Newsom: Stop propping up the oil/gas industries, declare a state of emergency for the climate crisis

Few Californians were spared from the grueling heat wave that recently baked the state. Not only were they coping with life-threatening heat: they were forced to live with an energy regime that, when they most need support and stability, left them in the dark. 

With rolling blackouts that have rippled across the state, as many as 3.3 million Californian households were left without power as temperatures rocketed up past 100 degrees, reaching 130 in Death Valley. The political fallout was immense, with citizens demanding to know who’s to blame for this staggering systemic failure. Newsom said it himself in an August 17th press conference: he is “ultimately accountable” for the rolling blackouts. 

Califonian electricity companies still rely on fossil fuels. Natural gas makes up 47 percent of portfolios, compared to only 36 percent renewables. Still, Energy Secretary Brouilette is trying to pin the blame for recent crises on the adoption of renewable energy sources, claiming California must backtrack away from innovative solar and wind. The scientific evidence says that’s just not true. In fact, climate change driven by fossil fuel energy sources is exactly what was behind the increased demand that crippled the grid. 

To move California forward and to protect her citizens, Elected Officials to Protect California (EOCPA) insists that Governor Gavin Newsom use his executive power to turn the situation around and seize this opportunity to fully transition to using 100 percent clean, renewable energy and start the process to phase out all fossil fuels production now. 

Elected Officials to Protect California have this message for Governor Newsom:

Dear Governor Newsom,

As elected officials, it is our responsibility to respond to the scale of the crisis this fire season has shown the world. Thus, on behalf of 310+ elected officials,from 49 counties we urge you to:

  • Declare a state of emergency for the climate crisis in California.
  • Phase out fossil fuel production, start by ending new permits for any fossil fuel projects.
  • Enact evidence based 2,500 foot safety buffer zones around all oil and gas wells.
  • Invest in creating clean energy jobs in the renewable energy sector to transition the state with resiliency, protecting our communities.

Even without the triple digit heat. California is still facing down an apocalyptic confluence of crises as COVID-19 continues to rage, wildfires burn, driving air quality to astonishingly bad levels and the fear of rolling blackouts is ever present. Recent studies have shown that exposure to air pollutants increases risk of dying from COVID-19.

We urge you to use the powers a state of emergency affords you under the law to ensure the path towards a future where California is truly leading the battle against climate change. More than 110 local governments in California have passed 160 local policies to protect their communities from fossil fuels. It’s time the state addressed the climate emergency.

“We’re in a pandemic, we just had a week of three digit temperatures and apocalyptic fires. I’m thankful our governor is doing a heroic job in both areas. But while he’s had the foresight to make an emergency declaration for these fires and the pandemic, it’s high time he did the same for the climate crisis. He should use those powers to keep our lights on in the future, by investing now in more clean renewable energy sources to power our grid,”  asked San Obispo Mayor and Elected Officials to Protect California (EOPCA) Steering Committee Member Heidi Harmon. Governor, declare a state of emergency for the climate crisis now.”

Newsom canceled his marquee speech Democratic National Convention (DNC) because of the wildfires burning across California. He did make a brief appearance in a three-minute cell phone video, recorded in a forest near Watsonville where he visited an evacuation center. In it, he encouraged Americans to take up the fight against climate change.

“Climate change is real. If you are in denial about climate change, come to California. This is an extraordinary moment in our history. Mother Nature has now joined this conversation around climate change. And so, we, too, need to advance that conversation anew,” said Newsom.

That conversation has to address the increased health risks caused by climate change. People exposed to wildfire smoke have an increased vulnerability to Covid-19. Particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter is known as PM 2.5. Long-term exposure to air with even moderate concentrations of PM 2.5 can stress the heart, increase the buildup of plaques inside arteries, hinder liver function and increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney disease. Short-term exposures can prompt an inflammatory response thereby hindering the body’s ability to fight infection, leading to increased hospitalizations for asthma and pneumonia during fire season and, according to research published this summer by the University of Montana and the U.S. Forest Service, more severe flu seasons afterwards.

PM 2.5 in smoke can have effects not only in the communities closest to a fire, but for people living in areas where the smoke travels to.

This isn’t the first time EOPCA has urged Governor Newsom to take logical measures to ensure the health and well being of Californians. When constituents and fellow elected officials have demanded immediate action on urgent, life-or-death matters like ensuring adequate setbacks from drilling rigs to protect Californians’ health, Newsom has claimed he doesn’t possess the power to act. But he does: he can act by declaring a state of emergency for the climate crisis.

Although he ran on a platform of banning fracking, Governor Newsom has granted 48 new permits under the political cover of the twin crises of the pandemic and racial justice reckonings. In the past, the California Legislature and Governor Newsom have claimed that it is the other branch’s prerogative to take action against fracking or setbacks. Californians are tired of the back-and-forth, blame, and promises that fail to materialize. Elected Officials to Protect California has been advocating for years to see the Governor take the lead.

 “The governor invited people in his DNC video to come to Californina if they don’t think climate change is true. This fire season, and the pandemic are clear results of humans disrupting the environment — it’s time he took real action. Why isn’t he doing more to try and mitigate the factors that are creating the climate crisis? He has the power,” said Meghan Sahli-Wells former Culver City Mayor, and current Councilmember, Elected Officials to Protect California Co-Chair . “I’m proud to serve as Co-Chair of Elected Officials to Protect California, where more than 310 of us signed a letter to him to take action to halt permitting, put safety zones around existing wells and to phase out fossil fuel production once and for all. He could just declare a state of emergency, and make it so.”

It is now clear that California’s overreliance on out-of-state energy imports contributes to major power outages. Renewables not only alleviate crises —  they can provide unprecedented opportunities for growth. According to Forbes, with a transition to 100 percent clean energy, energy investors will see boosted value and new opportunities to innovate. Financially and morally, bold steps are imperative now.

 “I understand we are in a state of emergency with the pandemic and the fires — but when is Governor Newsom going to see he’s fueling the fires that cause the climate emergency?” asked San Obispo Mayor and EOPCA Steering Committee Member Heidi Harmon. “One stroke of the pen issuing a state of emergency for the climate crisis and he could begin to phase out all fossil fuel production, and let California lead the fight to combat climate change. Economically it’s in our best interest too.”

Governor Newsom’s wake-up call is here. This time, it just may be loud enough that despite the powerful interests of big oil, the administration might take necessary action. The governor must embolden California’s transition away from fossil fuels to match the urgency of the climate crisis.

The mission of Elected Officials to Protect America: To create a safe, prosperous, and healthy planet, we empower leadership from elected officials and civic leaders to protect our environment, and fight the climate crisis. As current and former elected officials who care deeply about protecting our planet and people from the dangers of climate change, EOPA educates through value-based storytelling, trains lawmakers, and connects elected officials to inspire strong environmental policy. Lawmakers who are veterans and elected officials lead our mission. Elected Officials to Protect California is a branch of Elected Officials to Protect America.

September 2, 2020


Contact: Alexander Cornell du Houx, President of Elected Officials to Protect California Cell: 207.319.4511