Another Side of California’s Climate Policy

California’s energy policies are often heralded as some of the most progressive in the world. California already has a history of using innovative policies to address energy crisis, such as it’s success in increasing energy efficiency over the past 40 years. In some cases, such as policies aiding the deployment of renewable energy or putting a price on carbon via cap-and-trade, California has pioneered really progressive ideas that other states and countries have used as a model for their policies and regulations.

While many of California’s larger energy and climate efforts provide reasons for encouragement, the state still has significant areas to improve upon, particularly on how to manage the effects of the energy industry at the local level. California remains among the top 3 oil and gas producing states in the country and many residents in the oil and gas producing areas continue to be impacted the presence of the industry. In some low-income neighborhood in Southern California, for example, oil and gas rigs are placed within minimal distance of residential neighborhoods and community facilities, such as schools. The pollution stemming from those oil and gas rigs can then trigger adverse health effects for the surrounding community. Given that many of these communities are economically challenged, they have found themselves in difficult situation to organize and assert their needs against those of many oil and gas producers. In a recent case, Los Angeles residents filed lawsuits against LA county alleging that drilling permit were handed out without following proper procedure leading to oil and gas rigs being placed next to low-income residences.

Los Angeles City Hall with protesters claiming the city handed out drilling permits in low-income communities without proper procedure – Source: LA Times

The Porter Ranch methane leak near Los Angeles has been described as the worst methane leak in US history whose gas pollution, in addition to severe environmental damages, has also negatively affected the wellness of local residents. While Porter Ranch has gotten national attention, many cases similar to Porter Ranch in California and in the larger United States can often be ignored partly due to lack of oversight. These stories not only highlight the hidden impact that oil and gas can have on a community, but also how California’s regulations have to be better executed at a local level.

Even though clean energy is becoming more and more important in California’s energy mix, the oil and gas industry continues to exert significant influence in state polices. This can be seen from the fact that the oil and gas spent $10 million to lobby the state legislature to withdraw a clause that would set gasoline use reductions for the state. The industry appealed to business friendly legislators in Sacramento and as a result the gasoline reduction clause in California’s proposed SB-350 got removed before a contested vote in which the remaining package passed last year. Oil and gas remains an important part of California’s economy and will continue to be in the future.

California’s natural gas efforts are one of the main reasons the state’s energy mix is among the cleanest in the country. Oil and gas and renewable energy sources are not necessarily enemies, as there are areas for collaboration to achieve the larger energy and climate goals. It will be interesting to see how the development of renewable energies and oil and gas will shape the future of the state.