April 8, 2022

By Ramona du Houx

According to the most recent landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on climate change, nations need to accelerate their plans to transition off of fossil fuels to retain any hope of preventing a perilous future on an overheated planet, fraught with extreme weather disasters. The IPCC says governments and companies may need to invest three to six times the $600 billion they currently spend annually on promoting clean energy and reducing emissions.

“Coal and other fossil fuels are choking humanity . . . We are on a fast track to climate disaster,” said UN Secretary General António Guterres. “Delay means death.”

The greenhouse gas that fossil fuels produce drives the climate crisis which makes California more vulnerable to apocalyptic fires, drought, and deadly heat.

With that climate crisis background, California gas prices are the highest in the nation, yet the state is a leading fossil fuel producer. Many wonder, as an oil and gas producing state, why they are suffering from inflated prices. The world market sets oil prices according to the climate conditions politically, not necessarily making logical decisions about supply and demand. Even being in the top leading nations producing oil and gas does not insulate against these conditions. With Putin’s unjustified war in the Ukraine, fossil fuel prices have skyrocketed and oil and gas industries have not stopped the rise, instead they are making record profits.

Former Mayor Heidi Harmon speaks at a rally in San Luis Obispo asking Newsom to meet the climate crisis.

The oil crisis in the 1970s lead President Jimmy Carter to establish the Strategic Oil and Gas Reserve, which President Biden has tapped into, The price at the pump would have been even higher if Biden had not taken action. The world is at the mercy of the oil and gas autocratic nations that have for decades allowed the pollution from fossil fuels to kill millions prematurely. These deaths and illnesses caused by fossil fuel pollution are a continual reality, as residents endure environmental health injustices for the profits of the oil and gas industry’s CEOs.

For all these reasons, in early April, communities across California along with elected officials joined together as they called on the governor to build on his climate leadership by ending all new fossil fuel permitting and strengthening the setbacks rule to include both new and existing oil wells.

To eecouage these outcomes, over 430 elected officials, representing half of all Californians, have signed an EOPA California letter to Governor Newsom urging bold action on the climate crisis. Since then, Newsom has taken noteworthy steps; a 2045 oil production phaseout goal, a proposed ban on new fracking, a 3,200-foot setback rule for new oil wells. He’s also been vocal about the need to make fossil fuels “part of our past,” and has adopted an all of government approach.

“EOPA California is grateful for the leadership of Governor Newsom on climate issues, yet the IPCC report makes it clear that delaying more aggressive action to transition away from fossil fuels usage would be catastrophic. In this moment of global crisis, California must do more to meet the challenge of the climate emergency,” said Dominic Frongillo, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Elected Officials to Protect America. “It’s time to accelerate a 100 percent clean energy economy that allows every young person to grow up breathing clean air, and to live long, healthy lives. From Ukraine to California, the cost of our continued dependence on fossil fuels is far too high. Fossil fuels have caused unnecessary suffering and too many people have lost their lives. We’re asking Governor Newsom to do more to protect the lives of Californians, and the world.”

The horrific invasion of Ukraine shows that we need to rapidly shift away from fossil fuels for our security and that of other nations. It’s clear that dependence on fossil fuels has fueled Russia’s war machine, and the leverage Putin wields over countries that are reliant on fossil fuels.

Dictators like Putin make it easier for oil and gas CEOs to price gouge Americans. These executives, as their actions show, apparently don’t care about our national security or the hardships to their consumers. They do care about profits.

Real energy independence is only possible if we break free from oil and gas, crack down on price gouging and invest in cheaper, cleaner renewable energy.

“Putin’s murderous genocidal war has been financed by$285M from sales of Russian oil daily. Every day I recoil from images of neighborhoods where I played as a youngster as they go up in flames and are reduced to rubble. The emptiness, and loss are hard to express. We owe it to our shared humanity to act decisively to help now. We can help protect democratic nations, who are reliant on fossil fuels, to become energy secure, by showing the way,” said Igor Tregub, Chair of the California Democratic Party Environmental Caucus and Former Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board Member. “Bolstering our energy supply with renewable solutions like distributed solar is a viable local solution that can be catalyzed right now. On a larger scale, offshore wind’s potential is yet to be realized. These and other renewable energy investments will catalyze the creation of thousands of new, well-paying Californian jobs, grow our economy, and, literally save lives.”

