Three Central Valley elected officials have added their names to a petition urging Gov. Jerry Brown to end oil and gas production in California — a move that, if successful, would heavily impact Kern's economy and county property tax revenues.
Huron Mayor Rey Leon, San Joaquin City Councilman Jose Ornelas and Eric Payne, a trustee at State Center Community College District in Fresno County, joined 150 government officials statewide asking Brown to withhold petroleum permits, among other measures, as a way to reduce pollution and slow climate change. The petition was originally sent to the governor June 26.
“The biggest impact of fossil fuels are in our communities with the lowest income families, and farm worker communities like mine with poor air quality and contamination from fracking (the well-stimulation technique also called hydraulic fracturing) and drilling,” Leon said in a news release Thursday.
The group behind the petition, Elected Officials to Protect California, an offshoot of an anti-oil organization founded on the East Coast, has proposed ending oil and gas work within 2,500 feet of homes and other sensitive areas, as part of a transition to full reliance on renewable energy.
As the state’s leader in petroleum production, Kern would suffer economic harm if the campaign to end oil and gas work were to succeed. The industry employed some 12,000 workers countywide until a downturn in barrel prices in mid-2014. Kern is also a leading producer of wind and solar power.
Tracy Leach, director of the pro-oil group Kern Citizens for Energy, expressed frustration with political efforts to curtail petroleum production in the state.
“it’s incredibly disheartening to see some California politicians continually work to outsource our oil and gas demands to foreign countries — many with abysmal environmental and human rights records — rather than keeping those jobs and critical tax revenues right here in our state, benefitting the people of California,” she wrote in an email.
Oil industry groups challenged the notion that stopping petroleum production would advance California’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. They said it would instead increase the state’s dependence on fuel imported from countries with weaker environmental regulations, while also driving up costs for consumers.
“Outlandish demands like fossil fuel bans are counterproductive,” Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of Western States Petroleum Association, said in an email. “There is a balanced approach to common challenges. Let’s discover together how we can continue to meet environmental goals, provide affordable, reliable fuel for millions of Californians to ensure all of our prosperity.”
Rock Zierman, CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association, added that meeting California’s environmental goals and energy needs requires an “all-of-the-above energy portfolio.” He noted the state’s use of imported oil has quadrupled in the last 20 years.
Brown has taken steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in California and signed the state's first rules on the oilfield practice of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." But he has otherwise taken a measured approach to oil production.
Most of the elected officials that have signed the anti-oil group’s petition are from Northern and Southern California. Arvin Mayor Jose Gurrola is the only Kern County elected official to have signed the petition.
Efforts on Friday afternoon to reach county supervisors representing Kern’s richest oil-producing regions were unsuccessful.