Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

September 5, 2015

Dan Bacher 'Governor Jerry Brown under fire for firing state oil regulators'


Photo of Jerry Brown at the Climate Summit of the Americas in Toronto, Canada on July 8. Photo by Salvatore Sacco, Canadian Press Images. 

Governor Jerry Brown under fire for firing state oil regulators

by Dan Bacher
Censored News

Jerry Brown continually attempts to portray himself as a "climate leader" and "green Governor" at environmental conferences and photo opportunities across the globe, but new court documents obtained by the Associated Press bolster the claims by many anti-fracking activists that the California Governor is in reality "Big Oil Brown."

In these documents, two former senior level officials in California Governor Jerry Brown’s administration reveal that they were fired on November 3, 2011, one day after warning the governor that oil drilling would imperil the state’s groundwater. 

In a declaration, Derek Chernow, Brown's fired acting director of the state Department of Conservation, told the Brown Administration that granting permits to oil companies for oilfield injection wells would violate safety provisions of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, reported Ellen Knickmeyer of the Associated Press.

"Chernow's declaration, obtained by The Associated Press, was contained in an Aug. 21 court filing in a lawsuit brought by a group of Central Valley farmers who allege that oil production approved by Brown's administration has contaminated their water wells. The lawsuit also cites at least $750,000 in contributions that oil companies made within months of the firings to Brown's campaign for a state income tax increase," according to Knickmeyer.

The Committee to Protect Agricultural Water filed their civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) lawsuit in Federal Court on June 3, 2015. On the following day, Mark Nechodom, the controversial director of the California Department of Conservation that replaced Chernow, resigned.

The RICO Complaint by the Committee, a citizen organization comprised of Central Valley farmers and "individuals concerned about California's drinking water," claims that Governor Brown's office ordered the DOGGR to approve permits to inject contaminated water in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act. (

The lawsuit alleges that "The Oil Companies, Governor's Office, Director of Conservation Mark Nechodom, State Oil & Gas Supervisor Tim Kustic, Director of the Kern County Planning and Development Department Lorelei Oviatt, DOGGR, WSPA, CIPA, and others known and unknown, formed an "enterprise" ("the Enterprise") to achieve through illegal means the goal of increasing oil production and maximizing profits and tax revenue by allowing the Oil Companies to inject salt water into fresh water in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act."  

In a memo to David Albright of the EPA obtained by AP, Elena Miller, the fired Supervisor at the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), points out how draft regulations proposed by the Brown administration - a "proposed interim solution" to the "timely issuance of individual well permits" - resembled documents created by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA).

"This (referring to the draft regulations) was provided to us during a meeting at the Governor's Office on 10/28/11 - prepared by Lianne Randolph of the CA Natural Resources Agency. I agree with your point that this has similarities to what was prepared by WSPA late September/early October," wrote Miller.

For those not familiar with the WSPA, it is the trade association for the oil industry and the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying group in Sacramento. Last year the Western States Petroleum Association spent a record $8.9 million on lobbying, double what it spent in the previous year. (

The WSPA is deeply embedded in California politics. In one of the biggest conflicts of interest in recent California history, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create marine protected areas on the South Coast, as well as serving on the task forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast from 2004 to 2012. Her husband, James Boyd, also served on the California Energy Commission from 2002 to 2012 and was appointed Vice Chair in 2006. (

Since 2011 the Brown administration, which has become increasingly subservient to the Western States Petroleum Association and Big Oil, has come under fire from the U.S. EPA for failing to protect groundwater under the federal law. In addition, after the two officials were fired, oil companies made at least $750,000 in contributions to Brown’s campaign to increase state taxes, according to Californians Against Fracking.

Brown's spokesman, Evan Westrup, told the Associated Press that the allegations in the documents obtained by AP are "baseless."

"The expectation — clearly communicated — was and always has been full compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act," Westrup claimed Thursday.
Anti-fracking activists disagreed with Brown administration claims that the allegations are "baseless." Following the relevation, Californians Against Fracking issued a statement from Adam Scow, California Director for Food and Water Watch  
“Gov. Jerry Brown intentionally allowed California’s groundwater to be contaminated, and subsequently accepted financial backing from the oil industry for his political efforts," said Scow. "The cracks in Jerry Brown’s leadership on climate change, already demonstrated by his support for fracking, now go beyond hypocrisy. Firing two watchdogs in order to allow irresponsible and illegal dumping of toxic oil wastewater in California takes the state back to pay-to-play politics as usual."

As I have documented in article after article, Jerry Brown is one of the worst governors for fish, water and the environment in California history. With his constant subservience to the oil industry, as demonstrated in this case and many others, he has definitely earned himself the nickname of "Big Oil Brown." (

The documents obtained in the RICO lawsuit reveal, once again, how the regulated have captured the regulatory apparatus in California. Just as Big Oil has captured the Department of Conservation, agribusiness tycoons, the Metropolitan Water District and the State Water Contractors have also captured the California Department of Water Resources. I will update you on this developing Brown administration scandal as more information and documents become available.  

2. Senate McGuire's bill to ban new offshore oil drilling held in Assembly Appropriations Committee

Bill to ban new offshore oil drilling held until next year

by Dan Bacher

Senator Mike McGuire vowed that he will try again next year to pass a bill to forever protect California’s coast from new offshore oil development in state waters – the California Coastal Protection Act (SB 788) – after the legislation failed twice because of intense opposition by Big Oil.

The bill was unexpectedly held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on August 27 after the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and oil companies lobbied legislators to oppose the legislation.

