SB556 is a bill to hold oil companies financially and legally accountable for the health harms of neighboring residents. It is a well-done bill that can discourage new drilling near where people live. It passed the state Senate Judiciary Committee and is now in the Appropriations Committee where the oil industry is lobbying and advertising against the bill. That Committee will decide this week whether the bill moves forward or not .
We can help by calling and emailing members of the Appropriations Committee before Thursday 5/18/2023, especially its chair Senator Anthony Portantino. Contact information, script, sample email and our 350 Ventura County Climate Hub position statement are provided below.
Phone Instructions: To call committee members, dial the number corresponding to the Senator you are trying to reach and wait to be connected. Once someone answers, you can state your name, organization, and register your support for SB 556. Feel free to use the script below. If you or your organization has any ties to the Senator’s home district, you can mention that as well.
Call Script: Hello, my name is [NAME] and I serve as [POSITION] at [ORGANIZATION]. I would like to voice my strong support for SB 556, which will hold oil companies accountable for incidences of respiratory illness, cancer, premature birth, and birth defects in individuals who live near oil drilling sites. These communities, which are more likely to be low-income, Black or Hispanic, are suffering from horrendous health complications that are a direct result of oil drilling, all while Big Oil rakes in record profits. Please vote “AYE” on SB 556.
Email Instructions: Use the draft email below and send it to each of the email addresses listed.
Draft Email Message:
Dear Senator [NAME],
I urge your support for SB 556 (Gonzalez), a bill to protect the health of communities near oil wells by holding oil companies liable for the incidence of respiratory illness, cancer, premature birth, and birth defects in individuals who live near drilling sites. Over 2.7 million Californians live within 3200 feet of an active oil or gas site, exposing them to toxic pollutants with detrimental results to their health. Gas and oil wells have been shown to leak harmful carcinogens and volatile organic compounds that contribute to health defects, such as benzene, ethylbenzene, sulfur, and methane, as well as fine particulate matter and nitrogen oxides which threaten the respiratory health of nearby residents. Studies have definitively linked living in proximity to an active well with stunted lung growth in children, as well as higher incidences of preterm birth, low birthweight, developmental problems, and increased mortality risks in newborns. California’s history of racist housing and environmental policies, as well as current patterns of gentrification, have led to a higher likelihood of risk to low-income and Black, Latino, or Indigenous communities.
The oil industry should not be permitted to carelessly threaten the health of California’s most vulnerable communities. This bill sends a strong message that we put the health and wellbeing of communities above Big Oil profits. With the referendum now blocking implementation of buffer zones, this bill must be enacted to try to protect us from dangerous drilling practices and hold the oil industry accountable for endangering our communities’ health.
For these reasons, I urge your “AYE” vote on SB 556.
Contact Information for Senate Appropriations (three top priorities in green)
|Senator||Phone||Chief of Staff Email||Legislative Director Email|
|Anthony Portantino (Chair)||916-651-4025||[email protected]||[email protected]||[email protected]|
|Brian Jones (Vice Chair)||916-651-4040||[email protected]||[email protected]||[email protected]|
|Angelique Ashby||916-651-4008||[email protected]||[email protected]||[email protected]|
|Steven Bradford||916-651-4035||[email protected]||[email protected]||[email protected]|
|Kelly Seyarto||916-651-4032||[email protected]||[email protected]||[email protected]|
|Aisha Wahab||916-651-4410||[email protected]||N/A||[email protected]|
|Scott Weiner||916-651-4011||[email protected]||[email protected]||[email protected]|
The following is a more detailed letter about the abuse by Big Oil in Ventura County. Jan Dietrick submitted it through the California Legislature Position Letter Portal to the Appropriations Committee. You can endorse the 350 Ventura County Climate Hub position letter on SB 556 in your emails and phone calls.
May 11th, 2023
The Honorable Anthony Portantino
Chair, Senate Appropriations Committee
1021 O Street, Suite 7630
Sacramento, CA 95814
RE: Vote YES on SB 556 (Gonzalez): Oil and gas wells: health protection zones: civil liability.
Dear Chair Portantino,
350 Ventura County Climate Hub strongly supports SB 556 because of the unjust actions of the oil industry in oil county, especially to residents and workers in low-income areas. We are proud of that our four-year fight for General Plan health and safety policy resulted in the adoption of setback ordinances. Our Supervisors supported setbacks between wells and homes/schools, limits on gas flaring, and decrease in oil trucks moving through our communities.
The oil industry proceeded to spend $8M on lies to fool voters in an unjust ballot initiative designed to overturn our ordinances. It happened last June during high oil prices, and the industry campaign said that voting for the ordinances would raise gasoline prices—a lie. Our new Board of Supervisors majority is friends of the industry. They just approved drilling in Oxnard strawberry fields near Lemonwood, a community in the 74th percentile on CalEnviroScreen. At one percentile below 75, the county claimed it had no legal backing to deny the permit that can be used for over 100 new wells.
The county has spent over $2M defending against related lawsuits by other people wanting to apply for new permits. County counsel is in settlement talks with the oil companies, including Aera Energy, who sued over the environmental regulations included in the Ventura County General Plan. We are treated as if we are disposable; society has failed to internalize the costs of making us sick.
The whole state is now as hamstrung as Ventura County by the same tactic the oil industry used against us here. Oil companies have spent close to $20M just to get their ‘right to drill near sensitive sites’ referendum on the state ballot and halt implementation of reasonable regulations. More profitable than ever, the industry may spend over $100M on more fear-mongering lies next year in the referendum.
More than 2 million state residents live within 2,500 feet of an operational oil and gas well. Close to a million may live within 1,200 feet. Possibly half a million live and/or work within 500 feet of a well. That includes me, my family and coworkers. In the Ventura Oilfield we have unknown cumulative exposure to BTEX volatiles from the wells, breezes carry toxic herbicide-laden dust from the vast areas of barren hills and lowlands of the Ventura River Watershed. We applaud Senator Gonzales for proposing that oil companies be liable for harm from any exposures whether from extraction or other operations. Failure to pass this bill would be an unbelievable insult to all of us who are forced to live and work under these conditions, especially the tens of thousands who live a short 100 to 500 feet from a well, such as we experience in Ventura County and in LA and Kern Counties.
Under the circumstances of the extravagant investment by the industry to stop health and safety regulations and mislead voters, you should at least allow communities to hold them liable when people living too close to wells get associated diseases. This bill should reduce harmful exposure and health care costs, and help incentivize transition to clean energy.
350 Ventura County Climate Hub began over a decade ago opposing domination of our county by oil and gas companies. Our 1,450 members and sister organizations in the county support this bill as the least you can do for environmental justice, as well as climate policy, both of utmost importance to us.
Jan Dietrick, MPH
350 Ventura County Climate Hub
Policy Team Leader
cc: Members and Consultants, Senate Appropriations Committee
Senator Toni Atkins, Senate President Pro Tempore
Senator Lena Gonzalez
Senator Henry Stern
Senator Scott Wiener
PS: I just took this photo: view of the top of the pump jack on the other side of my garden, permitted in 1945 next to a large migrant farmworker housing colony that is now my houses me, my family and environmental business; no conditions or expiration; 150 feet from my window.