Lukewarm on Climate Action, Hot on Hypocrisy

Gov. Brown ignores communities of color

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Self-proclaimed environmental champion Gov. Jerry Brown supported legislation that challenged nationwide emission standards in 2007 and opposed offshore drilling. Supporters swoon at Brown’s half-hearted protection of the environment.

Meanwhile, he continues to support dirty oil production in California, ignoring the disproportionate effects on communities of color in his own state. People of color compose 92 percent of the 1.8 million Californians who live within a mile of oil and gas production plants. This disproportionate effect is blatant racism rooted in California’s history of disregarding communities of color by exposing them to the most toxic, harmful and unsafe living conditions.

Members of Brown’s Last Chance (BLC), a group of environmental, labor and social justice advocates, demanded the governor stop issuing drilling permits on April 11. Oil wells have high health stakes like air pollution, contamination of soil and drinking water and increased risk of seismic activity to name a few.

Brown’s response last year to phasing out drilling in California was, “You can’t just say, ‘We’re not going to have oil anymore.’ You need an intelligent, planned transition.”

Yet, after seven years, we’ve seen no transition. This can more than likely be partly attributed to Brown’s personal stakes in the matter. Kathleen Brown, sister to Gov. Brown, is on the board of directors of Sempra Energy —  a company that owns SoCalGas. This company is responsible for the 2016 methane leak in Porter Ranch California.

Californians elected Gov. Brown in 2011 on the platform of environmentalism, we elected him to make plans to phase out oil production. But Brown is too blinded by economic pursuits of oil production to address its environmentally racist outcomes.

Kern County, a majority non-white community, is the largest oil-producing county in the U.S. In the next 20 years the county plans to implement 2,697 more oil wells. Expanding drilling in counties already being environmentally exploited leads to further health risks and environmental contamination.

Home to over 84,000 oil and gas wells, California is the fourth largest oil producer in the U.S. We hear Brown’s promises of slashing state oil use in half by 2030, but where is the action against production? Last month alone, California produced nearly 13 million barrels of oil.

Gov. Brown takes the cut demand approach and continues to increase the supply of crude oil. He is focusing, perhaps, on reducing rising global temperature — although in 2015 California’s greenhouse gas emissions fell less than 1 percent. But again, what falls to the backburner of Brown’s agenda is communities of color affected by crude oil production.

By heavily regulating emission standards Brown focuses on future generations not present. Increasing production of oil exposes communities of color to “toxins containing chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.”

Because of California’s mass production of oil, reserves are becoming harder to access. When this happens more chemicals, with increased health risks, have to be used to extract hard to reach oil through fracking. Some of these wells and refineries are only 60 to 100 feet from the doorsteps of residential communities in places like Los Angeles County.

From Hunters Point in San Francisco, where low-income housing was built over mishandled toxic cleanup, to the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond that caught fire in 2012. The history of environmental racism in California is long and horrific. Communities of color are bearing the brunt of Gov. Brown’s oversight.

Brown, the environmental ‘hero’ who supports “regulated fracking,” refuses to cut back on oil production. This makes us see his real green standard — cold hard cash.

Brown said he wants to keep one-third of the world’s known oil reserves in the ground in efforts to mitigate global climate change effects. California is talking a big game about fighting climate change with no action. The state puts production of crude oil before the health of communities of color and before real action against climate change.

BLC has an online petition supporters can sign to show Brown that Californians want real climate action now. The group is committed to an economically viable future without dirty industries like oil.

Climate change narratives center on protecting future generations from rising sea levels and temperatures but this isn’t 100 years from now anymore. Right now, people are being exposed to life threatening chemicals every day. Ending oil drilling means protecting communities of color from cancer, birth defects and other health risks associated with oil production.

Californians will not stand for hypocrisy, Gov. Brown. We want change. We want a governor who protects communities of color from exposure to toxins and we will be looking for that governor in November.