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reports that California has an enormous 112 GW of offshore wind technical power potential, representing 150 percent of the state’s current electricity use.

Natural gas is the common name for the fossil fuel, composed almost entirely of methane, that produces electricity, heats homes and is used in cooking. It’s the largest source of electricity in the U.S., the heating fuel that Europe depends on a belligerent Russia to supply, and a major contributor to the climate crisis.

Gas production is water intensive, adding to the state’s drought problem and the climate crisis. Yet, the state allows oil and gas operations to rob Californians of this precious resource. 

Water access in the Golden State is under threat of becoming more limited for everyday use like drinking, sanitation, and agricultural needs. Recently, Gov. Gavin Newsom, acknowledged the severity of the drought and ordered California cities and other local water agencies to reduce their water usage and tighten their conservation rules. According to the Department of Water Resources, on average, water levels are38 percent below normal for late March in California’s major reservoirs.

EOPA California says it’s time to stop the drilling and production of oil and gas to save our water for needed use.

“There are currently about 3,800 active wells in Ventura County. While we made history with our own resolution that created setbacks of 2,500 feet for wells, the oil industry is doing everything within their power to abolish it. We need the governor’s setback rule for oil wells to include existing oil wells,” said Carmen Ramirez, Ventura County Supervisor, EOPA California Leadership Council. “When fires raged around our agricultural workers they kept working. They should never have had to face conditions caused by fossil fuel production, which steals water from our community and contributes to the climate crisis. I implore the governor to stop new permitting for oil wells. Children today and the next generations deserve a future free of fossil fuel pollution and degradation. We must do what we can to save our planet before it is too late.”

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, about 9 million acres of farmland in California are irrigated, representing about 80 percent of the water used by people. In 2021, farmers were forced to leave 395,000 acres unplanted, resulting in nearly 9,000 lost jobs. Many agricultural operations served by the federal Central Valley Project are set to receive no water whatsoever this year. The Central Valley Project has announced a zero allocation for most of its customers, which include many of the largest farm-irrigation districts in the state.

A Chevron refinery fire that sent hundreds to the hospital in Richmond, CA.

California produces some of the dirtiest, most climate-damaging oil in the whole world. Still, every day, people living in communities next to refineries and wells suffer from dirty air pollution while living under the threat of a probable spill.

Refineries produce an airborne toxic soup of carcinogens, neurotoxins, and hazardous metals, including benzene, hydrogen cyanide, particulate matter, and lead. These toxins can cause cancer, birth defects, neurological damage, chronic bronchitis, and all too often asthma.These are the debilitating health realities Richmond faces daily. People living here just want a chance to live productive, healthy lives, said Eduardo Martinez Richmond Vice Mayor, EOPA California Leadership Council. “The state has to stop valuing fossil fuel profits over the lives and livelihoods of communities on the frontlines. Governor, please stop issuing any new oil permits, and put setbacks in place for existing wells.”

Crude imports roughly match refinery exports, polluting low-income communities for the sake of corporate profits and foreign interest.  

A study from Harvard University, in collaboration with three English universities, found that one in five premature deaths can be attributed to fossil fuel air pollution. Around the globe, almost 9 million people die annually because of fossil fuel pollution.

“In San Luis Obispo County, the Arroyo Grande Oil field produces some of the most climate-damaging oil in California. Residents who live near the oil field complain of the noise and smell at all hours of the day, and the potential contamination of their water wells. While I recognize and I am grateful for the work Governor Newsom has achieved in the race to save humanity from climate crisis calamities, there is clearly more he can do,” said Heidi Harmon Former Mayor San Luis Obispo, Senior Public Affairs Director of the Romero Institute’s Let’s Green CA, EOPA California Leadership Council. “He has the power with the stroke of a pen to stop more fossil fuel toxins from seeping into the air, water and land daily by ending permits. He can help communities live healthier lives by extending his setback rule to include existing oil wells. In the process the state can help grow good union jobs for workers, as we transition to a renewable energy economy that will protect our children’s future.”

The IPCC says governments and companies may need to invest three to six times the $600 billion they currently spend annually on promoting clean energy and reducing emissions. A failure to do so would very likely be more expensive.

As of May, 2018, 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.

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 are located in communities with above-average poverty rates for California, and 67 percent are located in communities of color.