Santa Barbara disaster inevitable with Big Oil’s capture of regulatory apparatus

by Dan Bacher
Wednesday May 27th, 2015 8:51 AM
Oil on the beach at Refugio State Park in Santa Barbara, California, on May 19, 2015. (Photo by U.S. Coast Guard)

Oil on the beach at Refugio State Park in Santa Barbara, California, on May 19, 2015. (Photo by U.S. Coast Guard)

The same region devastated by the Santa Barbara Oil Spill of 1969 is now the scene of a massive clean up of crude oil by the state and federal governments and volunteers. The international and national media have spread throughout the world the startling images of the oil soaked beaches, birds, fish and ecosystem in a deluge of TV, radio, newspaper and internet reports.

The oil spill resulted from the rupture of an oil pipeline owned by Plains Pipeline, a subsidiary of Plains All-American Pipeline, near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County on Tuesday, May 19. A 24-inch wide, 11-mile long section carrying oil from offshore platforms and an Exxon Mobil processing plant onshore leaked as much as 105,000 gallons of crude oil. An estimated 21,000 gallons made into the ocean, devastating nine miles of coastal waters and beaches.

The oil spill that began off Refugio State Beach was inevitable, when you consider the capture of the regulatory apparatus by the oil industry in California. Until people challenge the power of Big Oil in California and the industry’s control over the state and federal regulatory agencies, we will see more of the Refugio-type of oil spill disasters in the future.

During the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative process from 2004 to 2012, state officials and corporate “environmental” NGOs made sure that Big Oil and other corporate polluters weren’t impacted by the creation of alleged “marine protected areas” along the California coast. The MLPA Initiative, a controversial “public-private partnership” between the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation (RLFF), was supposed to create a network of “marine protected areas” along the California coast.

In an article published widely in June 2010, I warned that the “marine protected areas” created under the MLPA Initiative don’t protect the ocean from oil spills and pollution. (

“These marine protected areas, as currently designed, don’t protect against oil spills,” said Sara Randall, then the program director of the Institute for Fishery Resources and Commercial Fishermen of America. “What’s the point of developing marine protected areas if they don’t protect the resources?”

MLPA Initiative advocates claimed that other state and federal laws and administrative actions “protect” the ocean from oil spills and new offshore oil drilling, so there was no need for specific bans or restrictions on oil industry activities in and near “marine protected areas.”

In violation of the provisions of the landmark Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) of 1999, the “marine protected areas” failed to protect the ocean from oil spills, oil drilling, pollution, military testing, corporate aquaculture, military testing and all human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

Of course, MLPA Initiative advocates neglected to address why Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association in Sacramento, was allowed to CHAIR the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast and to sit on the task forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast, as well as on a NOAA federal marine protected areas panel. (

They dismissed any questioning of why a Big Oil lobbyist was allowed to oversee “marine protection” in California as “wild conspiracy theories.”

To make matters even worse, the WSPA President’s husband, James Boyd, served on the California Energy Commission from 2002 to 2012. From 2007 to 2012, he served as the Commission’s Vice Chair, the second most powerful position on the Commission! (

However, as we can see from the current oil spill disaster off the coast of Santa Barbara, the state and federal regulatory agencies and the MLPA Initiative’s so-called “marine protected areas” weren’t able to prevent a big oil spill like the one now taking place from occurring – and the fishermen, Tribal members and grassroots environmentalists who criticized oil industry lobbyist oversight of the MLPA Initiative process were absolutely right about their fears that the new “Yosemites of the Sea” wouldn’t protect the ocean.

Ironically, the region impacted by the spill includes three “marine protected areas” created by the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force under the helm of the Western States Petroleum Association President – the Campus Point, Naples and Kashtayit State Marine Conservation Areas – along with the Refugio State Marine Conservation Area.

