Whether you have had this experience in a relationship of your own or witnessed it in the relationship of others, you have more than likely heard of the concept of codependency and the dysfunctionality it creates. Using manipulation in order to control behaviors, being loyal and remaining in harmful situations and making decisions without addressing the consequences are some of the harmful characteristics of a codependent relationship; and it’s exactly the type of relationship Kern County has with the oil and gas industry. Assembly Bill 345 will be a step in breaking our county’s compliance patterns of codependency.

This source of natural resources has helped shape Kern County’s economy ever since the commercial oil extraction era began more than a century ago. Furthermore, just as Kern County is economically dependent on oil production, the state of California is economically dependent on Kern County - since the county is responsible for about 80 percent of all the oil California produces. According to the U.S. Census, one-fifth of Kern County lives in poverty, which is a rate well above the national average; and half of the community identifies as Hispanic or Latinx descent. As an individual who identifies as Mexican and who was born and raised in Bakersfield, the county’s largest city which is surrounded by oil production fields, I have experienced a culture that values hard work and has internalized the idea of individuality stemming from systemic and structural barriers or lack of knowledge/navigation for different forms of opportunity. Lastly, Bakersfield is also known to be one of the least educated cities in the nation. Due to the dynamics in play, Kern County’s codependency on oil has socially created the community’s dependency to work and engage with the oil industry in order to survive.

Kern County’s oil and gas projects are not required to have environmental reviews, shielding their environmental impacts from the public. Continuously, the county has failed to weigh the interests of the community or the environment, and its economic loyalty to oil keeps the community in harmful situations such as exposure to harmful emissions, bad air quality, dangerous working conditions and lowered groundwater quality all without the public’s knowledge. In addition, the county controls the community members’ behaviors by offering work opportunities for a culture that values work, lives in poverty and is uneducated. This dynamic continues to enforce these characteristics in Kern County, causing environmental injustices and social inequalities such as educational attainment.

AB 345 provides environmental justice to Kern County by regulation of actions in oil and gas production facilities. First suggested in February 2019 by the State Resources Board, AB 345 would make an environmental justice program that would require the Department of Conservation to make regulations that protect the health and safety of the public that lives near oil and gas facilities before July 1, 2022, by:

● Setting a minimum distance of 2,500 feet between the activities of oil and gas facilities from places like, “schools, childcare facilities, playgrounds, residences, hospitals, and health clinics.”

● Requiring the Natural Resources Agency to identify gaps in current policies, programs or activities that would prevent environmental justice such as the non-requirement of oil projects to have environmental impact reviews.

● Require the Natural Resources Agency to develop a program that enables environmental justice and community groups to participate in the regulatory process.

● And requiring the regulation of protecting public health to be based on health and scientific data, as opposed to not protecting the health of the public due to the economic lens the county uses when viewing oil and gas production facilities.

Parts of this bill help Kern County's population in a lot of ways. AB 345 would greatly lower the negative health impacts associated with communities that live near oil production fields, such as in Arvin, and make our community aware of the impacts of oil production which will then give us a voice that can be heard.

The bill is currently in the state Senate, and its requirements and potential good impacts are why I urge the members of Kern County to support it. Help provide safer conditions for our county’s residents by bringing to light how bad the environmental injustices and social impacts are due to their codependent relationship with oil.

Joel Hernandez, of Bakersfield, is pursuing a master’s of public health at UC Berkeley.

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