Oil buffer-zone bill suffers setback during public hearing supporters call unfair

Thousands of jobs and tens of millions of dollars in tax revenues were saved by Democrats killed a Regressive Democrat plan to kill off the oil industry in Kern County.

“The bill introduced by Assemblyman Albert Y. “Al” Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, would require the state’s primary oil-regulatory agency to set up its own environmental justice program and consider creating a 2,500-foot setback between petroleum facilities and schools, playgrounds and other public places where children gather.

Environmental justice advocates say such a buffer would protect humans from gases released by oil and gas wells. They point to studies suggesting such facilities are associated with exposure to high concentrations of dangerous air pollutants.

Industry groups contend the science is unclear and that 2,500 feet is an arbitrary distance that may not be appropriate in all cases. While not uniformly against some sort of setback standard, they say AB 345 could force the closure of thousands of oil and gas wells in Kern County alone.

The Assemblyman is from Torrance, the location of several major West Coast oil refineries.  Once Kern was killed, he could then go after his hometown.  Sick people wanting to harm the middle class and the poor.

Oil buffer-zone bill suffers setback during public hearing supporters call unfair

BY JOHN COX, Californian  8/7/20   

A bill proposing to establish buffer zones between oil wells and public facilities in California, potentially costing Kern’s economy billions of dollars, was narrowly defeated in Sacramento on Wednesday — but not before sparking frustration among supporters who later said the virtual public hearing preceding the vote was flawed and unfair.

Members of the state Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water voted 5-4 against the legislation, Assembly Bill 345. But they also voted by the same margin to allow reconsideration of the bill as soon as next week.

The bill introduced by Assemblyman Albert Y. “Al” Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, would require the state’s primary oil-regulatory agency to set up its own environmental justice program and consider creating a 2,500-foot setback between petroleum facilities and schools, playgrounds and other public places where children gather.

Environmental justice advocates say such a buffer would protect humans from gases released by oil and gas wells. They point to studies suggesting such facilities are associated with exposure to high concentrations of dangerous air pollutants.

Industry groups contend the science is unclear and that 2,500 feet is an arbitrary distance that may not be appropriate in all cases. While not uniformly against some sort of setback standard, they say AB 345 could force the closure of thousands of oil and gas wells in Kern County alone.

Even if the bill fails it appears likely state government will attempt in the near term to establish California’s first standardized oil setbacks. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has made public health a higher priority for state oil regulators, said late last year he wanted to see buffer rules in place by the end of this year.

Environmental justice advocates said Wednesday’s hearing was marred by technical glitches and that some people were not given an opportunity to comment publicly.

Some accused local oil company employees of interrupting time set aside for official testimony in support of the bill, even as they acknowledged the opposite also happened when supporters spoke up during a period reserved for the bill’s opponents.

“It was just chaotic. It was crazy,” said former farmworker Lupe Martinez, an organizer with the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment, which supports the bill. He said he followed call-in instructions but was never given an opportunity to offer testimony during the hearing.

Delano construction worker Pedro Rivera, who said he supports AB 345, said he, too, was denied a chance to be heard because of trouble with the call-in system.

Amid what he called a confusing and disorganized virtual hearing, he said people from locally operating oil producers Chevron Corp. and Aera Energy LLC spoke up despite being told to wait until the time had come to hear from the bill’s opponents.

“People would just start talking,” he said.

Industry representatives said some employers did encourage their workers to share their feelings at the hearing but they strongly denied there was any concerted effort to shut out the bill’s supporters.

“We are deeply disheartened and offended that some believe that the industry interfered with (bill supporters’) ability to have their voices heard when everyone had an equal opportunity to participate in the hearing,” Aera spokeswoman Cindy Pollard said.

In light of the unorthodox hearing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, a spokeswoman for the California Independent Petroleum Association, Sabrina Lockhart, said some confusion might have been unexpected and that “we can’t expect 500 citizens to all get it right.”

She added that the committee’s chairman noted that some members of the public had been denied an opportunity to speak and gave the bill’s supporters extra time to testify near the end of the hearing.

Even so, environmental justice advocate Kobi Naseck, coordinator of a state coalition called Vision, which co-sponsored the bill, said the bill deserves to be reconsidered if only because of the hearing’s procedural problems.

“It doesn’t bode well for the state of our democracy in a pandemic when, you know, people are relying on the system set up to give fair public comment and (the process is) so quickly undermined and made to be unfair,” he said.

About Stephen Frank

Stephen Frank is the publisher and editor of California Political News and Views. He speaks all over California and appears as a guest on several radio shows each week. He has also served as a guest host on radio talk shows. He is a fulltime political consultant.

Comments

  1. Sorry, but your editing is so insufficient, I have a difficult time understanding your points.

    Still, thank you for communicating about political issues.

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