After receiving much push back from environmental justice advocates, politicians pulled a bill that would have exempt small refineries from air monitoring and reporting.
Senator Melissa Hurtado — who was named the Senate Floor Manager on Friday, the last day of California Legislative Session — deemed Assembly Bill 1299 inactive for the year, after Assemblyman Rudy Salas, the author of the bill, requested it be pulled, according to Salas’ office.
“AB 1299 is an important bill for the Southern Central Valley and the families who depend on the economic health of the region,” said Hurtado. “By extending the conversations between all parties, we hope to find a middle ground that’ll consider all aspects of our communities.”
If refineries were to be exempt from Valley Air District regulations with the passage of the bill, they wouldn’t have had to follow the most stringent regulations on emission reduction and toxic exposure, and they will not be obligated to use the Best Control Technology for pollution, according to Central California Environmental Justice Network project coordinator Gustavo Aguirre Jr.
Advocates called the offices of Hurtado and Salas last week, hoping to speak with the Senator and Assemblyman, but they were only able to speak with staffers.
That’s when advocates from Kern County decided to travel to Sacramento Friday and waited to speak with Salas about the impact it would have on the health of families and children in Kern, Aguirre said. After waiting for some time, advocates were able to speak with Salas. Salas called for some advocates to come down to the floor to discuss the bill.
Salas argued the AB 1299 sought to level the “playing field” for small, family-owned refineries, such as Kern Oil & Refining, which backed the bill, according to Cal Matters. Salas says these refineries are an important economic driver in Kern County. However, after hearing from community members, Salas said more conversations need to take place before passing such a bill.
“I was excited to see members of my community come and engage about AB 1299 to make their voices heard,” Salas said in a news release. “I look forward to bringing together the local stakeholders on this important issue so we can find ways to reduce bureaucratic red tape, implement clean air mitigation efforts faster, and preserve our good middle class jobs in the Valley in the upcoming legislative session.”
The bill surprised advocates. They found out last week after Sacramento staffers reached out to advocates about the bill.
“To say that it was as easy as traveling to Sacramento to speak with Salas’ office and Hurtado is an understatement,” Aguirre said. “(This was) an 11th hour Gut and Amend bill that was looking to exempt the largest oil and gas refinery in the entire county of Kern, producing close to 30,000 barrels of product a day.”
Cal Matters reports Salas went through what is known as a “gut and amend” process, which essentially allows politicians to strip the original bill and rewrite it in hopes of pushing a new bill through the legislative process.
California law requires bills to be finalized and published 72 hours before the end of the legislative session, which was Friday. The rewritten bill was published Tuesday at 7:26 p.m., according to Cal Matters.
Advocates are calling this a victory. They feared such a bill could have had a negative impact on the health of Kern County residents and Kern’s air quality.
“This is a major victory for the communities of Lamont and South Kern,” said Aguirre. “Melissa stood up, and she is the champion.”
Salas said last week in a statement that Kern Oil is one of the last small, family-owned refineries in California, and it plays a key role in the state’s energy economy. He said the bill would have allowed small refineries to invest in cleaner and safer technology upgrades.
Aguirre says the next move is to sit down with Salas and Hurtado to work on a solution that can ease the regulations on smaller facilities, “without gambling the public health of tens of thousands of people.”
Featured photo: Courtesy of Melissa Hurtado for Senate
Kern Sol News is a youth-led journalism organization in Kern County. In their stories, reporters shine light on health and racial disparities in under-served communities across Kern. For more stories by South Kern Sol, head to southkernsol.org.