FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 21, 2021
Last Chance Alliance Responds to Governor Newsom Announcing Statewide 3,200-foot Setbacks Separating Communities from Toxic Oil Operations
WILMINGTON, CA — Today, Gov. Newsom announced that California’s oil regulator, California Geologic Energy Management Division (CalGEM) has released its long-awaited draft health and safety rule recommending a mandated 3,200-foot distance between new oil and gas extraction sites and the places where people live, work and play. According to the Associated Press: the 32,400 wells within 3,200 feet of community sites account for about a third of the state’s oil extraction. The draft rule announced today would not ban wells already operating in that zone but would add new pollution controls.
For more than a decade the communities living on the frontlines of the state’s dirty fossil fuel industry, with the support of climate justice advocates across the state, have been advocating for basic public health and safety protections from polluting drill sites. This is the first time the state has mandated a distance between industrial fossil fuel operations and homes, schools and parks, joining other states like Texas, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.
Two years ago, Gov. Newsom directed CalGEM to undertake a rule-making process that better reflects its strengthened mission to protect public health and the environment. During public rule-making workshops last year, more than 40,000 Californians urged the Governor and CalGEM to address the urgent crisis facing millions of people who live closest to oil extraction, disproportionately impacting communities of color who already suffer from some of the highest concentrations of environmental pollution in the state. Newsom’s announcement today will set into motion a 60-day public comment period.
California has long produced some of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive crude oil in the world, with operations taking place dangerously close to homes, schools, hospitals and other sensitive sites. Proximity to oil development causes health effects such as headaches, upper respiratory illness, nausea, nosebleeds, preterm births, increased cancer risk, and infertility.
For years, groups with the Last Chance Alliance have been at the forefront of the movement to move California beyond fossil fuel, demanding our elected leaders enact supply-side policy solutions to address the health and climate threats posed by in-state oil drilling. In response to today’s announcement, groups have released the following statements:
“Wilmington residents have lived with the dangerous health impacts of oil drilling for far too long. The Governor’s announcement regarding the CALGEM rulemaking shows us that the Newsom administration is listening to us,” said Wendy Miranda, Wilmington Community Member at Communities for a Better Environment. “But now we need them to strengthen this rule and make it law. Countless frontline environmental justice communities have been waiting for this rule and we look forward to engaging in the process to ensure that workers and communities are protected as this rule is finalized.”
“A 3,200-foot buffer around oil and gas extraction is a critical win for communities living with drilling in their backyards who have been fighting for these protections for years. This rule should be implemented as quickly as possible, with no loopholes,” said Collin Rees, U.S. Campaigns Manager at Oil Change International. “But Governor Newsom must step up his game — there is *no* safe distance at which oil and gas drilling is acceptable for the climate. California must ban all new oil and gas permits, join the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance of states and nations committing to an end to extraction, and phase out existing drilling with a just transition.”
“After years of delay, we are encouraged by this announcement from the Newsom administration, which sends a strong signal that oil and gas drilling has no place in neighborhoods. We’re ready to carry this rule home and make sure it actually accomplishes what we need it to accomplish: the end of neighborhood oil and gas drilling,” said Neena Mohan, Climate Justice Manager at the California Environmental Justice Alliance. “If the final rule doesn’t do that, then it’s not enough. Black, Indigenous, Latinx and Asian immigrant communities deserve neighborhoods free from air, water and soil pollution. We know today’s announcement of 3,200 ft setbacks for frontline communities is just a first, critical step. Oil and gas executives won’t let neighborhood oil drilling end without a fight — and we’ll keep fighting for working people until every person’s right to clean air in every neighborhood is guaranteed.”
“Today’s announcement represents years of work by environmental justice advocates to put public health first after over a century of prioritizing oil company profits above health and safety. Governor Newsom and his administration is now listening to the front line communities and health professionals who have borne the burden of proving they have been harmed by oil extraction,” said Martha Dina Argüello, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles. “We know there is no safe distance for oil and gas drilling, but until we phase out all drilling our communities will continue to be at risk from day-to-day operations and the continuous threat of catastrophic accidents like we saw in Orange County. We look forward to reviewing the regulations and working towards a healthy and equitable transition.”
“Science has confirmed the need for a 3,200-foot setback for communities living close to oil and gas. Residents of environmental justice communities in Kern County, like those living in Lamont, Arvin, Lost Hills who have for decades been suffocated with dangerous gases from the oil facilities surrounding their homes, are finally receiving good news,” said Nayamin Martinez, Executive Director at the Central California Environmental Justice Network. “Today’s decision is promising — but we need to demonstrate the first step towards health is as important as the profits of the oil companies that are cozy with Kern County politicians.”
“Oil and gas companies have been treating our communities as sacrifice zones for over a century. This industry has elevated its own profits above the health, well-being, and lives of primarily BIPOC and low-income communities.” said Juan Flores, community organizer at the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. “Frontline community members have spoken in a clear voice, demanding an end to neighborhood drilling. Today, Governor Newsom and CalGEM have announced a health and safety setback of 3200 feet, a strong step in the right direction. However, this draft rule misses the chance to prohibit new permits for existing wells, a key element for our communities. We look forward to working with the administration to close this loophole and quickly move to protect our communities at long last.”