“How many more oil spills do we have to see off the California coast before we stand up to the Big Oil lobby and take action?” McGuire asked, referring to the Santa Barbara Oil Spill of 1969 and the Refugio Oil Spill that devastated the Santa Barbara Coast again this year. “Today’s vote is incredibly disappointing, but it’s a hurdle we will overcome in this fight to protect our coast.”

“Big oil may have the money, but the people of California will win the fight to protect our environment and California’s $40 billion coastal economy,” he vowed.

The bill would close a loophole in California law that would allow drilling in and near a "marine protected area."

In 1994, the California Legislature banned any new offshore oil and gas leases when it passed the California Coastal Sanctuary Act. However, a loophole in state law left Tranquillon Ridge, which extends into state and federal waters, with reserves that are currently being tapped in federal waters from Platform Irene, uniquely vulnerable to offshore drilling.  

SB 788, the Coastal Protection Act, closes the loophole by repealing Public Resources Code 6244, effectively banning any new drilling in these state waters.  

Bill would protect Vandenberg State Marine Reserve 

In 2007, Tranquillon Ridge was designated as a "marine protected area" under the controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative. Yet in violation of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Act of 1999, the “marine protected areas” created under the process, privately funded by the Resources Legacy Foundation, failed to protect the ocean from offshore oil drilling, fracking, pollution, corporate aquaculture and all human impacts other than sustainable fishing and gathering.

SB 788 would finally protect the Vandenberg State Marine Reserve, created under the MLPA Initiative, from offshore oil drilling.   

Over the years, oil companies have made numerous attempts to tap into Tranquillon Ridge’s offshore reserves from state waters, according to Senator Beth Hannah Jackson, who jointly authored the bill with Senator McGuire. Since 2003, Sunset and Exxon have pursed an oil development proposal to drill into Tranquillon Ridge reserves from an onshore location at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
According to a Legislative Analysis, business and taxpayer organizations and oil companies and associations who oppose the bill argue that if state resources are being drained by federally approved leases, the state should be compensated. 

Besides WSPA, the California Chamber of Commerce, California Independent Petroleum Association, California Manufacturers & Technology Association and Sunset Exploration oppose the bill. 

“SB 788 would not impact the ongoing drainage of state resources from oil and gas operations in federal land,” argued WSPA in a letter. “Instead SB 788 would only prohibit the state from  capturing oil and gas resources that otherwise will continue to be drained by adjacent wells outside of the state’s purview.” 

Sunset Explorer further argues that a state lease allowing land-based infrastructure provides the state with an opportunity to limit resource opportunities available to federal marine platforms, such as platform Irene.   

Former "marine protected area" chair opposes bill  

In a bizarre scenario that could only take place in California, the same President of the Western Petroleum Association, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, who led the opposition to Senate Bill 788 also served as the Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create “marine protected areas” in Southern California – including four MPAs that were fouled by the Refugio Oil Spill this year.  

She also sat on the task forces to create “marine protected areas” on the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast from 2004 through 2012. 

So we have same oil industry lobbyist who oversaw the creation of the marine protected areas along the California coast lobbying, yes, to block protection of a marine protected areas from an oil drilling proposal!

Big Oil, the largest and most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento, wields its influence by spending its money on lobbying and election campaigns, creating Astroturf groups and getting its officials and friends on state regulatory panels. 

Big Oil spent a total of $266 million influencing California politics from 2005 to 2014, according to an analysis of California Secretary of State data by, an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies’ efforts to “mislead and confuse Californians.” The industry spent $112 million of this money on lobbying and the other $154 million on political campaigns. (

Last year the Western States Petroleum Association spent a record $8.9 million on lobbying, double what it spent in the previous year. In the first six months of 2015, the oil industry spent $6.2 million to lobby state officials, including $2,529,240 spent by the Western States Petroleum Association alone. (  

SB 788 has broad support among environmentalists, Tribes and fishermen  

While Big Oil may have millions and millions of dollars to spend, public support for new offshore drilling in California has fallen to a new low of 38%, according to a recent PPIC (Public Policy Institute of California) report. (

Senator McGuire noted that Senate Bill 788 would have forever banned any new oil drilling in state waters off of the California Coast, and would not only have protected our environment, it would have “helped California’s coastal economy thrive.” Coastal communities contribute $40 billion annually to the state’s economy along with 500,000 jobs working families depend on. 

“The bill was a part of a historic package of legislative proposals that would strengthen California’s global leadership in tackling climate change,” McGuire said.  

More than 15,000 individuals had signed petitions endorsing SB 788. A broad coalition of environmental organizations and businesses, including the Sierra Club, REI, Patagonia, and Audubon of California, California League of Conservation Voters, California Coastkeeper Alliance, Ocean Outfall Group and California Environmental Justice Alliance, back the bill. 

Fishing groups supporting the bill include the California Sport Fishing League, California Trout, California Sea Urchin Commission, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), Golden Gate Salmon Association and Southern California Trawlers Association. Tribes in support include the Habematelel Pomo of Upper Lake, Karuk Tribe, Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo Indians and Smith River Rancheria  

In a SB 788 support letter, the PCFFA said it “stands vigorously opposed to any infrastructure projects that could literally suck the ocean’s wealth into a few corporate coffers at the expense of marine life,  productive fisheries, and our cultural heritage.”

Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) represents 40 percent of California’s coastline from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border - and vows to keep fighting to protect the California coast from new offshore drilling and fracking.

“We know Californians are smarter than Big Oil gives them credit for,” concluded McGuire. “And we will keep fighting every day to honor their wishes and protect our valuable coast.” 

The bill was jointly authored by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and co-authored by Senators Mark Leno, Ben Allen, Loni Hancock, Bill Monning, Lois Wolk and Assemblymembers Bill Dodd, Marc Levine, Mark Stone, Jim Wood and Das Williams.

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