This disaster could have been averted if the pipeline had an automatic shut-off valve, but it didn’t, according to a Santa Barbara County official. Now you will see the federal and state regulatory agencies pointing fingers at each other as to who is to “blame” for the spill when it is the entire regulatory apparatus, now captured by Big Oil, that is really responsible for the spill.

To make matters worse, these same agencies, ranging from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), the federal agency that permits offshore drilling, to the California Coastal Commission, failed to stop oil companies from fracking the ocean off California over 200 times over the past 20 years.

Record of pipeline owner marred by 175 incidents since 2006

Now we find out that company that owns the pipeline involved in Tuesday’s major oil spill in Santa Barbara has had 175 incidents (mostly oil spills) nationwide since 2006, including 11 in California, according to a Center for Biological Diversity analysis of federal documents! (–spill-05-21-2015.html)

It gets worse. Plains Pipeline has also had federal enforcement actions initiated against it 20 times since 2006 for its operations across the country, according to data from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Many of those cases involve corrosion control and maintenance problems on its pipelines, including two cases in 2009 for which the company was fined $115,600, the Center noted.

“This company’s disturbing record highlights oil production’s toxic threat to California’s coast,” said Miyoko Sakashita, the Center’s oceans program director. “Oil pipelines and offshore fracking and drilling endanger our fragile marine ecosystems. Every new oil project increases the risk of fouled beaches and oil-soaked sea life.”

According to Sakashita, the broken pipeline was 28 years old and operated by a company that has been repeatedly warned by government regulators to improve its procedures and control corrosion for its pipelines. Plains Pipeline had five incidents in California in 2014 alone, including the one that dumped oil into a Los Angeles neighborhood a year ago.

“Hundreds of miles of oil pipelines run through California’s coastal areas, posing a serious threat of spills,” warned Sakashita. “A review released by the Center for Biological Diversity of federal data over the past 30 years shows that such oil spills from pipelines are a common and costly byproduct of oil production that has been rapidly increasing in the United States, including offshore.”

An analysis of federal pipeline data commissioned by the Center last year showed there have been nearly 8,000 serious pipeline breaks nationwide since 1986, causing more than 2,300 injuries and nearly $7 billion in property damage.

The vast majority of those incidents have involved oil pipelines, spilling more than 2 million barrels into waterways and on the ground. More than 35 percent of these incidents have been caused by corrosion or other spontaneous structural failures, according to the Center.

The Santa Barbara Channel is rich in biodiversity, featuring whales, dolphins and more than 500 species of fish, including lingcod, white seabass, calico and sand bass, sheephead, ocean whitefish, yellowtail and dozens of species of rockfish. Endangered blue whales often feed in the forage in the channel, also migration path for four other whales listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Sakashita reminded people that the Santa Barbara County coastline was the site of an oil platform explosion in 1969 that spilled up to 100,000 barrels of oil. That oil spill, with its massive devastation of fish, wildlife and the ocean ecosystem, served as the impetus for the creation of the modern environmental movement and Earth Day.

“If we’re learned anything over the past 50 years, it’s that coastal oil production remains inherently dangerous to wildlife, local communities and health of the planet,” she said. “To protect our coast, we need to stop offshore drilling and fracking and quickly transition to cleaner energy sources.”

Oil industry is most powerful corporate lobby in California

Oil spills like the latest one off Santa Barbara are inevitable as long as Big Oil is able to exert as much power and influence as it does now in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. The oil industry is the largest and most powerful corporate lobby in California, with the Western States Petroleum Association alone spending $8.9 million on lobbying in 2014, nearly double what it spent the previous year.

The oil industry has spent over $70 million on lobbyists in California since January 2009, according to a 2014 report written by Will Barrett, the Senior Policy Analyst for the American Lung Association in California. The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) topped the oil industry spending with a total of $31,179,039 spent on lobbying since January 1, 2009 at the time of Barrett’s report. Chevron was second in lobbying expenses with a total of $15,542,565 spent during the same period. (

From July 1 to September 30 alone, the oil industry spent an unprecedented $7.1 million lobbying elected officials in California “with a major focus on getting oil companies out of a major clean air regulation,” said Barrett.

