23 September 2020

David Turnbull, david [at]
Aimee Dewing, aimee [at]

Last Chance Alliance: California Governor Newsom’s Executive Order on Climate Is Missing Action on Oil

SACRAMENTO, CA — Today, CA Governor Gavin Newsom announced an Executive Order to fight climate change in response to deadly wildfires raging throughout the state. Climate, environmental justice, and public health advocates with the Last Chance Alliance laud the bold steps by the Governor to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035, but demand immediate action to address the state’s oil extraction and production to meet the climate crisis. The coalition of 750 groups point out that without committing to a phase-out of oil production and a clear just transition policy to support workers and communities, Newsom’s order falls short. California must phase out fossil fuel extraction and production threatening the health and safety of the 5.4 million Californians living within a mile of an oil or gas well.

Focusing on advancing the state’s zero emissions vehicle mandate, Newsom’s order is devoid of a policy to phase out oil and gas drilling across the state. He offers only rhetoric in support for a health and safety setback around oil and gas wells, and recycling his campaign promise to enact a ban on fracking by passing the task to the legislature. For a just transition plan to be effective, and not a talking point, workers and communities need to be at the table.

Under the spotlight of national attention, Newsom’s recent focus on climate action stands in stark contrast with his record on oil and gas extraction in the state. Since the outset of 2020, Newsom’s administration has approved over 1,500 new permits for oil and gas drilling — a 190-percent increase when compared to the first six months of 2019. California remains one of the largest oil-producing states in the nation, despite its global reputation for climate leadership.

Advocates and frontline communities with the Alliance have been mounting pressure on the Governor to establish health and safety setback distances separating communities from thousands of oil wells across the state, end permitting for new oil and gas drilling, and commit to a phase-out of existing fossil fuel production. Today’s executive order directs state oil regulators to develop a stringent, science-based health and safety draft rule, which frontline community residents and health experts assert must be a 2,500-ft. minimum setback distance separating sensitive receptors and industrial oil operations.

Health threats associated with living near oil development are well documented and reflect the disproportionate impact of fossil fuel production on communities of color in California. Decades of unequal protections and regulatory failures in California have concentrated the health risks of oil operations in low-income communities and communities of color, further contributing to stark racial inequities in today’s public health crisis. Black and Brown Californians are more likely to die from the coronavirus due to exposure to toxic particulate matter. Today’s executive order acknowledges the health concerns faces by frontline communities, but by increasing dangerous drilling and fracking overwhelmingly located in communities of color, Governor Newsom undermines his own public statements supporting racial justice and public health.

The actions in Newsom’s order trail behind the climate leadership exhibited by other states and nations — undermining California’s reputation as a trailblazer for climate leadership, as he continues to permit extraction of some of the most carbon-intensive crude in the world. Health and safety setbacks protecting communities from oil and gas pollution have already been established in Ventura County, as well as the entire state of Colorado. Fracking has already been legally discontinued by California’s local elected officials in Monterey and Alameda Counties, joining Maryland, New York, France, Ireland, Scotland, and many other localities.

QUOTES from Last Chance Alliance members: 

“California needs bolder executive action that matches the dire climate crisis that we are in. Governor Newsom must step up to meet the needs of the millions of Californians who continue to suffer with the health impacts of living near oil and gas drilling. While Newsom’s Zero-Emission Vehicle mandate helps push us in the right direction, it falls short of ensuring the future of our climate over fossil fuels,” said Rebecca Concepcion Apostol, U.S. Program Director at Oil Change International. “Governor Newsom has the administrative power to give clear direction to stop drilling and enforce setbacks, and he has not used it to the extent he can to protect Californians and set a global example of what true climate leadership can look like.”

“In this time of multiple climate crises, we need actions that address the immediate health risks facing Californians. Today, millions of Californians are suffering from the ill effects of living near oil and gas drilling. And, California remains one of the only oil-producing states without an oil/gas safety buffer zone. To be a climate justice leader, Newsom needs to adopt setbacks immediately,” said Ingrid Brostrom, an environmental justice attorney and Assistant Director of the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment.

“When it comes to addressing fossil fuel extraction, Governor Newsom has offered little beyond rhetorical statements and baby steps since his time in office. If Newsom truly believes this is a ‘climate damn emergency,’ he must take bold action in line with what science demands. California residents need immediate relief. He has the ability right now to immediately halt new oil and gas permits; to begin  a fossil fuel phaseout that supports impacted workers and communities; and to commit to a gold-standard public health and safety buffer from harmful oil and gas drilling sites. Vague statements of support won’t fix the climate crisis, nor will they protect the wellbeing of frontline communities living near drilling sites,” said Caroline Henderson, Senior Climate Campaigner at Greenpeace USA.

“It’s time for elected leaders in California and LA to move beyond throwing rhetorical punches about climate denial and to act to stop the harm to human health and the environment from fossil fuels. If your climate leadership does not include relief for hundreds of thousands of Californians — the majority people of color — living with oil drilling in their neighborhood, then you are not serious about climate justice and creating healthier, more resilient communities,” said Martha Arguëllo, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles and Co-Chair of STAND-L.A.

“Setting a timeline to eliminate petroleum vehicles is a big step, but Newsom’s announcement provided rhetoric rather than real action on the other critical half of the climate problem — California’s dirty oil production,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “Newsom can’t claim climate leadership while handing out permits to oil companies to drill and frack. He has the power to protect Californians from oil industry pollution, and he needs to use it, not pass the buck.”

