Hidden in a detailed California budget document released last week (the so-called “May Revision”) was a critical sentence that, if pursued, could mark a major shift in California climate policy. At the top of page 74 of the mid-year budget revision issued by California’s Governor Gavin Newsom on May 9th, the document states (emphasis added):

Keen observers will note the inclusion of “supply of fossil fuels” as the new development. This may mark the first time that a sitting governor in California has recognized the need to embark upon a managed decline of fossil fuel supply in the state, in addition to efforts to ramp down fossil fuel demand. And if acted upon, could set a global precedent for action in a major oil-producing region to ramp down fossil fuel production based on climate imperatives.

Bill McKibben put it succinctly:

Environmental justice advocates across the state jumped to applaud this recognition as well.

We at Oil Change International released a statement highlighting this critical development, saying,

“Today’s support by Governor Newsom of the need to ramp down fossil fuel supply in tandem with reducing demand marks a critical recognition of what true climate leadership must look like in the face of our ever-worsening climate crisis. California can set a new standard of leadership by being one of the first major oil- and gas-producing jurisdictions to ramp down its fossil fuel production in line with what the climate demands and prioritizing a just transition for impacted communities and workers.”

“When you’re in a hole as we are with the climate crisis, the first step is to stop digging. We already have more fossil fuels than we can afford to burn, and every barrel of new oil production makes the problem worse. California can lead the way by showing what a true managed decline can look like, and we applaud Governor Newsom for his recognition of that imperative.”

The stakes are high for the climate and communities when it comes to oil drilling in California. In May of 2018, Oil Change International released  “The Sky’s Limit California: Why the Paris Climate Goals Demand that California Lead in a Managed Decline of Oil Extraction.” In it we outlined both the climate imperatives of ramping down oil and gas production in California, and also the steps California needs to take in order to do so in a way that matches what climate science demands and prioritizes support for communities impacted by the transition.

In that report, we highlighted that continued permitting of new oil and gas production in California could result in some 560 million barrels of additional oil production in a twelve year span, at precisely the time we need to be rapidly moving off fossil fuels. Further, we found that some 8,500 active oil and gas wells in California are within 2,500 feet of homes, schools, and hospitals, and are disproportionately located in many of the state’s most polluted communities.

Aligned with this analysis, hundreds of groups came together last year to demand action from then-Governor Jerry Brown. Under the auspices of the “Brown’s Last Chance” campaign, Brown was pushed to take action to protect communities impacted by neighborhood drilling through the implementation of a 2500-foot health and safety buffer zone, and also to embark the state upon a managed decline of oil and gas production in line with climate imperatives. He refused to take action, despite his desire to be remembered as a climate champion in California.

With the end of the Brown administration and the start of the Newsom tenure this year, hopes are high that a new era of climate leadership will emerge in California. Could the inclusion of the need for a managed decline of fossil fuel supply in California in Newsom’s budget document be an indicator of some new policy to come?

Two days after the May Revision came out, Governor Newsom was talking about oil and gas drilling again, this time in pushing back against the Trump administration’s plans to open up California’s public lands to new oil drilling.

These statements could — if followed up by concrete action — mark a critical change from the past governor’s administration policies. Governor Newsom is saying the right thing about drilling on public lands, and is hinting at the right thing for all California communities, not just public lands.

It remains to be seen whether this talk will be followed up by action to protect all of California’s communities and our climate by stopping the issuance of new oil drilling, putting in place a 2500-foot health and safety buffer zone, and rolling out a managed decline of existing production aligned with climate science. We’ll be watching…

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