Oped By Mercedes Macias, a senior organizer for the Sierra Club, based in Kern County.
If it wasn’t already clear that the Kern County Board of Supervisors is more concerned with the interests of fossil fuel executives than with the health and well-being of Kern County residents, it’s glaringly obvious now.
In response to bold action by Governor Newsom and the California Geologic Energy Management Division to ban dangerous fracking for oil in our state, the board has initiated a frivolous, taxpayer-funded lawsuit that only serves to remind us how uninterested they are in the future of our communities.
This is not the first time the board has ignored the wishes of Kern County residents in favor of the fossil fuel industry. This spring, ignoring more than 11 hours of public testimony from concerned Kern residents, the board voted unanimously to pass an ordinance that would add tens of thousands of new wells over the next two decades, posing a grave threat to public health and causing irreversible environmental damage.
In passing this ordinance, the board ignored countless pleas from Californians for clean air, clean water and a diverse economy that is not reliant on the volatile fossil fuel industry. Instead, they voted for expanded toxic oil and gas extraction in the county — where already more than 80 percent of California’s oil and gas extraction takes place — which would cause devastating public health impacts in an area that already has some of the nation’s worst air quality.
Numerous scientific studies show a direct link between oil and gas pollution and a wide range of serious adverse health impacts, the burden of which is disproportionately borne by already-vulnerable communities of color. Continued reliance on fracking also harms our economies and puts workers at risk. We know that the clean energy revolution is coming, whether we like it or not, and by failing to recognize this, our county leaders are setting up oil workers to be left behind.
When local leaders are abdicating their responsibility to protect the community, the state can and must step in. I am grateful that Governor Newsom and CalGEM have stepped up to protect frontline communities and workers by moving to ban new fracking permits by 2024 and assess how California can phase out oil and gas drilling altogether by 2045. I have also been glad to see CalGEM use its authority to deny permit applications in the meantime for new fracking wells that would threaten our health, safety and environmental quality, as well as digging up more climate-polluting fossil fuels at a time when science tells us we must stop immediately to avert the worst of the climate crisis we are already facing.
Whether the Kern County Board of Supervisors is willing to admit it or not, fracking disrupts our communities, makes us sick, and damages our environment. I’m thankful that Governor Newsom’s administration is taking action to move California beyond dangerous fracking toward a healthier, more sustainable economy.
Kern County shouldn’t have to choose between good jobs and our health. We deserve to have safe jobs and access to training and educational opportunities so that workers no longer have to rely on dangerous, unstable oil jobs. And we deserve better than local elected officials who spend more time on taxpayer-funded political stunts than actually looking out for Kern residents. If the board truly cares about the community, it would do whatever it takes to protect public health and create new economic opportunities, not waste our time and money trying to force more fracking on us.
Mercedes Macias is a senior organizer for the Sierra Club, based in Kern County.