Big Oil also exerts its power and influence by spending many millions of dollars every election season on candidates and ballot measures. The oil industry dumped $7.6 million into defeating a measure calling for a fracking ban in Santa Barbara County; yes the same county where the oil spill is now devastating the ecosystem.

Not only does Big Oil spend millions every year on lobbying and campaign contributions, but it funds “Astroturf” campaigns to eviscerate environmental laws. And as we have seen in the case of Catherine Reheis-Boyd and her husband, James Boyd, oil and chemical industry representatives further exert their power and influence by serving on state and federal regulatory panels.

The millions Chevron and other oil companies have spent on lobbying, campaign contributions and setting up “Astroturf” groups promoting the oil industry agenda are just chump change to Big Oil. The five big oil companies – BP, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, Exxon Mobil and Shell – made $16.4 billion in the last quarter of 2014 and $89.7 billion for the entire year, according to the Center for American Progress. This was done in spite of “sliding” oil prices.

Yet both the mainstream media and the “alternative” media articles that I have read to date have failed in their coverage of the Santa Barbara Oil Spill over the past week, since they have neglected their duty to expose the reason behind the spill – the capture of the regulatory apparatus by Big Oil, a huge environmental scandal that I have exposed in article, after article, after article.

To read my investigative piece on oil industry money and power in California in the East Bay Express, go to:

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Protest at the Chevron Shareholders Meeting in San Ramon!

chevron shareholder flyer

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use me shell 2w oiluse me shell 1w oil

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No injuries reported after flare at Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo

By Natalie Neysa Alund    Bay Area News Group    POSTED:   05/19/2015 10:56:24 AM PDT 

p666 flaring

RODEO — No one was injured when a processing unit at the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo flared late Monday producing a bright flare in Contra Costa County, refinery officials announced Tuesday.

The flare occurred at 10:15 p.m. when one of the refinery’s processing units experienced a process interruption, according to refinery officials.

The refinery remained operational Tuesday and Phillips 66 officials said they would conduct an investigation to determine what caused the flare. As of mid-Tuesday morning, the flare was still going as the refinery continued to burn off excess material, officials said, but it less visible in daylight.

After the flare, Contra Costa County issued a Level 1 community warning for the incident, the lowest possible alert level.

While oil company officials say flaring is a normal part of refinery operations and happens less frequently than it did decades ago, large flares continue to draw attention.

An August 2012 blaze at the Chevron refinery in Richmond sparked a federal investigation and sent thousands of residents to area hospitals.

Contact Natalie Neysa Alund at 510-293-2469. Follow her at

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“Shell is among the most irresponsible companies on earth. When they write the history of our time…Shell will provide the iconic example of the shortsighted greed that marks the richest people on our planet.” Bill McKibben, environmental activist, on Shell

Photo by Greenpeace

Photo by Greenpeace

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Shell accused of strategy risking catastrophic climate change

Environmentalists say presumption of global temperature rise to 4C undermines multinational’s ability to talk with authority on climate change

 ‘Shell No’ protesters take to the water on Saturday heading near Royal Dutch Shell’s Polar Pioneer drilling rig near Seattle. Photograph: David Ryder/Getty Images

‘Shell No’ protesters take to the water on Saturday heading near Royal Dutch Shell’s Polar Pioneer drilling rig near Seattle. Photograph: David Ryder/Getty Images

Royal Dutch Shell has been accused of pursuing a strategy that would lead to potentially catastrophic climate change after an internal document acknowledged a global temperature rise of 4C, twice the level considered safe for the planet.

A paper used for guiding future business planning at the Anglo-Dutch multinational assumes that carbon dioxide emissions will fail to limit temperature increases to 2C, the internationally agreed threshold to prevent widespread flooding, famine and desertification.

