Environmental justice advocates, regrouped after a big defeat last week in the state legislature, strategized Wednesday in their campaign for a “just transition” away from oil production in Kern County .
Participants representing local and state environmental justice groups suggested ways to convince unions, counter oil industry news, and work through initiatives such as the B3K local economic development collaboration to identify opportunities. new jobs for people who will be made redundant if the anti-oil campaign is successful.
The session essentially called for redoubled efforts after the seven-day earlier defeat of Senate Bill 467, which would have banned hydraulic fracturing and other techniques important to oil fields while creating buffer zones of nearly ‘half a mile around the industry operating sites.
Central Valley Air Quality Coalition executive director Catherine Garoupa White said oil production was initially unsustainable. She highlighted the region’s oil-related emissions and exemptions for small producers, she said, denying California’s reputation for its highly regulated oil industry.
Referring to what some speakers recognize as a difficult task to accomplish, she said: “While there are no silver bullets, the transition (away from oil production) is already underway.”
California environmental justice groups have worked closely with climate advocates to try to persuade Governor Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers to toughen oilfield regulations or, increasingly, stop production before government objective of achieving carbon neutrality by 2045.
The oil industry argues that such efforts will only generate jobs and money to countries with lower environmental and labor standards than California, which must import crude it cannot. produce because no pipeline crosses the Rocky Mountains.
SB 647, a response to Newsom’s call last fall for anti-fracking legislation, has exceeded its demand and has come under attack from unions and politicians worried about the impacts on jobs.
Participants in Wednesday’s virtual meeting addressed both of these factors.
Tracey Brieger, campaign manager at Jobs with Justice San Francisco, stressed the importance of a well-funded transition away from oil production that ensures new, high-quality union jobs.
There will need to be guaranteed income at current levels for workers retrained for alternative work, and pensions for those nearing retirement. Seniority must be preserved and labor solidarity respected, she said.
Organized labor is not a monolith, she said, encouraging environmental justice groups to make their case with individual unions.
“The transition is inevitable, but justice is not,” she said. “Workers must be involved in these decisions.”
Just as Brieger suggested new jobs in energy efficiency and health care linked to climate change, Ingrid Brostrom spoke of potential new jobs in cleaning up the environment, not just in orphan oil wells, but at contaminated industrial sites statewide.
The deputy director of the Center for Race, Poverty & the Environment also highlighted what she said were the oil industry’s exaggerated claims about oilfield employment totals and the financial impacts on local government revenues. .
She acknowledged that both are substantial, but said industry employment estimates include gas station jobs and other marginally related jobs, showing that the oil payroll is ” not insignificant but not insurmountable ”.
While counties like Kern depend heavily on petroleum taxes, she noted, that dependence had to end anyway as falling oil prices effectively deprive local utilities of regular funding.
Board member of B3K, short for Better Bakersfield & Boundless Kern, Brostrom said environmental justice has a lot in common with economic justice and that such large-scale initiatives will be essential to create new jobs to replace those lost in the local oil fields.
“The state has enjoyed the support of the people of Kern County and there is a great debt to the region,” she said.
No mention was made on Wednesday of renewable fuels such as biomethane and renewable diesel, two emerging local job creators that use the oil industry’s existing expertise and infrastructure. While local policymakers see a bright future in these products, which can add up to be carbon negative, some environmental activists oppose fuels that result from emissions of any kind.
The price of just transition was almost unexpressed.
Towards the end, an online participant asked the group how much the transition would cost. When none of the speakers reacted during an awkward silence, Sacramento City Councilor Katie Valenzuela offered a response.
“Much depends on the transition,” she said, adding that there were many options. Hopefully, some of the federal pandemic stimulus money can be used to “jumpstart some of these economic solutions,” she said.