Los Angeles Downtown News – Dear State Sen. Portantino

An open letter on behalf of Californians

By Ellen Snortland, LA DOWNTOWN NEWS

Read the PDF here.

I’m pleased to see that you’re running for U.S. Congress. For goodness’ sake, we need you there. You definitely have the potential to fill Congressman Schiff’s shoes, especially in the area of women’s rights, aka human rights. Kudos to you for showing up physically for so many of us over the years, attempting to save Roe, and supporting Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ people either on the steps of Pasadena City Hall or at All Saints Episco-pal. I am particularly fond of your stalwart support of Title IX. I once saw you at a campaign event I covered for the Pasade-na Weekly; you told me, “I was dismayed when I saw that they expected the girls to practice softball with no night lighting. The boys’ fields were lit and allowed for nighttime play.” You share my indignation on so many issues.

While you know me for my lifelong commitment to ending misogyny, you may not know that I have been on the board of Consumer Watchdog for over 30 years. I’m a proud growler and barker.

I really like your congressional cam-paign motto: “Principled. Courageous. Fighting for you.” I’m using this open let-ter to preemptively ask you to take a principled and courageous stand in the fight against community oil drilling while you’re still in the California Legislature and later — fingers crossed — when you’re in Congress.

Before I get into the drilling details, you can be a hero for people like Nalleli Cobo, the brave youth who is the poster child for California SB 556, the bill that puts the oil and gas industry on the hook for health damages like Ms. Cobo’s.

At 9, Nalleli started organizing to shut down the oil well 30 feet from her home, a well making her family sick. She helped found a grassroots campaign called Peo-ple Not Pozos, Spanish for “wells.”

“When I was about 11,” Nalleli wrote re-cently in the LA Times, “I was diagnosed with asthma. By the time I turned 19, we had shut down the drilling in our South L.A. neighborhood, but not before I was diagnosed with Stage II reproductive can-cer. I lost my ability to bear children as a result.

“After three surgeries, eight minor pro-cedures, three rounds of chemothera-py and six weeks of radiation, I was can-cer-free as of two years ago, at 20.”

Now, the hard facts: There are more than 100 operational oil and gas wells within 3,200 feet of a home, school or sen-sitive community receptor in the congres-sional district you seek to represent and in the San Gabriel Valley where you current-ly have constituents. As the chair of the State Senate Appropriations Committee, you also have the power to protect peo-ple who live near wells in Downtown Los Angeles and all over California and your district.

These wells are killers. An independent panel of public health experts assembled by the California Geologic Energy Man-agement Division (CalGEM) found a direct link between asthma and prenatal defects for people living within half a mile of oil wells. Then there are the carcinogens that oil wells spew — benzene and formalde-hyde among them. Studies show that can-cer diagnoses are much greater in people who live so close to wells.
Here’s the sticking point where Con-sumer Watchdog will be barking: SB 556 must pass out of the State Senate Appro-priations Committee you chair by May 19.

This bill discourages dangerous commu-nity drilling by requiring drillers to use the best available technology to mitigate risk or face presumptive liability for the harm they cause people who live within 3,200 feet of wells.

Now it’s up to you to decide based on the fiscal evidence.
As a board member of Consumer Watchdog, I am keenly aware of the pow-ers you wield as chairman of the appro-priations committee to hold bills without hearings because they allegedly cost too much money. A bill that goes on the “sus-pense file” can disappear without anyone having to take a vote to stop it.

SB 556 deserves better. The deterrent effect of the bill has the potential to save the state hundreds of millions of dollars in health care and other costs if it can pre-vent asthma, prenatal defects and cancer, because drillers used the best technolo-gies. The public health expert memo pre-pared for CalGEM found social benefits of more than $382.5 million annually from eliminating community drilling. Many of these economic benefits would be real-ized by SB 556’s deterrent effect on reck-less community drilling.

Recognizing the impact of drilling on communities last year, the legisla-ture passed SB 1137 (Gonzalez), which stopped new drilling within 3,200 feet of communities. The oil drillers spent more than $20 million to qualify for a referen-dum that delays the ban until November 2024, when voters decide. Meanwhile, the drilling goes on, putting our communities at risk.

Consider the pain and suffering that could have been avoided in Nalleli’s life and the cost to the health care system if reckless drilling had been deterred. Nal-leli and people like her count on you to tap into your love as a father to make sure SB 556 has a deterrent impact on the “we don’t care” oil and gas industries. Princi-pled. Courageous. Fighting for you with SB 556. We’re watching.

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