‘Don’t mention the Arctic': Shell embarrassed by video competition row
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Instead, the New Lens Scenarios document refers to a forecast by the independent International Energy Agency (IEA) that points to a temperature rise of up to 4C in the short term, rising later to 6C.

The revelations come ahead of the annual general meeting of Shell shareholders in the Netherlands on Tuesday, where the group has accepted a shareholder resolution demanding more transparency about the group’s impact on climate change.

Continue reading

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5/12/15 – Last night, the Martinez Unified School District took a strong stand against the explosive Bakken crude-by-rail that is currently allowed to travel through Martinez.  Acknowledging that there are five Martinez public schools within the one-mile “blast zone,” the School Board unanimously supported a resolution that:

  • opposes on principle the transport of hazardous Bakken crude-by-rail;
  • calls on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to rescind the permit allowing these highly volatile trains to unload at the Richmond Kinder Morgan facility;
  • calls on Tesoro to cease the transport of this highly volatile commodity through Martinez by train or truck.

20150511_193807 (1)

Over the past year, Bakken trains have been travelling on the BNSF rail line from Stockton to Richmond several times a month.  Although the trains have been on hold due to low crude prices, recent price per barrel increases suggest the trains could resume at any time.  These are the same trains that have derailed, exploded and burned for days elsewhere in the country; the most recent incident was less than a week ago in North Dakota.  Despite the clear danger, the BAAQMD permit allowing these trains to unload at the Kinder Morgan rail yard was issued “ministerially;” that is, without any public hearing or notice whatsoever.

The Martinez school board’s decision last night is the most significant action ever taken here in Martinez by an elected official on the issue of crude-by-rail, despite extensive advocacy by local residents.  The resolution is available here:

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US military concerned about oil train proximity to missile sites

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Awaiting Justice: Indigenous Resistance in the Tar Sands of Canada


Protesters gather at the rally against the proposed Kinder Morgan oil pipeline on Burnaby Mountain, November 17, 2014. (Photo: Mark Klotz)

Monday, 27 April 2015 By Melina Laboucan-Massimo, 50.50  Op-Ed

Protesters gather at the rally against the proposed Kinder Morgan oil pipeline on Burnaby Mountain, November 17, 2014. (Photo: Mark Klotz)

On April 11, 2015 there were dozens of rallies across Canada demanding true leadership to deal with the climate crisis we face around the world. The federal Harper government continues to be a climate laggard refusing to address the need to reduce our carbon emissions and violate Indigenous peoples rights with its zealous pro-tar sands agenda. For the first time in Quebec, Indigenous peoples led the march to show our resolve to protect the sacredness of Mother Earth and demand justice. As I stood before a crowd of 25 000 people from across Canada, I spoke of the contamination, despair and detrimental impacts my family and many other communities face from resource extraction happening in our homelands of Northern Alberta.

Due to being an Indigenous activist who speaks out against environmental destruction I have been labelled by the Canadian government as an “adversary.” Both “Aboriginals” and “environmentalists” were labelled as such in 2012 when secret government documents were accessed through the Freedom of Information Act. And now the Harper government is taking this to yet another extreme by attempting to pass an anti-terrorism law called Bill C-51 which includes targeting the “anti-petroleum movement” as “extremists” because they oppose “critical infrastructure” projects like the tar sands and tar sands pipelines. This bill is an attempt to silence people who do not agree with the Harper government and can be used to target and criminalize democratic peaceful protest movements. Over 100 legal experts expressed deep concern calling the bill “a dangerous piece of legislation” and addressed an open letter to all members of parliament to amend Bill C-51 or kill it. It is legislation like this that makes it difficult for people to not be scared into silence and for people like me who believe that we need to transition to clean and just work and engage in peaceful protests that may be seen as criminal in the eyes of the Canadian government. But this history is not new for us as Indigenous peoples here in Canada. It is the continuation of  neo colonialism seen now in the form of resource extraction, environmental and cultural genocide.

