Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-Marin County) introduced legislation Feb. 22 that will help protect public health and environmental harm to California caused by oil and natural gas production on state lands and waters.
AB 1441 would ensure that the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources has authority to meaningfully consider the environment and public health when making oil and gas-permitting decisions.
AB 1440 would remove statutory references to prioritizing and optimizing the extraction of oil and gas in California.
In 1928, the California Supreme Court case Boone v. Kingsbury prioritized oil production over significant public concerns about coastal oil pollution.
During the Great Depression, with the state in dire need of more revenue, then-Gov. Frank Merriam declared in 1938 that “we don’t want to interfere with oil operations. We simply want to gain for the state its full share of the oil.”
That same year in a special session of the Legislature to resolve oil-related disputes between the state, local jurisdictions and “private interests,” the State Lands Commission was established through the State Lands Act.
The SLC administered the state’s oil leases and statutorily directed much of the royalty revenue to state parks and beaches, which the Merriam administration had neglected.
A year later, the Legislature “declared as a policy of this state that the grant in an oil and gas lease to a lessee or operator of the right or power, in substance, to explore for and remove all hydrocarbons from any lands in the state.”
Eighty years later, this policy still stands in stark contrast to the health and environmental risks associated with oil production.
AB 1441 would update this 1939 law by clarifying that the environment and public health are preeminent considerations in decisions regarding drilling authorization and also establishes a permitting process that empowers DOGGR to deny drilling permits based on environmental and public health considerations.
The bill would also remove references to an overriding state policy of maximizing oil and gas production.
AB 1440 would also revise oil and gas production prioritization on lands administered by the SLC, which now directs relatively modest state oil and gas royalties to the state’s general fund.
“Climate change compels us to develop a 21st-century approach to oil and gas production,” Levine said. “We talk big about moving away from fossil fuels. We also need to move away from policies that promote oil and gas drilling to the last drop. AB 1440 and AB 1441 will update state law to prioritize public and environmental health over profit and ensure that California leads the way toward a carbon-free future.”
Ann Alexander, a senior attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council, which is a co-sponsor of the two bills, said, “We can’t address 21st-century oil drilling issues with early 20th-century statutes. AB 1440 and AB 1441 will give our state the tools it needs to protect Californians from a bevy of health and environmental threats that were not understood when the state’s drilling laws were previously drafted.”
The Environmental Working Group is also sponsoring the legislation.
Bill Allayaud, the Environmental Working Group’s state director of government affairs, said, “This legislation is needed to finish the job of ensuring DOGGR’s transparency and effectiveness.”
AB 1440 and AB 1441 will be considered by the California state Assembly in the spring of 2019.
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