Climate justice advocates criticize State of the State for not addressing ban on fracking

By Dan Bacher | 

A day after the Kern County Board of Supervisors in the San Joaquin Valley voted 5-0 for an ordinance to approve over 40,000 new oil and gas wells, Governor Gavin Newsom today delivered his State of the State address against the backdrop of the Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles.

He spent most of the speech discussing his record on vaccinations,  the state of the pandemic and his plan to reopen the schools — and about one minute on climate change — at a time he faces a recall effort by right-wing Republicans.

“In 2020 California simultaneously faced two once-in-a-generation crises,” said Newsom. “We combatted the worst wildfire season in our CA history in the middle of the pandemic. The hots are getting hotter. The dries are getting drier. All across the globe. In California we call it what it is—climate change.”

Newsom touted his executive order last year requiring all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California to be zero-emission by 2035.

Newsom also portrayed California as the nation’s environmental leader in a time when he faces increasing criticism from environmentalists regarding his expansion of oil and gas drilling permits in California.

“There’s no doubt California is the pacesetter of environmental policy, yet we are mindful of our responsibility to do even more, said Newsom. “That restless spirit defines California.” 

“To paraphrase St. Francis, the patron saint of my hometown, now is the time to tell the world about our brighter future, and only if necessary, will we use words,” he stated.

Representatives of public interest and environmental justice groups responded to the Government’s State of the State address by criticizing him for failing to address his campaign promises, including a ban on fracking.

Groups also criticized the Governor for making any reference to Monday’s approval of an ordinance in Kern County that will ensure the quick permitting of thousands of new oil and gas wells over the next 15 years. 

“The state of our state is fundamentally flawed,” Food & Water Watch California Director Alexandra Nagy said in response to the governor’s address. “As long as Governor Newsom avoids the reality of California’s climate crisis, the state is headed in the wrong direction.”

“While trumpeting his environmental leadership, the governor proposed 79% less in funding to increase oversight for fracking operations than he allocated last year and has already issued 11 more fracking permits in 2021. Polls show us Californians are eager to lead the country in environmental justice, but it seems Gov. Newsom is not,” she said.

Nagy also pointed out that despite Newsom's call on the legislature to ban fracking, last month the governor’s oil and gas regulators permitted another 11 fracking permits in Kern County to Aera Energy LLC, client of Axiom Advisors.

“The same lobbying firm employs senior Newsom advisor Jason Kinney, whose birthday Newsom celebrated with last year’s COVID restriction-flaunting French Laundry dinner,” said Nagy. “His commitment to tackling climate change through investment in clean car technology is undermined by the continued expansion of oil and gas drilling during his term.”  

Climate justice advocates also pointed out that Newsom’s commitment to tackling climate change through investment in clean car technology that he mentioned in today’s address is “undermined by the continued expansion of oil and gas drilling” during his term.

Advocates are urging Newsom to honor his stated commitment to frontline communities and support Senate Bill 467, introduced last month to ban fracking and other extreme drilling techniques while also requiring a 2,500-foot setback separating oil extraction from homes and schools.

Environmental justice and climate advocates from a diverse coalition issued statements on the Governor’s address.    

"Just yesterday the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted to approve an ordinance that would fast-track tens of thousands of oil and gas wells in Kern with a poor environmental review and no option for public comment in the future for communities,” said Juan Flores, Community Organizer, Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment (CRPE). “We expect leadership from the state when our county fails us.”

“As requested by the Governor, SB 467 would effectively ban fracking and would create statewide protective setbacks of at least 2,500 feet from homes, hospitals, and schools against oil and gas drilling,” Flores continued. “At the same time, CalGEM is undergoing a rulemaking process to create setbacks. However, these communities do not have time to wait for the administrative process or the legislature while they live in this pollution at every moment. We need the Governor to direct CalGEM to immediately issue a moratorium on permits within, at minimum, a 2,500-foot setback to protect the health of frontline communities -- a majority of which are communities of color and low-income -- in one of the most polluted counties in the state and the nation."

“Right now, millions of Californians are sheltering in place near harmful oil and gas extraction sites in their neighborhoods, breathing in toxic fumes that put them at even greater risk for COVID-19. Governor Newsom’s actions - approving thousands of permits - speak louder than his words,” stated Kobi Naseck, Coalition Coordinator, VISIÓN (Voices in Solidarity Against Oil in Neighborhoods) We’re calling on the Governor to protect frontline communities with setbacks and to end neighborhood drilling and California’s legacy of environmental racism, and that begins with his support for SB 467, the dangerous drilling bill.”