The traditional territory of my ancestors and my Nation of the Lubicon Cree covers approximately 10,000 square kilometres of low-lying trees, forests, rivers, plains, and wetlands – what we call muskeg – in northern Alberta. For three decades, our territory has undergone massive oil and gas development without the consent of the people and without recognition of our treaty & Indigenous rights, which are protected under Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution.

In the 1970s, before this encroachment on the land began, my father’s generation and my grandparents’ generation survived by hunting, fishing, and trapping throughout the region. Back then, and even into my own generation, people were still living off the land. I remember going out on the trapline, and I remember when the water was still good to drink. But as oil and gas have come through the territory, that’s changed.

Currently there are more than 2,600 oil and gas wells in our traditional territories. Over 1,400 square kilometres of leases have been granted for tar sands development in Lubicon territory, and almost 70 per cent of the remaining land has been leased for future development.

Where there once was self-sufficiency, we are seeing increased dependency on social services as families are no longer able to sustain themselves in what was once a healthy environment with clean air, clean water, medicines, berries, and plants from the Boreal. Our way of life is being replaced by industrial landscapes, polluted and drained watersheds, and contaminated air. And it’s very much a crisis situation.

In the North, we are seeing elevated rates of cancers and respiratory illnesses as a consequence of the toxic gases being released into the air and water. And while over $14 billion in oil and gas revenues have been taken from our traditional territory, our community lives in extreme poverty and still lacks basic medical services and running water.

Unceded Territory

Canada’s treatment of the Lubicon has been repeatedly condemned by the United Nations, and UN Special Rapporteur Miloon Kothari has called for a moratorium on oil and gas in Lubicon territory.

On March 26, 1990, the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled that Canada’s failure to recognize and protect Lubicon land rights violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In 2006, the United Nations Human Rights Committee again called on Canada to address outstanding land claims in Lubicon territory before granting further licences for economic exploitation, yet this resource extraction is still happening.

In 1899, when Treaty 8 was officially signed in northern Alberta, treaty commissioners overlooked the Lubicon Cree due to their remote and hard-to-reach territory. The Lubicon people therefore never ceded their traditional territory to the Crown. This has led to a precarious and unstable relationship with both the provincial and federal governments as both have continuously undermined the sovereignty of the Lubicon people. For decades the Lubicon have tried to settle these outstanding land disputes, but unfortunately it serves the government’s interests to keep the Lubicon land claim outstanding due to the territory’s rich oil and gas deposits.

When the construction of an all-weather road began in the early 1970s, the Lubicon people started to contest the encroachment of their traditional territory as multinational corporations began to exploit the land. For the 14 years that followed, the Lubicon attempted to assert their rights through various court proceedings at both the provincial and federal level. By 1988, the Lubicon concluded that it was necessary to use other means of direct action so their voices and message would be heard.

On October 15, 1988, the Lubicon people erected a peaceful blockade, which was successful in stopping oil exploitation of the territory for six days. Only then did Alberta Premier Don Getty meet with the Lubicon chief and agree to a 243-kilometre reserve under the Grimshaw Accord.

Despite this agreement, the Canadian government offered the Lubicon substandard conditions in the land settlement agreement. Even Premier Getty described the offer as “deficient in the area of providing economic stability for the future.”

Unfortunately, due to the take-it-or-leave-it approach of the federal government, the land claim negotiations continued from 1989 until 2003 when the talks broke down completely and both parties walked away from the table. To this day, the Lubicon Cree have been unable to settle a land claim, which has drastically hindered their ability to protect themselves and their traditional territory from further exploitation and destruction.

