Sierra Club California Announces Opposition to Big Oil-Backed Initiative to Repeal Setbacks Bill

Environmental justice advocate Nalleli Cobo speaks out against oil drilling in neighbors at a press conference at the State Capitol in 2018. Photo by Dan Bacher. | 

By Dan Bacher |

Sacramento, CA - Sierra Club California today announced its opposition to the oil industry’s signature gathering effort to repeal Senate Bill 1137, a law banning new and reworked oil and gas wells within 3,200 feet of homes, schools, and hospitals.

“SB 1137 was signed by Governor Newsom in September 2022 and is set to go into effect January 1, 2023,” the Club said in a press statement. “The law will protect frontline communities from toxic pollution associated with oil and gas drilling operations.” 

If Big Oil is successful in gathering the 600,000+ signatures necessary for the initiative to qualify for the ballot., SB 1137’s implementation will be delayed, and it will be on the ballot for Californians to vote on in 2024. The oil industry has already pumped over $9 million into the effort to repeal the law.

The Club said nearly 3 million Californians live within 3,200 feet of toxic oil operations.

“SB 1137 will protect these communities from adverse health effects associated with oil and gas activities, including respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular disease, developmental abnormalities, poor pregnancy outcomes, and cancer. The passage of this law  was the culmination of a decades-long battle led by environmental justice organizations and frontline communities,” the Club stated.

The oil and gas industry has already contributed $7.6 million to legislative races this election cycle alone, nearly 1/5th of the total of all political spending in that, the Club said.

Additionally, these polluting companies have pumped millions into lobbying against environmental legislation like SB 1137 and other bills that would hold them accountable for poisoning Californian communities and harming our ecosystems, according to the Club. 

In a huge story broken by this reporter, the oil and gas industry has spent an astounding $30 million in the 2021-22 Legislative Session against SB 1137 and other bills it was opposed to. 

Big Oil and the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) spent $4,573,758 in lobbying expenses from September 1 to October 31, 2022. That brings the total of oil and gas corporation lobbying expenses to $30,029,638 in the last seven quarters of the 2021-22 Legislative Session:… 

The Western States Petroleum Association spent $2,164,966.81 of that $4,573,758 in lobbying expenses in the seventh quarter of the legislative session. That brings the total of the lobbying expenses by WSPA alone to $23 million in the 2021-22 session!

While environmental justice groups, with the help of Governor Gavin Newsom, were able to finally get SB 1137 approved, other important bills, including a bill to ban offshore drilling off the California coast and another bill to divest State of California pension funds from investments in the fossil fuel industry, were stopped by oil industry-backed legislators. 

“The oil and gas industry knows no bounds when it comes to putting profits over people and subverting the deme ocratic process,” said Brandon Dawson, Sierra Club California Direchtor. “California frontline communities have been fighting for protections from toxic oil and gas pollution for decades, and the setbacks mandated by SB 1137 will go a long way towards preserving those communities’ air quality and ecosystems.”

“SB 1137 was decisively passed by a majority of both houses of the legislature and signed by the Governor. This referendum effort has nothing to do with lowering gas prices, as the oil and gas companies have claimed,” he continued. 

“This is a naked attempt by polluters to eschew their accountability for poisoning California’s most vulnerable communities. These communities  - primarily black and brown and low income neighborhoods -  already bear the greatest brunt of climate change impacts, and repealing SB 1137 will put them at even greater risk,” Dawson concluded.

Background: Big Oil Regulatory Capture in ‘Green’ California

Big Oil has  been able to get away with what it does in California for decades because of the enormous influence the Western States Petroleum Association, the trade group for the oil industry, and oil and gas companies have exerted over the California Legislature, regulatory agencies and media.

WSPA, the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento, alone has spent over $23 million lobbying the California Legislature and other state officials in the 2021-22 session, including $2,164,966.81 from June 1 through September 30, 2022. 

Over the past four years, fossil fuel companies paid almost $77.5 million to lobby lawmakers in Sacramento, reported Josh Slowiczek in Capital and Main on May 14.

“Oil and gas interests spent four times as much as environmental advocacy groups and almost six times as much as clean energy firms on lobbying efforts in California between 2018 and 2021, according to a Capital & Main analysis — reflecting the intensity of the industry’s efforts to influence policy in a state whose leaders have vowed to build an energy future free of fossil fuels,” Slowiczek wrote.  

WSPA and Big Oil wield their power in 8 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; (7) contributing to non profit organizations; and (8) sponsoring awards ceremonies, including those for legislators and journalists.  

WSPA and Big Oil have for years worked closely with media outlets and more recently have sponsored awards for legislators and journalists.

For example, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, WSPA President and CEO and the former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create “marine protected areas” in Southern California, was on the "short list" of nominees for the LA Times "Inspirational Women Awards” held on October 18, 2022.

Can you guess who was one of the sponsors of the LA Times awards? Yes, you guessed right — WSPA was a sponsor.

According to a tweet from @OfficialWSPA, "Today @latimes acknowledged a woman who is already well known in our industry as a trailblazer and inspiration to tens of thousands of women. Congrats to our fearless leader @WSPAPrez for being recognized as a shortlisted nominee for the Inspirational Women Awards."  

In 2015, I wrote this article about how LA Times and the California Resources Corporation, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Association, teamed up on a oil industry propaganda website: 

Fortunately, the LA Times is no longer managing and running that website.

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