SACRAMENTOCalifornia Governor Gavin Newsom yesterday signed into law a state budget that allocates $1.5 million for “a study to identify strategies to decrease demand and supply of fossil fuels, while managing the decline of fossil fuel use in a way that is economically responsible and sustainable.” An interagency state team, in partnership with the University of California system, will explore managing the decline of in-state production alongside a decrease in demand. 

Communities and advocates applaud Governor Newsom’s leadership in acknowledging this critical first step, but also encourage the state to take immediate action to protect our climate and the communities and families who are currently impacted by oil and gas production. 

The study is the first of its kind in the state and is being commended as a crucial recognition of the need for California to reduce production of oil and gas as a key factor in meeting the climate goals set out in the Paris Climate Agreement. At the same time, groups with Last Chance Alliance are calling for the study to prioritize the health and safety of Californians living dangerously close to toxic oil operations suffering ongoing health impacts. Studies have already shown that oil development can cause and contribute to health effects such as headaches, upper respiratory illness, nausea, nosebleeds, increased cancer risk, and infertility–citing distance as a key factor in the health impacts felt by residents. 

Advocates are urging the state to ensure that the study acknowledges the public health crisis affecting communities that are overburdened by fossil fuel pollution, examine the climate imperatives of ramping down production in the state, and explore the most effective ways to ensure a just and equitable transition for families who rely on the sector. They state that the study should be conducted as swiftly and thoughtfully as possible.

In response to the budget signing, climate and environmental justice advocates issued the following statements: 

“While we are encouraged that the governor has taken a critical, overdue first step toward a just transition away from mining for fossil fuels in California, the health and safety of residents in Kern County continues to be at risk on a daily basis, from leaking infrastructure to chemical spills, from toxic air emissions to contaminated water and soil,” stated Cesar Aguirre, community organizer with the Central California Environmental Justice Network. “Gathering the information necessary to plan for a comprehensive transition, while necessary, does not negate the responsibility of the Governor’s administration and state agencies to protect communities frontline and fence line to oil extraction and production. Basic protections should be enacted immediately and existing regulations more rigorously enforced.”

“We already know that oil and gas drilling presents a health and human safety emergency for communities on the front lines and we need only look to the fires that have ravaged the state to understand our oil and gas production presents a climate crisis as well,” said David Turnbull, Strategic Communications Director at Oil Change International. “This study is critical to be sure we put in place a clear plan that manages the decline of oil and gas production in California. But it should also serve as no excuse to delay action. We need to take the first urgent steps now and use the study to inform our ongoing work to ramp down fossil fuel production in the state.”

“This study will be a big leap forward for California’s fight against the climate crisis,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “Gov. Newsom is laying the groundwork for confronting the state’s massive dirty oil problem. In order to respond to the climate emergency, protect public health and lead on environmental justice, he must tackle oil extraction.”

“As parents, we’re deeply troubled by the severe health impacts of toxic oil and gas drilling on frontline communities, particularly children whose developing brains and bodies are especially vulnerable,” said Linda Hutchins-Knowles of Mothers Out Front. “This study should inform much-needed action, but steps need to be taken now to protect public health, such as buffer zones between drilling operations and sensitive sites like homes and schools. We have a moral imperative to prioritize public health and a livable future above oil company profits.” 

“California can’t afford not to make this investment in planning our transition off fossil fuels. Millions of Californians are being exposed to cancer-causing chemicals from fossil fuels, and it’s their health, as well as the health of future generations, that’s on the line,” said Karuna Jaggar, Executive Director at Breast Cancer Action. “It’s time to build a roadmap to a cancer-free future.”

“It’s good that Governor Newsom is interested in doing a study on how to move the state off of fossil fuels. It is important, and it  should happen. But it also should not be a reason to delay action now on several things that Governor Newsom has the power to do right now,” salid Alexandra Nagy, California Director at Food & Water Watch. “These include shutting down the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, site of the largest gas blowout in US history, placing an immediate moratorium on new fossil fuel permits, banning fracking, and instituting a 2500 foot safety buffer to protect communities. Doing these things would make Governor Newsom a national leader in the fight against climate change.”