The Rainbow Pipeline Rupture

On April 29, 2011, a rupture in the Rainbow Pipeline resulted in a spill of about 4.5 million litres of oil in our territory – one of the biggest oil spills in Alberta’s history. When the pipeline broke, oil went down the corridor and into the forest, but the majority of it was soaked up into the muskeg, which is like peatland moss and takes thousands of years to be generated. The muskeg is not an isolated system. It’s not “stagnant water,” as the government claims. It’s actually a living, breathing ecosystem that supports life and is connected to all the water in the region.

On the first day of the spill, the school was not notified. When students started to feel sick, they were evacuated from the school under the assumption that it was a propane leak. When they got outside into the field, they realized that the problem was throughout the community.

The first week of the spill, community members experienced physical symptoms: their eyes burned, they had headaches, they felt nauseous. We were told that air quality was not a problem, even though Alberta Environment didn’t actually come into the community until six days after the spill. This is problematic since the government granting permits for this type of development to happen, often without the consent of the people, has an obligation to take care of those whom they are directly putting at risk. A lot of people were left wondering what they should do, and if pregnant women and small children should even be in the community.

The Rainbow Pipeline is now 45 years old. When it broke in 2006 and spilled 1 million litres of oil, the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board stated that stress and corrosion in the pipeline’s infrastructure contributed to the spill. Five years later, 4.5 million litres spilled in our traditional territory. We’re also seeing pipeline breaks like this in other parts of North America, from Kalamazoo, Michigan, to the Kinder-Morgan spill along the West Coast. Will it ever end?

How many more communities have to be put at risk for this type of development, and who is really benefiting? What are we leaving to future generations? We need to shift away from a fossil fuel-based system and push for renewable energy systems that enable us to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining.

For over a century now, the Lubicon Cree’s rights have not been protected or respected. For decades the Lubicon have led local, national, and international lobbying efforts to fight for what is inherently theirs and to protect their right to their land and to clean air and good water. But despite years of raising awareness and increasing exposure, the Lubicon people still wait for justice.

However, over the past decade of speaking out and demanding justice I have seen a great shift in how our struggles are perceived. Now people from all walks of life are beginning to stand together and seek justice for those first and foremost impacted on the frontlines of environmental destruction. Now more than ever, people are working together as we know that the fate of humanity is wrapped up in our collective fight for a better, more just world for all.
This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Melina Laboucan-Massimo is from Northern Alberta and a member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation. She works as an advocate for Indigenous rights, and for the past eight years she has worked against unabated tar sands extraction and expansion as a Climate and Energy campaigner with Greenpeace in Alberta, as well as with the Indigenous Environmental Network internationally.

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Originally published by the San Francisco Chronicle on April 24, 2015


Lost Hills, CA (Photo: 2015 David McNew, Getty Images)

Jerry Brown perhaps should put his DOGGR to sleep. Not his family dog, Sutter, but DOGGR — the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources — the 100-year-old agency that’s been handing out permits for drilling in the Central Valley without records, oversight or enforcement of 21st century environmental laws.

The agency was created prior to Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel, “Oil!,” on which Daniel Day-Lewis’ 2007 film, “There Will Be Blood,” was based. Oil was to California what cotton was to Mississippi, a booming industry based on subsistence labor, migration, racism, vigilantism, and government officials looking the other way.

Times change but slowly. Current Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, who says Kern ought to be a county in Arizona, opposes President Obama’s immigrant-rights policy. There are an estimated 66,000 undocumented immigrants in Kern County, whose population is majority Latino. More than 22 percent of its people live below the poverty line, 69 percent of them within one mile of an oil well.

The barren place is a bit like Mississippi in the ’60s, powerful enough to defy progressive norms or laws on the national level. The federal government in 1982 transferred its power to California to monitor and regulate the 42,000 injection wells that dump toxic waste fluids into groundwater. That monitoring didn’t happen, a lapse that the feds say is shocking. The human carcinogen benzene has been detected in fracking wastewater at levels 700 times over federal safety standards. Health impact studies are inadequate, but Kern community hospital managers say the county has one of the highest cancer rates in the country, which is expected to double in 10 years.

