Protesters hold a banner at a press conference in front of the Fresno Board of Supervisors’ building on April 8 to demand that Governor Gavin Newsome halt new oil and gas drilling in California and put a plan into effect to phase out the industry. Photo by Peter Maiden

Time to Put a Stop to Oil Drilling

Pedro Hernandez of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition was MC of the press conference put on by the Central California Environmental Justice Network. Photo by Peter Maiden

By  Nayamin Martinez, Ruben Rodriguez and Cesar Aguirre

According to the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published on April 4, the world must quickly and radically cut its dependence on fossil fuels or face disaster. The window to prevent global temperatures from rising by more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial averages is rapidly closing.

While world leaders are engaged in seeking an urgent solution to this climate crisis, local decision-makers in Fresno County (and our neighbor to the south in Kern County) have recently taken public positions to emphasize their denial of the climate crisis.

First, they declined to accept a grant that would have allowed a diverse group of stakeholders (that included the Fresno County health officer, physicians affiliated with UC San Francisco and environmental justice groups) to conduct a community-engaged vulnerability and adaptation assessment of Fresno County to inform the development of a plan to build local resilience to health impacts of climate change.

Second, the Fresno supervisors organized on April 12 a press conference urging an increase in oil production in California and particularly in Coalinga.

Fortunately for Fresno and Kern counties, the poor judgment of the supervisors continues to be challenged by environmental justice and environmental groups. Activities and residents in the two counties joined a series of statewide actions that were organized by members of the Last Chance Alliance to demand an end to new fossil fuel projects in California, a strengthened health and safety setback separating oil drilling and communities, and a just transition plan that puts communities and workers before the profits of oil companies.

The Last Chance Alliance is a coalition of more than 800 groups that have come together with the goal of protecting both the climate and public health from oil and gas extraction in California. Eleven Alliance actions took place on April 7 and 8 from Sacramento to San Diego.

The Central Valley actions started on April 7 in Coalinga, where representatives from El Pueblo para el Aire y Agua Limpia de Kettleman City, Xicas Super Poderosas HEAL and the Central California Environmental Justice Network gathered to send a clear message to Governor Gavin Newsom and, most important, to the Fresno supervisors: “We are here to take a stand against big oil and defend mother earth. It is time to work together and build a brighter and safer future for the generations to come.”

Two dozen residents joined the action, which was well received by most of the community members that drove by except for one older man who screamed “We need more oil.”

The Coalinga demonstration was followed by a second action in downtown Fresno. Three dozen people representing Fresnans Against Fracking, the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, the Sierra Club Tehipite Chapter, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, Fresno Building Healthy Communities and residents concerned with the climate change crisis gathered in front of the Fresno County Hall of Records to demand that the state stop issuing oil permits and to tell Fresno supervisors that Coalinga does not need more oil extraction as too much harm has been done already.

Few are better to explain this harm than Cecilia Moreno, a descendent of the Tachi Yokut people who were displaced by the oil companies in Coalinga.

“The Central Valley is a wide and beautiful land that is bountiful,” says Moreno. “It is home to me and my ancestors. My ancestors were the Tachi Yokut people. They lived and took care of this beautiful land for many years.

“In the Central Valley, numerous tribes called this place home. We lived in peace and tranquility being hunters and gatherers. Many of our native tribes were relocated so that the oil industry could make a profit.

“We were moved to harsh living conditions. My grandmother, Lawona Icho (a full-blooded Native American from the Tachi and Wukchumni), told me the story of the long walk from Coalinga to Lemoore.

“Out of thousands of natives who made that walk, only a few hundred lived. Those who were elderly, sick or too young passed away during the journey. Those who survived kept our culture going after that traumatic experience.

“Now it’s my turn to keep this fire going and pass this information to the next generation of culture seekers. Governor Newsom tells us he will fight polluters, but if he is serious about making fossil fuels part of our past, he must immediately stop approving new oil and gas permits.

“We have had enough; it’s time to put a stop to oil drilling!”

***** 

Nayamin Martinez is the executive director of the Central California Environmental Justice Network. 

Ruben Rodriguez is a community organizer and air quality specialist with the Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN). He lives in Coalinga and used to work for an oil company.

Cesar Aguirre is a community organizer with the CCEJN, a Bakersfield resident and a co-founder of the Youth vs. Big Oil statewide coalition.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

  • Nayamin Martinez is the director of the Central California Environmental Justice Network.

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