SAN JOSE, California.–A California appeals court on Tuesday overturned the historic Measure Z vote initiative that banned new oil and gas wells and phased out waste fluid disposal in Monterey County.
The court ruled that the local ordinance, which was passed with overwhelming support in 2016, is preempted by state oil and gas laws.
“This move goes against local people who just want to protect us and our groundwater from dirty oil and gas production,” said Laura Solorio, MD, president of Protect Monterey County. “Voters have said loud and clear that we want to move away from the polluting fossil fuel industry. We will continue to fight to ensure that voters are heard.
While the ruling recognizes the right of cities and counties to restrict or even ban oil and gas projects, it indicates that California law gives the state oil and gas regulator exclusive power to oversee how the oil and gas drilling is carried out. According to the three-judge panel, Measure Z’s land use protections conflict with state law.
“This ruling runs counter to a century of court cases upholding the power of California cities and counties to protect their residents from dangerous oil operations,” said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, who makes part of the team representing Protect Monterey County in the case. “Protect Monterey County is evaluating the decision and will likely seek a review by the California Supreme Court. “
The court’s reasoning puts additional pressure on Governor Gavin Newsom to protect Californians from fossil fuel pollution statewide. It comes shortly after a massive oil spill off the southern California coast prompted Newsom to take stronger action on fossil fuels. Climate and health advocates continue to call on Newsom to stop approving new oil and gas projects, adopt a 2,500 foot health and safety buffer between oil wells and communities, and start rapid phase-out of existing fossil fuel projects.
“People are tired of waiting and our climate no longer has time for Governor Newsom to use his power to protect us from pollution from the oil industry,” Kretzmann said.
Much of Monterey County’s oil comes from the San Ardo oil field, which produces one of the most climate-damaging oils in the world, comparable to Canada’s tar sands. Its heavy, barrel-bottom consistency means oil companies are using dangerous techniques like steam injection to extract crude. These processes require significant amounts of energy and result in much higher air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Local residents formed Protect Monterey County to advocate for the protection of health and the environment from oil production in the county. After the county supervisory board rejected the common sense protections, the group gathered support for the Protect Our Water: Ban Fracking and Limit Risky Oil Operations initiative, which became Measure Z. ran a multi-million dollar campaign of opposition, but voters approved the measure by a 12-point margin.
Shortly after Measure Z was passed in November 2016, a host of oil interests, including the state’s largest oil companies, Chevron, Aera Energy and California Resources Corporation, sued the county.
Protect Monterey County is represented by Shute Mihaly & Weinberger LLP, Robins Kaplan LLC, Stanford Environmental Law Clinic and the Center for Biological Diversity.