air pollution the release of dirty waste into the environment

Oped by Firebaugh City former mayor & current council-member Felipe Perez

February 2, 2021

Uncertainty, it’s what humans inherently fear and despise, it’s what investors can’t abide. But uncertainty is Governor Newsom’s political chess game. After two years he’s left many uncertain if he’ll take real action to protect the health and well-being of millions of his people who live in environmental injustices areas. He’s also left oil company executives and lobbyists, the latter, as reported in the LA Times he wined and dined at the French Laundry restaurant, uncertain that he’s totally onboard with them. They question his electric vehicle policy.

But for those who live and work near an oil refinery they are certain he doesn’t care about their future, or that of their children, as more and more become ill with cancer, asthma and respiratory illnesses. For those who live in counties, like Kern or Ventura, whose schools, homes and public areas are adjacent to oil wells, their certain he doesn’t care that their children wake up in the night with nose bleeds, and are too often rushed to the hospital all because of the pollution emitting from the wells. Some never wake up.

CA has the most oil refineries on the West Coast. But not all the oil refined comes from California or is used by the people of our state. During the last ten years, the West coast’s demand for refined crude oil products has been going down, while crude oil imports to refineries has been going up, along with refinery exports.

These refineries process the heaviest types of crude, which requires more energy dumping more harmful pollutants, including dangerous particulate matter, into the air mainly damaging the health of people who live in communities of color that surround them. Much of that pollution — up to 33 percent — comes from refining imported oil to export as fuel Californians’ don’t use or need. CA welcomes dirty tar sands from Canada and oil to process from Saudi Aribia and other countries solely for the sake of making money for these businesses, while endangering people who live here.

Representing all Californians means to take care of all Californians, not the bottom line of oil companies. He’s said, “we’re in a damn climate emergency.” But his measures to increase electric vehicles (EV’s) and establish more charging stations will do very little for those still suffering from the lack of basic oil and gas well safety setbacks, of a mere 2, 500 feet.

EV’s are pipe dreams for folks in environmental injustice areas who day in and day out have to breathe in deadly toxins emitted in the process of refining heavy and dirty crude. He will say his cap-n-trade system is working but their air remains full of carcinogen and other life-threatening particulates that build up in the body.

People are dying from industrial oil and gas businesses that still get subsidies from the government. These industries can afford to put in place safety setbacks, plug disused oil and gas wells and clean up their environmental degradation. These companies, who import oil to refine, don’t need any more permits for the obvious reason the people of our state aren’t using up to 33 percent of what is refined.

In 2020, the agency in charge of issuing permits, CalGEM, approved 3,344, including 1,884 new permits and 1,460 oil well rework permits. New permits approved during the first nine months of 2020 rose 160 percent. The Fractracker Alliance published a study on the potential impacts of health and safety setbacks and environmental justice in California revealing that 2.7 million people, mostly low income and people of color, live within 2,500′ of oil and gas infrastructure, and a total of 7.37 million Californians live within 1 mile of oil and gas wells. The report, People and Production: Reducing Risk in California Extraction, recommends a setback of at least one mile between oil and gas wells and homes, schools, based on the peer reviewed literature.

If more people knew these basic facts, they’d know Newsom’s chess game. Every move he makes shows he’s dedicated to businesses, not to his people. He likes to make fancy chess moves like inviting the press when he announced his clean car objectives, telling business we will be the capital of EV manufacturing, but staying away from talking about the damage refineries are doing to communities — not wanting to lose any business. If you are a wealthy business person in the state of California, you’re a bishop or knight honored by the king. He’d object to that comparison but his record of using pawns — we the people who live in environmental injustice areas — is clear.

While he’ll say he may want setbacks around the wells, he also has indicated that he needs more studies. The issue has been studied copiously, even by the state, meanwhile people continue to be removed from the chessboard.

While he’ll say he wants to ban fracking, he continues to release permits in Kern, and other areas, for that highly contaminating process.

While he’ll say, he is improving the wellbeing of those who live in environmental injustice areas because of his EV strategy — he neglects the fact that people who are already suffering can’t wait for emission to gradually decrease. People haven’t seen any tangible restrictions put on the oil refinery businesses that are killing them.

We live in uncertain times, within a pandemic recession. And, yet again, those living in environmental injustices areas are being hurt the most and dying at rates twice as much as whites. From farm workers who continued to work during the apocalyptic fires, many of whom also live near wells that have no setbacks, breathing in double doses of pollution — from chemicals on the food and the wells — to people living next to refineries. He dares call us heroes and essential workers. We know we’re being used as his pawns.

When will he see we are people with hopes and dreams for better futures, which are being crushed by health disparities and inequalities simply because of our zip codes? The Latinx community is close to forty percent of California’s population. We outnumber lobbyists. My uncertainty lies in if the governor know pawns can checkmate a king.