Kern County officials pilloried Gov. Gavin Newsom's executive order Wednesday accelerating California's transition away from oil and gas production and calling for a ban on most in-state sales of new internal-combustion vehicles within 15 years.
Elected representatives in state and county government condemned the governor's actions as failing to identify an alternative source of jobs and government revenues in a region economically dependent on oil and gas extraction.
They called Newsom's action — which came amid increasing political pressure from environmental groups and unprecedented wildfire activity many blame on manmade climate change — an irresponsible burden falling disproportionately on Kern County.
"Gov. Newsom today has decided that Kern County and our hard working 900,000 people don’t matter," county Supervisor Zack Scrivner said by email, adding that no other county builds more renewable energy and alternative fuel. "I ask — what is the plan when we (county residents and government) don’t exist anymore?"
Added county Supervisor Mike Maggard, "If (Newsom) is arbitrarily going to decide to devastate the economy of a region, he has the moral obligation to provide for an alternative employment source for tens of thousands of people."
The clash escalates a years-long battle between California oil producers, who note the state's fuel is increasingly provided by foreign producers with lower environmental standards, and activists pressing for greater protections for communities living near oil facilities — or a prompt end to in-state petroleum extraction.
The Sierra Club California characterized Newsom's order as merely a "first step to help move further away from the fossil fuels that have created this worldwide crisis."
Director Kathryn Phillips said in a news release the governor should quit permitting new drilling and other oil infrastructure while also increasing construction of renewable power sources. The club is also encouraging the state to provide "proper support and resource to ensure a fair transition for fossil fuel workers."
Newsom's order urges quick action to deal with a "climate change crisis" he says is having unprecedented, harsh impacts. To that end he ordered state officials to ensure all new passenger cars and trucks are zero-emission by 2035. He also urged prompt action on improving local transit and development of affordable fueling and charging operations.
With regard to oil and gas production, the governor asked that California's Legislature halt the controversial oilfield technique known as fracking by 2024. He called on state agencies to expedite the process for repurposing oil production and refining facilities, speed the responsible closure and remediation of former oil wells and quickly draft new rules for protecting neighbors from nearby drilling.
While Newsom specifically mentioned the need to cushion the impacts on communities that rely on oil production, he made no specific recommendations for how that would be done. An ongoing state effort to forge strategies for such a transition has not yet released any proposals.
Kern's top planner, Lorelei Oviatt, blasted the governor's call for action on climate change without a plan for preserving the county's economy.
"My point is, if you’re going to make this type of announcement then where is the fiscal companion that talks about how you’re going to? How is Kern County going to keep the lights on?” she asked. "Where are the companies? Where is the business?"
She referred to a 2018 study the county commissioned to examine the local economic impact of doing away with automobiles and gasoline-related businesses. The study concluded losses would include 7,794 jobs, $3.9 billion in business revenues, $294 million in payroll and $85.6 million in tax benefits.
Republicans among Kern's Sacramento delegation denounced the governor's actions as out of touch.
State Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, said Californians "have had enough" with extremist policies that have led to rolling blackouts and shuttered businesses. She asserted in a news release that Californians cannot survive without oil and gas or petroleum byproducts.
"Instead of producing (oil) under the strictest environmental regulations in the world," she stated, "our state will be doing more business with foreign regimes that have abysmal environmental and human rights standards."
Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, accused Newsom of engaging in political theater with his executive order Wednesday.
"The reality is that there are real costs and job loss, particularly in the Central Valley, due to Gavin Newsom's decisions today," he said in a news release. "The responsible thing to do right now is to ensure we have sound energy policy that will provide an affordable, reliable and sustainable path forward for everyone."