“Governor Newsom’s announcement is a victory for communities on the frontlines of drilling who suffer the daily health impacts of proximity to fossil fuel extraction,” said Alexandra Nagy, California Director at Food & Water Watch. “3,200 foot buffer zones between sensitive community sites and drill locations are a vital step in protecting Californians from the pollution and emissions of fossil fuels. But we know that there is only one way for Governor Newsom to truly protect Californians from the public health and environmental crises caused by fossil fuels: stop issuing oil and gas permits immediately.”
“Governor Newsom’s momentous announcement today opens the door to a better future for millions of Californians living near harmful oil and gas extraction. This success belongs to the frontline communities and environmental justice groups who for years have implored our lawmakers to end dangerous neighborhood drilling. It’s now essential that both regulators and Governor Newsom see these precedent-setting pollution protections across the finish line and remain steadfast in the face of oil and gas executives intent on weakening it,” said Annie Leonard, Executive Co-Director at Greenpeace USA. “While we applaud his leadership, Governor Newsom still has plenty left to do to chart a fossil free future. As he deals with record-breaking fires and a toxic oil spill, and as he prepares to take the global stage at the UN climate talks in Glasgow, the Governor must make good on his commitment to build a just and fossil free future. Halting new drilling and putting forth a plan to support workers and communities in the transition off fossil fuels is the only way to get there.”
“As an elected official who grew up next door to Kern County’s large oil fields, I’ve witnessed and suffered the terrible health effects and injustice of drilling next to neighborhoods,” said Katie Valenzuela, Sacramento City Councilmember and California Co-Chair of Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA). “While I applaud Governor Newsom’s step forward today, we must acknowledge that the rule as proposed fails to address existing wells in communities. We strongly encourage the Newsom Administration to keep working with frontline communities to push for a rule that ends all oil and gas drilling within 3,200 ft of homes, schools, hospitals, playgrounds, and farms to accelerate the phase out of fossil fuel production in California.”
“Oil and gas companies have polluted California’s frontline communities for far too long,” said Woody Hastings, Energy Program Manager at The Climate Center. “This rule is a victory for community health advocates and a critical recognition that people’s well-being must come before polluter profits. We thank Governor Newsom for taking this long-awaited first step to address environmental injustice. Now, we urge him to continue by rapidly phasing out fossil fuels from all sectors of our economy, halting all permits for new oil and gas projects, and investing in a just transition for impacted workers and their families.”
“The largest statewide buffer zone in the country is a huge victory for frontline communities that have fought for health protections for years,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “Gov. Newsom is showing how health protection and climate ambition go hand in hand. Heading into the U.N. climate talks in Glasgow next month, we need more leadership like this that finally confronts the climate, health and justice crises created by the fossil fuel industry.”
“The oil-first approach in place until today must be left behind once and for all,” said Matt Nelson, Executive Director at Presente.org. “The Newsom administration can also get real in its commitment to address the root causes of climate change and tackle head-on long standing social and economic policies that fuel inequality and climate destruction.”
“This is such an important win for frontline communities, and an important step from Gov. Newsom to recognize and take action on the impacts that California’s crude habit has on people unfortunate enough to live in polluted production zones,” said Wilder Zeiser, U.S. Oil & Gas Climate Campaigner at Stand.earth. “The next step is to directly reduce California’s crude demand, and reduce the pollution from both extraction and refining that frontline communities are exposed to.”
“The announcement of a 3,200-foot setback distance is a huge first step towards protecting the health and safety of California’s frontline communities. We are excited to see recognition from Governor Newsom that the oil and gas industry has been polluting communities, and that the administration is taking concrete action to protect Californians from further harm,” said Brandon Dawson, Director of Sierra Club California. “A denial of new permits within 3,200 feet is a great start, but it’s past time that we end all drilling in our communities. This distance should also include rework permits, since those make up the bulk of permits in our neighborhoods. We will be closely reviewing the draft rule, and will continue to work to protect the health and safety of all Californians.”
“For decades the San Joaquin Valley has seen epidemic levels of sickness from being one of the nation’s most polluted air basins for fine particle (PM2.5) and ozone pollution. Oil and gas operations emit toxic air pollutants including PM2.5, a major contributor to serious cases of COVID-19, and are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Catherine Garoupa-White with the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition. “Today’s draft rule is a crucial first step in a continuing battle to protect everyone, especially frontline communities, from the worst of oil and gas byproducts. Health and safety buffers will combat climate change and improve air quality, protecting the right to breathe clean air. We call on the Newsom administration to strengthen the rule and demand rework permits be included in the final rule.”
“Today Governor Newsom announced the expansion of setbacks to 3,200 feet from sensitive receptors. This is great news for the children of California. This draft rule is a step towards protecting their health and safety. However, we know that we must do more for the families on the frontlines that live near oil and gas operations.” said Alicia Nichols Gonzalez, California Organizing Manager at Mothers Out Front. “We still have a long way to go to achieve environmental justice — we call on Governor Newsom to go further by finalizing a rule that ends all neighborhood drilling and all permitting for fossil fuels.”