“Governor Newsom acknowledges the immediacy of the climate crisis, and the record-breaking heat waves and fires show the serious costs California is facing today. But he continues to focus on actions that are years into the future — while continuing to approve new oil and gas extraction today,” said Matt Leonard, Campaign Manager at “When you are in a hole, the first step is to stop digging. Newsom needs to immediately cease any expansion of the oil and gas industry, initiate a just transition to phase out existing production, and support a 2,500-foot health and safety buffer.”

“Governor Newsom has once again missed the point when it comes to real climate action: In order to stem the devastating impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, we must halt new fossil fuel drilling and fracking now, not later. Gov. Newsom just doesn’t get it, or he apparently doesn’t care,” said Alexandra Nagy, California Director with Food & Water Action. “Today’s announcements are infuriatingly more of the same from Newsom: Lofty words and predictions, but no meaningful action. He has repeatedly vowed to protect our communities, air and water from toxic oil and gas operations, yet drilling in the state has expanded under his watch.”

“Newsom has had a lackluster response to one of the biggest drivers of climate change, Oil and gas. Unmitigated damage in low-income communities from these toxic polluters have driven climate change and negatively affected public health across the state. A safety buffer zone must be put in place to protect frontline communities. It has been proven, by state studies, that it is not safe to live near oil and gas production. Frontline communities are made up of essential workers and drive California’s economy forward. To make sure all Californians can benefit we must start by protecting those who have been overlooked and overburdened first,” said Cesar Aguirre, Community Organizer with Central California Environmental Justice Network. 

“The Governor’s executive order is an impressive and clear commitment to move vehicles away from the internal combustion engine, but fails to address the refining and production of fossil fuels. No matter how clean California’s own fleet becomes, if we’re not careful we’ll end up as the gas station for the Pacific, exporting massive amounts of fossil fuels to feed the world’s addiction, while continuing to pollute communities near refineries,” said Wilder Zeiser, Climate Campaigner,

“We are grateful to Governor Newsom for putting the state on course for reducing warming pollutants from transportation, the largest greenhouse gas emissions sector in California, the nation’s largest car market. We also thank the governor for ordering by next July a just transition plan and its “expeditious” implementation,” said Ellie Cohen, CEO of The Climate Center. “But science demands more aggressive actions be taken sooner for the health of our planet and the health of our communities, especially frontline lower-income communities and communities of color. It’s time to immediately halt any new gas and oil drilling permits, and start the phase-out of fossil fuel production and exports.”

“While a step in the right direction, Governor Newsom’s climate initiatives announced today ultimately fail to address the elephant in the room: dirty oil,” said Tara Messing, Staff Attorney with the Environmental Defense Center. “As fires continue to engulf our state, the time is now to halt oil and gas production and risky techniques such as steam injection that threaten our communities’ most basic needs, clean air and clean water.”

“We appreciate Governor Newsom weighing into the national debate at this crucial time,” said Bahram Fazeli, Director of Research and Policy for Communities for A Better Environment. “However, in terms of how much this EO will help advance California’s climate justice policies in a meaningful way, it remains to be seen based on how courageously Governor’s appointees will translate these statements into meaningful policies that have teeth.”

“We may be youth organizers, but we’re old enough to understand Governor Newsom’s playbook: he makes big statements that sound nice — but in reality, only takes insufficient, incremental actions,” said Delia Ridge Creamer, Sunrise Movement Bay Area. “While today’s executive order is a step in the right direction, it was not the bold action that youth climate organizers and frontline communities have been demanding. California is on fire. This is not enough.”

“The governor’s action to cut dependence on oil for transportation is an important step in fighting climate change, which is driving the wildfires devastating communities in our state. But he has yet to take the definitive action we need to protect Californians by banning fracking and enacting 2,500 foot setbacks between oil and gas wells and the places we live, work and play,” said Nicole Ghio, Senior Fossil Fuels Program Manager at Friends of the Earth.

“While we are grateful that Governor Newsom is addressing a weight shackled to the legs of all Californians in how much oil we burn when we drive our cars and the greenhouse gasses that are created; recent fires have been a wake-up call that Newsom needs to reverse course. It’s now or never for him to take emergency action when so many of our lives are on the line. Kicking the can down the road like his predecessor while taking credit for action not yet done isn’t green, it’s Brown.  We need to tackle the biggest life- threatening issue facing us today, and address the extraction and burning of fossil fuels which are the root of the problem for these fires on steroids thanks to climate change,” said David Braun of Rootskeeper. “If Governor Newsom is the climate leader he says, and so his kids aren’t eyeballs deep in seawater melt from existing ice caps from Antarctica 30 years from now, he should stop permitting the drilling and extraction of oil, plain and simple. Issuing an executive order implementing an immediate 2,500-foot health and safety buffer zone accomplishes that,, while achieving another tweeted priority of the Governor, helping black and brown lives by protecting the health of those most in communities nearby oil drilling and thereby increasing life expectancies.” 

“It’s disappointing Governor Newsom failed to use this moment to ban new fossil fuel projects in the state of California or impose overdue public health setbacks between communities and oil and gas projects,” said Madeline Rose, Climate Campaign Director for Pacific Environment. “The 2035 zero-emission auto directive is significant, but it is neither what frontline California communities asked for nor commensurate with the scale of climate crisis we face.”