprayed with toxic pesticides and herbicides. 

The number of oil permits the Newsom administration has issued since he took office in January 2019 now totals 7,474, according to the FracTracker Alliance and Consumer Watchdog. Over 1,400 new oil and gas well permits have been issued so far this year, the Center for Biological Diversity reported.

“Now is the moment to propel our state forward and ensure the future our children deserve,” said San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon, Elected Officials to Protect California Steering Committee Member. ‘Fracking has no future and a horrific past generating serious health problems, especially for minority communities,” 

“I believe Governor Newson does want to protect the health and wellbeing of all Californians. I know we are in an emergency and COVID-19 is his priority. However, climate change is an emergency too and anything that contributes to it should stop. Now more than ever, we need to protect the health and safety of all our people — especially our essential farm workers. Issuing a decree for a 2,500-foot setback for all oil and gas wells is something he should and could do immediately. It’s time we found out where our governor really stands,” concluded Harmon.

Nationally, over 410 elected officials have signed the Elected Officials to Protect America’s National Climate Justice Sign-on Letter demanding a just transition. Since the Brown Administration, EOPCA has pushed for “transparency, accountability, and an energy regime which protects public health,” according to the group.

Elected Officials to Protect California is a program of Elected Officials to Protect America.

Background: Big Oil exerts enormous influence over California politicians and regulators

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 total oil drilling permits, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) spent $1,089,702 lobbying state officials.

Chevron spent even more: $1,638,497 in the first quarter of 2020 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 from January 1-March 31.

In the second quarter of 2020, WSPA spent $1,220,986 while Chevron spent $974,322 on lobbying in California, a total of $2,195,308.   

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; (6) creating alliances with labor unions; 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. 

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