Kern Co. sues Governor Newsom for violating California Constitution

Kern County, California

(Sept. 13, 2021) — Faced with an unprecedented attack on its residents and in a fight for economic survival, as well as in response to an unprecedented attack on the environment and the rest of our State’s economy, today the County of Kern sued Governor Gavin Newsom for violating the California Constitution and disregarding multiple State laws.

Here’s why:

In 2019, the last full year before the COVID-19 pandemic, California consumed more than 661,825,000 barrels of oil — the second highest level of consumption in the United States. Expensive electric cars most people cannot afford aside, all indications are this level of hydrocarbon fuel consumption will continue for many years to come.

Yet, despite being endowed with the fifth largest share of the United States’ known oil reserves, largely because of restrictions already in place each year California imports approximately 70% of the oil it needs to keep moving, manufacturing and generally functioning, principally by waterborne supertankers inbound from the Middle East, South America, Africa and Alaska. Nearly two-thirds of what California doesn’t import comes from Kern County’s 76 active oilfields … a fact that also makes the County the seventh highest oil producing region in the United States.

Unlike oil shipped from places like Iraq and Saudi Arabia, oil produced in Kern County is subject to the highest possible environmental and worker protection safeguards. Annually, Kern County oil producers pay over $1.3 billion in wages to thousands workers who, on average, earn double the County’s average wage, pay over $197 million in taxes and contribute approximately $9.1 billion to the County’s total economic output.

Yet, since taking office, Governor Newsom announced his personal goal to “end oil extraction” in California, and in so doing, “expedite” the “closure and remediation of former oil extraction sites as the State transitions to a carbon-neutral economy.” When activists previously sought to pressure Governor Brown to take such radical action, Governor Brown responded by pointing out “California imports 70 percent of our petroleum products; our cars drive over 330 billion miles mostly on petroleum. If we reduce our oil drilling on California … we’ll import more oil by train or by boat [and] that doesn’t make a lot of sense. What we need to do is to move to electric cars, more efficient buildings and more renewable energy….”

In other words, Governor Brown declined to intentionally cripple our State’s economy.

When California’s Legislature subsequently voted to have the matter studied by the highly respected California Council on Science and Technology, a sampling of the State’s resulting official administrative findings were:

“Oil consumption in California is not dependent upon California’s in-state oil production; rather, it is tied directly to consumer demand and indirectly to global oil prices.”

“[L]ost oil that would otherwise have come from the State will likely be produced in the Middle East, North Dakota, or other parts of the nation and world with less stringent environmental laws. On a global scale, this switch to a greater reliance on imported fuels will lead to more GHG emissions, as those emissions will not be subject to offset requirements or caps as they would be in California.”

Increased imports would have significant adverse air quality, safety and environmental justice impacts. Air quality would suffer because additional imports would “increase the activity of tanker ships delivering Alaskan and foreign oil to California via ports and marine terminals in Los Angeles, Long Beach, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and it would increase the activity of rail trains hauling crude oil primarily from North Dakota and Canada … The resulting levels of NOx and other emissions from tanker ships, locomotives, and terminal facilities would remain at levels potentially inconsistent with the forecasts of air quality plans, resulting in a potential conflict with local air quality plans.”

“Increased transport of imported oil to refineries to offset supplies that would not materialize” from in-state production “would increase the opportunities for spills or accidents….”

Imports resulting from “[i]ncreased ship, rail, and truck traffic hauling imported oil and gas to refineries” would “increase traffic through communities located on existing transportation corridors, many of which may be ‘disproportionately comprised of minority and low-income populations’” and subject to higher impacts from “diesel emissions … and from risk of upset.”

“Following the science,” California law thus expressly allows in-state oil production using “known” and “prudent” extraction technologies such as well stimulation treatments (“WST”) and enhanced oil recovery (“EOR”) — the very technologies required to keep Kern County’s, and much of our Nation’s, oil and gas fields viable.

Nonetheless, shortly after taking office, Governor Newsom asked the Legislature to outlaw WST and EOR technologies, the use of which experts confirm accounts for between 80 to 90% of Kern County’s oil production. Shortly after the Legislature refused to do so, expressing “anger” that such practices continue, the complaint alleges Governor Newsom fired a State official who had been issuing new oil extraction permits in accordance with the law. Shortly thereafter, the State agency charged with issuing such permits, now headed by a Newsom appointee, announced its intent to overhaul its rules and abruptly, the complaint alleges, stopped issuing WST and EOR permits.

In short, “heedless of the law and unfaithful to the California Constitution he swore to uphold,” contrary to the needs of thousands of workers, families, schools and other governmental services dependent on Kern County’s oil and gas industry, and contrary to the forecasted harm to our State’s air quality, increased pollution, increased sea, rail and ground traffic, harm to consumers and disproportionate harm on minority and low-income populations, Governor Newsom has declared himself above the law. The County’s lawsuit asks the Court to stop this power grab and return control to California’s elected Legislature.

Story First Published: 2021-09-17