Senator Portantino Stops Bill To Hold Oil Drillers Liable For Health Impacts On Community In Undemocratic Use of Unilateral Power To Hold Bills In Committee, Says Consumer Watchdog

SB 556 would have held oil companies presumptively liable for causing cancer, asthma, preterm and high risk births for people living within 3200 ft of an oil well.

SACRAMENTO, Calif., May 18, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — SB 556, legislation that gives people who live near oil wells and have developed cancer, respiratory illnesses and birth defects the right to hold oil drillers liable for their illnesses, was held without a vote on the suspense file by the Senate Appropriations Committee. The bill can no longer proceed this year.

Senator Anthony Portantino used his power to stop the bill without a hearing or vote. More than 130 public interest, environmental and labor groups back SB 556.

Authored by California State Senator Lena Gonzalez, SB 556 builds on scientific evidence proving a link between drilling and these maladies, like cancer, the same evidence that was used to enact SB 1137 (Gonzalez), which banned new drilling in the 3200 foot “set-back” zone. Oil drillers qualified a referendum that put SB 1137 on hold until voters vote on it in November 2024. If SB 556 becomes law, it would further protect communities by making drillers liable for the harms they cause in all their wells starting January 2024.

Responses from members of the Last Chance Alliance follow:

“Senator Portantino betrayed the people in his district who live close to the more than 100 operational oil wells there by failing to give a bill that protects them from drilling a fair hearing and using his unilateral power to hold the legislation. Portantino sided with the drillers against the community he represents and allowed oil drillers to continue to recklessly drill without accountability for their actions. His undemocratic actions today will live in infamy in the communities most affected by oil drilling.”
Jamie Court, President of Consumer Watchdog.

“Corporate polluters have spent over $9 million lobbying against legislation that would protect communities and consumers in the first three months of this year alone. In failing to pass SB 556 out of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Portantino has failed the millions of Californians who are used as a sacrifice zone for oil drilling and polluter greed. Big Oil should not be allowed to continue acting with impunity. Californians have suffered for too long. We thank Senator Gonzalez for her efforts in holding corporate polluters accountable and we will continue working towards ending neighborhood oil drilling in California. We will not allow Big Oil to intimidate us.” Chirag G. Bhakta, California Director, Food & Water Watch

“EWG is disheartened by the decision to hold this well-conceived proposal in the Appropriations Committee. Committee Chair Portantino needs to hold the state’s big oil corporations accountable for the serious, often life-threatening health effects inflicted upon millions of hardworking people, including children. The adverse health impacts associated with oil and gas extraction activities are undeniable. The release of toxic emissions, air pollutants, and the contamination of groundwater have been linked to a range of health conditions, including respiratory ailments like asthma, neurological disorders, and increased risk of cancer. It’s shameful that Senator Portantino caved into the pressure the oil companies have put upon the Committee and the Legislature by spending millions of dollars on a fleet of lobbyists to work against this bill.” Bill Allayaud, EWG Vice President for California Government Affairs

“Fossil fuel executives have known for decades that drilling in neighborhoods puts our communities at risk of cancer, asthma, pregnancy complications, and other illnesses. Instead of acting to protect public health and our shared climate, they’ve lobbied and spent millions of dollars convincing elected officials to look the other way. We will continue to work with Senator Gonzalez and other environmental justice champions in efforts to hold these corporate polluters accountable and end neighborhood drilling in California.” Nicole Rivera, Government Affairs Director, The Climate Center

“Our Elected Officials to Protect America California network of over 460 elected officials from 49 counties, representing more than half of Californians, have fought for science-based public health setbacks to protect our communities from oil and gas industry pollution,” said Meghan Sahli-Wells, California Director, Elected Officials to Protect America – Code Blue, Former Culver City Mayor. “SB 556, gives people who have developed cancer, respiratory illnesses and birth defects the right to hold oil drillers liable for their illnesses if they live, work, or go to school within 3200 feet of oil drilling and if the company did not use the best technologies to mitigate risk. Our communities have suffered for far too long, forced to breathe toxic air and live on contaminated soil from oil and gas facilities in our neighborhoods.The industry must responsibly pay for the undeniable harm they have caused too many families. We will not give up until there is justice.”

“Oil and gas wells have plagued our marginalized California communities for far too long, and it is past due for these owners and operators to take responsibility for the health harms they have caused California residents. We strongly believe in Senator’s Gonzalez’s bill, and we are very disappointed in the Appropriations Committee’s failure to pass SB 556. Our communities deserve to live in an environment that does not give them cancer, pregnancy complications, or respiratory issues, and this bill would have moved us toward that reality.” Kayla Karimi, Staff Attorney, Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment

“Every community deserves to live free of pollution that impacts their health and wellbeing. Yet, for far too long frontline communities of primarily Black and Brown residents across the state have been subjected to egregiously negligent practices by Big Oil that harm their health on a daily basis. SB556 is a result of their relentless advocacy and refusal to take no for an answer. It is beyond time we stopped putting corporate profits over people’s wellbeing, yet, that’s exactly what the Appropriations committee’s failure to pass this bill does. Their shameful action keeps in place barriers to accountability that are necessary to protect communities. We thank Senator Gonzalez for her work to hold the oil industry responsible for the harm they cause. While this decision was disheartening, it has only sharpened our resolve to fight for accountability and a clean future where oil drilling doesn’t exist.
Kobi Naseck, VISIÓN Coalition Coordinator.

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SOURCE Consumer Watchdog

Senator Portantino Stops Bill To Hold Oil Drillers Liable For Health Impacts On Community In Undemocratic Use of Unilateral Power To Hold Bills In Committee, Says Consumer Watchdog WeeklyReviewer

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