How did it happen that the Obama Environmental Protection Agency is pushing the Jerry Brown EPA to comply with modern environmental law? The same Gov. Jerry Brown signed that 1982 agreement, giving Big Oil an opportunity to oversee itself. Those were the days when President Ronald Reagan’s Anne Gorsuch ran the federal EPA, perhaps convincing California that it could do a better job.

As a result of the 1982 transfer, the feds say California has failed at oversight and recordkeeping. With the feds watching, the state has two years to implement a meaningful monitoring plan.

Brown has tried to fix the problem, which undercuts his claim that drilling and controversial fracking can be addressed by beefed up regulations instead of a moratorium on fracking that most environmentalists want. He has added more professional staff to DOGGR and installed a new director, Steve Bohlen, who promises to clean up the place. Since last summer, the agency has shut down 23 injection wells out of 2,500.

The preference of one experienced state official is to peel back DOGGR, move it to Cal EPA and turning it into a real regulatory agency instead of a lapdog for the oil industry. But Brown officials prefer the uphill task of reforming DOGGR from within, and have signaled they will veto any bill that brings the agency under state EPA jurisdiction. The Legislature is going along with his incremental approach, so far.

The task will be daunting. The DOGGR mandate has been to drill, baby, drill, says state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara. DOGGR’s legal mandate calls for “increasing the ultimate recovery of underground hydrocarbons,” not determining whether drilling or fracking are sustainable and safe for aquifers or human health. Her SB545 is still a work in progress, however. It stops the archaic custom of drilling permits being obtained and accepted without any written approvals or findings, which upsets the feds and shuts out the public. Until recently, an oil company simply gave notice of its intent to drill and was entitled to proceed unless the agency said no in writing within 10 days. Under Jackson’s bill, an application to drill will require written approval, and the paperwork will be posted on the DOGGR website. In addition, the bill will limit the Kern custom of keeping records about chemicals and water impacts confidential, even when a well has gone into production.

However, the bill’s language makes oversight optional by saying that DOGGR “may” require an operator to implement a monitoring plan. Decision-making power is devolved to the division district deputy in Kern, which is like expecting a Mississippi sheriff to carry out federal law in 1964 — or the present Kern sheriff to enforce immigration law today. Nor does the bill give the state EPA or health experts any shared authority in the permitting process.

At the heart of the scandal is the historic power of Big Oil against the emergence of California’s clean-energy economy with its priorities of renewable resources and efficiency. The Democratic majority in Sacramento is hobbled by a pro-drilling contingent, led by Republicans with a number of Central Valley Democrats. The oil lobby spent $9 million in 2014 in a failed attempt to exempt themselves from the state’s cap-and trade law. The effort was led by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, along with 16 Democratic legislators. In a more striking example, state Sen. Michael Rubio, D Bakersfield, left his seat in 2013 to begin lobbying for Chevron, one of the major firms along with Occidental Petroleum operating in Kern’s oil fields. The oil lobby is spending large sums to cultivate friendly Democratic candidates and underwrite advertising campaigns warning of a “hidden gas tax” if their privileges are threatened.

Many Sacramento insiders believe that Brown has made concessions to Big Oil in order to protect his considerable progress toward clean-energy goals while not confronting the industry the way he took on the nuclear lobby in the ’70s. That’s understandable, if it works. Now, however, his regulatory reputation needs rebuilding. What if his DOGGR won’t hunt? What if it’s beyond reform? What will the governor and Legislature do if facing open defiance from the powers that be in Kern on a range of issues from clean air and water to the protection of children’s health to environmental justice? With the drought on everyone’s mind, can he allow the state’s aquifers to be threatened by the carcinogenic wastewater of oil production?

The DOGGR scandal drills deeply into the foundations on which state politics are built.

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