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Court Strikes Down Oil Industry Pollution Protections in Monterey County
by Center for Biological Diversity
Wednesday Oct 13th, 2021 12:42 PM
Decision Increases Pressure on Gov. Newsom to Stop New Oil Wells
SAN JOSE, Calif., October 13, 2021 — A California appeals court on Tuesday struck down the landmark Measure Z ballot initiative that banned new oil and gas wells and phased out waste fluid disposal in Monterey County.

The court ruled that the local ordinance, which passed with overwhelming support in 2016, is preempted by state oil and gas laws.

“This ruling flies in the face of local people who just want to protect ourselves and our groundwater from filthy oil and gas production,” said Laura Solorio, M.D., president of Protect Monterey County. “Voters spoke loud and clear that we want to move away from the polluting fossil fuel industry. We’ll keep fighting for voters to be heard.”

While the decision acknowledges the right of cities and counties to restrict or even ban oil and gas projects, it says that California law gives the state oil and gas regulator sole authority to supervise how oil and gas drilling is carried out. According to the three-judge panel, Measure Z’s land-use protections conflict with state law.

“This decision is contrary to a century’s worth of court cases upholding the power of cities and counties across California to protect their residents from dangerous oil operations,” said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, part of the team representing Protect Monterey County in the case. “Protect Monterey County is evaluating the decision and will likely seek review by the California Supreme Court.”

The court’s reasoning puts additional pressure on Gov. Gavin Newsom to protect Californians from fossil fuel pollution statewide. It comes shortly after a massive oil spill off the Southern California coast spurred calls for Newsom to take stronger action on fossil fuels. Climate and health advocates continue to call on Newsom to stop approving new oil and gas projects, adopt a 2,500-foot health-and-safety buffer between oil wells and communities and begin a rapid phaseout of existing fossil fuel projects.

“People are tired of waiting and our climate is out of time for Gov. Newsom to use his power to protect us from oil industry pollution," said Kretzmann.

Monterey County’s oil largely comes from the San Ardo oilfield, which produces some of the most climate-damaging oil in the world, comparable to Canadian tar sands. Its heavy, bottom-of-the-barrel consistency means oil companies use dangerous techniques like steam injection to extract the crude. These processes require substantial amounts of energy and lead to much higher air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Local residents formed Protect Monterey County to advocate for health and environmental protections against oil production in the county. After the county’s board of supervisors rejected commonsense protections, the group gathered support for the Protect Our Water: Ban Fracking and Limit Risky Oil Operations Initiative, which became Measure Z. The oil industry ran a multimillion-dollar opposition campaign, but voters approved the measure by a 12-point margin.

Shortly after Measure Z passed in November of 2016, a slew of oil interests, including the state’s largest oil companies, Chevron, Aera Energy and California Resources Corporation, sued the county.

Protect Monterey County is represented by Shute Mihaly & Weinberger LLP, Robins Kaplan LLC, Stanford Environmental Law Clinic and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
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