Close-up of pumping unit in mountainous oil field

New California Bill Aims to Restore Local Governments’ Ability to Limit or Ban Certain Oil and Gas Extractions

As reported to our readers in August 2023, the California Supreme Court in Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. County of Monterey, (2023) Cal. LEXIS 4349, struck down a Monterey County initiative that would have banned oil and gas drilling and imposed stiff restrictions on oil and gas developments in the county. The decision brought an end to nearly 7 years of litigation concerning Chevron’s San Ardo Oil Field with its over 530 million in estimated ultimate recovery of oil is California’s eight-largest oil field.

A new bill introduced last week by 30th District California State Assembly member Dawn Addis aims at making clear what role local governments can have in moving away from fossil fuel extraction in California. Assembly Bill 3233 would spell out that local authorities can limit or even ban specific types of extraction methods or operations. The bill also forces California’s Oil and Gas Supervisor Douglas Ito to reduce harm from oil and gas activities.

“Pollution from oil and gas production causes grave harm to our health, climate, and environment,” said Addis. “For more than a century, cities and counties have protected their residents’ health and safety by deciding whether, where, and under what conditions to allow oil and gas projects to operate. As California transitions away from its dependency on fossil fuels, more cities and counties have introduced ordinances to ban oil and gas operations. Assembly Bill 3233 uplifts the voices of our local communities by codifying their right to enact these policies.”

Since the California Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in the Chevron v. Monterey case, oil and gas companies have sought to expand the holding in their dealings with other local governments, including efforts to stop region-wide extraction phase out initiatives.

In response to the legal strategies of the oil and gas companies, Assemblymember Addis’ new bill hopes to give more power back to the local governments. AB 3233’s aim is to clarify some of the logistical holes felt by some left in the wake of the Chevron decision. While not specifically stated in the Supreme Court’s ruling, AB 3233 clarifies that “a local entity may . . . prohibit oil and gas operations in its jurisdiction.”

Beyond providing this clarification, AB 3233 also outlines that local governments can introduce laws that limit or even outright prohibit particular “methods and practices” of the oil and gas companies. The language of AB 3233 also amends section 3011 of the Public Resources Code to clarify that the primary purpose of the statute is to preserve “California’s air, water, environment, and natural resources, and advancing the state’s climate goals.” Section 3011 would also be amended to specify that there is no language in the Public Resources Code creating any directive to approve oil extraction.

AB 3233 has received sponsorship from the Center for Biological Diversity and has received support from a number of environmental, health, and community groups. “This bill is vital to defending local governments’ authority to protect their residents and the environment from deadly oil and gas pollution,” said Jason Pfeifle of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Local governments’ most basic responsibility is to safeguard community health and safety. But they can’t fight pollution or climate change if they don’t have the full range of tools to address oil and gas projects in their own backyards.”

AB 3233 currently awaits its first hearing in the Assembly Natural Resources Committee. We will provide further updates on its progress as they come in.