Kern pushes back against oil agenda

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Kern pushes back  against oil agendaThe Kern County Board of Supervisors drew its largest-ever crowd Tuesday with a special session that allowed advocates to push back against new regulations that target oil production.

Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced new regulations in November that would ban new permits on steam-injected oil drilling and mandate additional review processes for an already backlogged system for new fracking projects.

Federal and state leaders expressed immediate opposition to mandates that would threaten jobs and economic stability in Kern County, without reducing California’s consumption or dependency on fossil fuels. That cry was picked up by 2nd District Supervisor Zack Scrivner, who helped arrange this week’s six-hour discussion, drawing an estimated 2,000 attendees.

“Why would this administration pursue policies that would destroy domestic production in California, only to send our jobs and our treasure to these countries with terrible human rights records and little to no environmental controls?” asked Scrivner.

“Why wouldn’t we produce our oil here, where we do it safely and responsibly? This, to me, is the hypocrisy of the governor’s attack, and I don’t think we are willing to accept it.”

An estimated 23,520 county jobs have been linked, directly or indirectly, to local oil production. Even East Kern residents largely unaffected by the commercial enterprises benefit from the revenues that heavily fund county services and operations.

When oil prices plummeted several years ago, decimating county coffers, Kern leaders formulated a plan to cut back on expenses while debts were paid off — but also aggressively pursued attempts to diversify economic prospects. Subsequently, Kern has become the state leader in production of alternative energies.

Advocates point to growth in Kern’s green energy sectors as evidence that the county has already partnered with the state in governor’s stated attempt to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

“Welcome to Kern County — where we feed and fuel the world,” said Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh. “Our families have the same hopes and dreams that our governor has for Montana, Hunter, Brooklyn and Dutch,” she said, naming the children of Newsom and his wife.“They want the same future you do for your children.”

State Sen. Shannon Grove, Assemblyman, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood and District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer were among those who spoke out against the governor’s initiative.

“The public wants and demands affordable, reliable energy. And the people behind me and the people outside — they provide it,” said Fong.

He added that the new mandates make no sense in light of the progressive protections already in place.

Fong said he agreed with Scrivner that it’s inaccurate to say that vibrant oil and green energy sectors cannot coexist.

“Kern County is synonymous with energy … the oil industry is cutting edge, innovative — actually using renewable energy to enhance its production. We should be applauding that.”

Fong further challenged California policies that have prompted businesses to simply move operations outside of the state. “We have to look at all the policies that are coming through Sacramento through the lens of jobs and affordability. If there are no jobs, and California is no longer affordable to live and work, then people won’t be here anymore.”

Zimmer released a statement Wednesday that connected the county’s dependence on revenue to with increasing challenges maintaining order in a climate of anti-law-enforcement mandates pushed down from the state.

“With the passage of AB 109, Prop 47, Prop 57 and other pro-criminal legislation, our public safety infrastructure has been pushed well beyond its limits,” said Zimmer.

“Our county jail is bursting at the seams with hardened criminals who would have previously served their full sentence in state prison. Gang violence continues to plague us, especially in our rural areas.”

During that same period, the decline in oil prices wrought a fiscal emergency, under which “public safety employees have pushed onward, despite handling more criminal cases, with less staff and without a raise in over a decade.”

She predicted that the governor’s proposal would result in job losses in the thousands, yielding an even higher crime rate.

“We cannot protect the public without the continued fiscal support of the oil and gas industry. The governor’s proposed regulations will have a disproportionate, disastrous and permanent effect on our ability to protect the public,” said Zimmer.

“We are struggling, as it is, to protect the public because of the anti-law-and-order policies from Sacramento. The destruction of the oil and gas industry is just one more assault from the liberals who are hurting those they think they are helping.”

Not all of those who spoke at the hearing were in favor of protecting oil prospects in Kern County. Some questioned the impacts on our water table and air quality, noting that public health and safety are as important as the economic vitality of Kern.

“Obviously there are people on both sides of the issue,” said Scrivner. “But those of us who see this as something vital that needs to be protected and supported — we don’t understand the logic of these moves.”

Scrivner made two motions — the first of which was to direct county staff to hire consultants for a study that would quantify economic impacts of Newsom’s new regulations. “I think that’s important as we consider whether or not to declare an economic crisis.”

The second was to identify a contingent to travel to Sacramento for a dialog with the governor in order to get a better understanding of what he envisions Kern doing to mitigate environmental impacts. “As for green energy — we are already promoting that.”

Both motions were unanimously approved.

Story First Published: 2020-01-17