Elected Officials in California urge to take immediate action to divest in fossil fuels

  By Ramona du Houx

The day after Governor Gavin Newsom announced a historic moratorium on new oil and fracking drilling permits, 91 local elected officials from throughout the Bay Area joined with more than 300 local officials from 49 counties across California to applaud the Governor’s announcement and urge him to enact a statewide plan to phase out oil and gas drilling in California.

Many wanted to thank him for stepping up to hopefully start implementing actions they’ve already taken.

El Cerrito and Walnut Creek have already partnered with Marin Clean Energy, in a program known as Community Choice Aggregation to provide low-carbon electricity at competitive rates. The program invites residents to become MCE Deep Green members, which means all their energy needs would be met with 100 percent renewable energy.

El Cerrito won a coveted Beacon Award this year for how we have introduced ten areas of sustainability which are aligned with California’s goals. 

 “I'm proud of the measures El Cerrito has taken against climate change. We're a leader. But a city can only do so much” said Councilmember/Former Mayor Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto, of El Cerrito. “While I welcomed the governor’s recent announcement starting an independent audit of the agency that oversees oil and gas production, California is still in the thralls of a public health emergency from the effects of fossil fuels. More than 12,000 lives are lost annually because of it. We must ensure the transition he’s promised to a 100 percent clean energy future is put on a fast track. Our children can’t wait. 

With unprecedented and devastating fires and power shutoffs that impacted millions of Californians, the elected officials cited the disruptions to more than 1.5 million Californians in October alone, the ongoing massive oil spill in Kern County, and accelerating climate disasters across California. They pointed to the undeniable fact that fossil fuel production threatens the health and safety of our communities. It’s a terrible environmental justice issue, as poor communities and people of color are disproportionately affected. 

Recently Governor Newsom announced a halt on new oil extraction wells that use high-pressure steam injection drilling, an independent review of new fracking permits, and new rule process for public health and safety protections near oil and gas extraction facilities. The Contra Costa area elected officials thanked the Governor for taking bold action addressing fossil fuel production’s terrible costs to California and called on him to go further to enact a plan to phase out fossil fuel production in California, starting by ending all new permits on oil and gas drilling and instituting 2,500-foot public health setbacks on drilling.

PHOTO: One of the thousands of oil drills in California.

"El Cerrito has declared a climate emergency. This is the most important issue in our lifetime” said Councilmember/Former Mayor Janet Abelson, City of El Cerrito. “The future of our children and grandchildren is at stake.”

County, city, school board, and local officials from across the state, who launched Elected Officials to Protect California in 2018, are taking action both within their respective jurisdictions and across California to end the extraction of dirty fossil fuel that harms their constituents and the environment.  

Already, more than 80 local governments in California have passed more than 115 local policies to protect their communities from fossil fuels, including phase-out plans and setbacks on oil and gas drilling, climate lawsuits or divestment from fossil fuel companies, or opposing expansion of fossil fuel production or infrastructure. 

“Renewable energy for a sustainable future," said Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Wilk, City of Walnut Creek. “All of Walnut Creek’s city owned buildings are powered by 100 percent clean energy. Walnut Creek recognizes that renewable energy is not just the future, but the present.”

The officials welcomed the state’s policy shift on fossil fuel production, and stood ready to work with the Governor. The network is asking Gov. Newsom to go further by halting permits for all new fossil fuel projects, prohibiting drilling within 2,500 feet of homes and vulnerable areas and committing the state to 100 percent renewable energy in all sectors.

Despite its reputation as a global climate leader, California is one of the nation’s top oil-producing states. Oil produced in California is some of the dirtiest and most climate-damaging crude in the world, yet there are currently no plans to ramp down extraction. In fact, more than 21,000 permits for new drilling have been issued since 2011. Of these new oil and gas wells permitted by the state, 76 percent are located in communities with above-average poverty rates for California, and 67 percent are located in communities of color.

 The most damaging health risks of oil and gas drilling occur within a one-half mile radius of active oil and gas development. according to the California Council on Science and Technology. Yet, California has no statewide policy limiting the proximity of drilling to homes, schools or other sensitive areas. According to a recent poll, nearly two-thirds of California voters support phasing out oil and gas drilling within half a mile of homes, schools and other vulnerable sites.

“We are a city comprised of mostly black and brown residents. Our citizens have a significantly higher risk of dying from heart disease and strokes and are more likely to go to hospitals for asthma than other county residents because we’re exposed to high concentrations of benzene, mercury and other hazardous air pollutants” said Councilmember Eduardo Martinez, City of Richmond. “A study comparing air quality showed that refinery communities like Richmond had 33 percent more toxic compounds and four times more endocrine disrupting chemicals than surrounding communities. We've taken measures at the city level, but it's not enough. We need the state to step in immediately.”

More than 6 million people, including tens of thousands in California, marched in the September Climate demanding action to phase out fossil fuels. More than 750 grassroots organizations in California and around the world are urging the Golden State to set a global precedent by announcing a statewide plan to completely phase-out existing dirty fuel production and enact 2,500 foot setbacks on drilling to protect public health and the climate.

“While Governor Newsom is taking important steps towards halting all new oil and gas drilling permits and enacting science-based 2,500-foot setbacks on toxic drilling that we urgently need to protect our public health and communities, much more needs to be done now to permanently discourage the industry in California, and to make sure the state converts to using 100% clean, renewable energy sources,” said Culver City Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells, Co-Chair of Elected Officials to Protect California.

Elected Officials to Protect America has programs in various states. EOPA’s cofounder is former Maine state legislator Alex Cornell du Houx. The letter and signatories of Elected Officials to Protect California are at californiaelectedofficials.org.