Kern County's days as a capital of crude oil production are numbered. California is seeing to that. Bakersfield hasn't reached the end of that road but we can see the T intersection ahead in the distance.
In no uncertain terms, Gov. Gavin Newsom has made clear that this state will continue working toward a carbon-neutral future, and task one is eliminating the practices and institutions that inhibit that quest.
"That's California's identity," Newsom said during a visit last month to the site of a west Kern oil spill. "It's who we are. It's what we do better than anyone else."
Indeed it is. California has been working toward a green economy on several fronts for years. Then, last month, Newsom put his signature on a state budget that includes $1.5 million to study a managed decline of the state’s oil production.
That is, the managed decline of Kern County's top, non-farming industry.
Many will cheer Newsom's larger objective, and some will sneer, but the fact is, without a suitable replacement, shutting down the California oil industry will devastate the economy of a region that is already among the state's poorest.
It's not enough to declare that Kern County leaders must dedicate their efforts to the diversification of this economy. That is a given. Kern County must identify a champion newcomer of depth and potential, and pursue it.
Some will point to logistics — warehousing, to translate — but those jobs are not high-paying, certainly not in the six-figure orbit of oil industry jobs. And since logistics relies on overland truck traffic, it is not environmentally friendly and so runs counter to the whole purpose of this grand undertaking by California.
If the state taketh away, however, so must it give.
Newsom's green government must help lure an auspicious replacement to Bakersfield. Computer manufacturing. Biotechnology research. Semiconductor development.
Or, most appropriately, renewable energy research, development and manufacturing.
All of those industries will require investments in education — new or enhanced programs at Bakersfield College, CSU Bakersfield and other regional institutions that can train workers for these new employers.
Would state-level tax breaks be enough to attract a player, or players, of such scale that the pain of a diminished oil industry might sufficiently ease? That's hard to imagine. We'll need more than that.
Public-private partnerships, already common in infrastructure development, might be worthy of discussion. Could that model translate to rooted, brick-and-mortar workplaces? I don't know if the framework for an undertaking like that exists yet.
This "managed decline" study, underway now under the auspices of the University of California, will "evaluate pathways to achieve a carbon neutral economy by 2045, manage the decline of in-state production as the state’s fossil fuel demand decreases, and assess potential impacts to disadvantaged and low-income communities and strategies to address those impacts."
It must also look at what removing such a vital regional industry will do to a local economy.
The local oil industry employs about 10,000 people directly, and 30,000 work in associated jobs. But this isn't just about jobs and their trickle down effect on the community's overall quality of life.
Oil company holdings are one of county government's top sources of property tax revenue. As we have seen in Kern County, even a marginal dip in the value of those lands, due most often to low oil prices, can result in drastic decreases in public services, including law enforcement.
Environmentalists want to see the state's oil extraction business shut down sooner rather than later, but Newsom — somebody — needs to make the point that the state's economy still runs on fossil fuels and will for decades to come. The oil pumped out of Kern County wells is subject to some of the most stringent environmental regulations in the world. Turning off the pumps in the southern San Joaquin just so California can turn to foreign exporters with dirtier extraction practices makes no sense.
Newsom is aware of all this, of course.
"Before we do anything precipitously, before we do anything audaciously, (people need to know) that we have their back and that we have something better that's more (economically) significant than what we have today," he said during that Kern County stop on July 24.
"I want to be very honest with people that we're not going to leave anyone behind," he said.
Can we take him at his word? In his first State of the State address in February, Newsom gave the Central Valley an encouraging shout-out.
"Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield and communities in between are more dynamic than many realize," Newsom said. "The Valley may be known around the world for agriculture, but there is another story ready to be told."
We're all ears, governor. This would be a good time to tell it.