“Low income communities of color exposed to dangerous oil and gas wells in Los Angeles have been organizing for over a decade demanding an end to this obvious form of environmental racism,” said Martha Dina Arguello, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles and co-chair of Standing Together Against Neighborhood Drilling-Los Angeles (STAND-LA). “Our call to end neighborhood oil drilling and for just transition for workers and communities to an equitable clean energy economy are finally getting traction with the Los Angeles City Council. We need that matched by bold leadership from Governor Newsom to establish oil and gas setbacks statewide and partner with our communities and workers to create a practical plan with real funding for a just transition to a healthy, climate-safe future.”    

“As Governor Newsom reaches a crossroads in his term in office, he would do well to listen to the climate and environmental justice movement rather than standing on the sidelines at the expense of frontline communities and the planet,” said Annie Leonard, Executive Director at Greenpeace USA. “Governor Newsom’s State of the State address was a missed opportunity to demonstrate the leadership we require in the face of intersecting climate, public health, and environmental justice crises. In the coming months, this administration must take advantage of key moments to lead on these issues: by publicly supporting SB 467, directing his agency to act swiftly to enact a 2,500-foot public health setback, and beginning a just transition for workers and communities impacted by the oil and gas industry.”

“According to Harvard researchers, fossil fuels kill 34,000 Californians in a good year,” stated Wendy Ring MD from Humboldt County with Climate Health Now. “But when wildfires rage and dirty air increases deaths from COVID-19,  deaths are higher.  At the current pace of climate action, they will keep rising.  Oil extraction pollutes our air and groundwater,  increases asthma, heart disease, premature birth and premature death.  The evidence is clear.   We urge Governor Newsom to start the phaseout of oil production by ending permits for the dirtiest kinds of drilling, establishing a safe distance between oil wells and peoples' homes, and creating a just transition for oil workers.”  

“Californians have faced decades of deadly pollution from the oil and gas industry, and we know that our ongoing droughts and devastating wildfires are intimately connected to climate change,” said Matt Leonard, Director of Oil and Gas Action Network. “While Governor Newsom has spoken clearly about the urgent need to address the climate crisis and California’s oil problem, his approval of over 8,000 new oil and gas wells takes us in the wrong direction.”

“Mothers across California expect more of Governor Newsom. We insist that he provide the bold leadership necessary to address our public health crisis, the “Climate. Damn. Emergency” and environmental racism,” stated Linda Hutchins-Knowles, California Senior Organizer with Mothers Out Front. “He asked the legislature to ban fracking, and now we need him to publicly and vigorously support SB 467, which would ban fracking and other dangerous drilling techniques, support a just transition to protect workers, and implement a science-based health-and-safety buffer zone between toxic drilling and sensitive sites like homes and schools. In addition, he should direct CalGEM to immediately impose a moratorium on drilling permits within a 2,500-foot setback to protect the health of frontline communities, who are primarily communities of color and low-income communities suffering disproportionately from COVID-19.”   

“COVID has been especially brutal to communities already suffering health impacts of living near fossil fuel pollution,” said Cynthia Mahoney MD from Contra Costa County with Climate Health Now. “A Harvard study documented that breathing fossil fuel air pollution is linked to higher risk  of dying from Covid. These are the same communities least able to protect themselves from climate extremes. The heat and toxic wildfire smoke Californians endured in the summer of 2020 contributed to  lung problems, heart disease, strokes and death. Doctors and nurses can treat the symptoms but we need Governor Newsom to step up and address the root causes. We call on the Governor to lead with health and safety setbacks from neighborhood drilling, a phaseout out of  fossil fuels starting with the dirtiest drilling  and a just transition for workers that will protect  the health of all Californians.”  

On the other hand, Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) President and CEO Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” in Southern California, issued a statement praising Newsom’s address for thanking the frontline workers fighting COVID-19:

“We join Governor Newsom in thanking the many frontline and behind-the-scenes workers who have been the real heroes in our state’s efforts to fight COVID-19 and put our communities and economy back on track.  These Californians have always been essential, and it is no surprise that our recovery is a result of their hard work, expertise and care.

“Among these heroes are the women and men of the oil and gas industry.  As they do everyday, they worked through the pandemic to supply safe, reliable energy and produce the affordable fuels needed to deliver healthcare and the vaccines now being shipped throughout the state.  The people of our industry will remain essential to the economic recovery of the West and the future of our communities for decades to come.”

Other than the mention of climate change and his executive order last year requiring all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California to be zero-emission by 2035, Newsom didn’t his discuss his environmental and water policies, including his controversial Delta Tunnel, Big Ag-backed voluntary agreements and support for Sites Reservoir on the east side of the Sacramento Valley.

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