November 23, 2023
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Opinion: The case for Measures A and B in Ventura County


By Tomás Rebecchi

Measures A and B close a decades-old loophole that allows oil and gas operators to escape the regulatory rules every other industry has to play by, and that’s why we’re urging Ventura County residents to vote yes on A and B this June.

The Ventura County Board of Supervisors passed these protections in 2020 and their own county planning staff even recommended a “Yes” vote. The oil industry is now trying to buy back its loophole with more than $6 million and a misinformation campaign trying to confuse voters.

Ventura County has a long history of fossil fuel pollution and environmental injustice, creating high levels of vulnerability to climate change-induced disasters such as the Western megadrought. We can’t allow corporate oil interests to dictate the future of our health or climate.

Closing the loophole that allows oil and gas operators to use decades-old permits with no environmental review will protect our access to clean water in a drought and ensure our agricultural economy will thrive.

In Ventura County, 83% of oil wells are drilled using permits that were approved before environmental regulations existed — in some cases as long ago as the 1920s. Those wells can be drilled next to homes and schools or straight through a drinking water aquifer. Studies have long since confirmed that living in close proximity to oil wells is linked to health impacts ranging from asthma to cancer and pregnancy complications.

These loophole permits never expire, exempting oil operators from following state-mandated health and safety regulations like CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act). Measures A and B won’t shut down those wells, but it will ensure no new wells can be drilled using these permits without environmental review first.

These loophole permits also allow operators to drill through or next to a freshwater aquifer with permits that never expire. More than 654 active and idle oil wells are currently either adjacent to such an aquifer or drilled through it. Ventura County depends on our aquifers for the agriculture that sustains our economy and clean drinking water to ensure community health.

Some of Ventura County’s most impacted communities — like South Oxnard, Santa Paula, Fillmore, and my own neighborhood on the west side of Ventura — already face high levels of pollution from the oil and gas industry.

Almost all of Ventura County is in severe drought, exacerbated by climate change that is fueled by the emissions of oil and gas extraction. Our groundwater sources must be protected to keep our crops irrigated and our communities healthy.

In 2020, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors listened to the advocacy of our community and their own planning department’s recommendations, who simply wanted all oil companies to play by the same rules no matter when they got their permits, so we could protect our families from pollution and water contamination.

After the loophole was closed and these protections were passed by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, the oil industry spent $1 million hiring canvassers to collect signatures and to pause the protections and put the issue on the June 2022 ballot.

The oil and gas industry has now spent more than $6 million to fight these protections — by far the most any corporate entity has spent on a ballot measure in our county. But our democracy and self-determination is not for sale. Neither is the health of our families. Let’s pass Measures A and B to safeguard our water, agriculture and democracy with common sense protections.

• Tomás Rebecchi is the organizing manager for Food & Water Watch Central Coast, and he also leads Ventura County Save Agriculture and Freshwater for Everyone, the VC-SAFE coalition, to pass Measures A and B.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For the case against Measures A and B, read this column. For the Business Times news coverage of the measures, read this article.