California governor, celebrities and activists launch campaign to protect law limiting oil wells

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (AP) — Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jane Fonda joined California Gov. Gavin Newsom and environmental advocates in Los Angeles on Friday to launch a campaign to keep a 2022 law banning new oil and gas wells near homes, schools and hospitals.

The law bans new wells within 3,200 feet (975 meters) of certain community sites, and proponents say it will protect residents from the health impacts of pollution. It hasn't taken effect after the oil industry qualified a referendum to ask voters to overturn it in November.

At a Los Angeles park with an oil pump jack in the background behind him, Newsom said keeping the law is a key part of advancing the state's climate goals.

“Big Oil is the polluting heart of this climate crisis,” Newsom said. “Thank you for being here today, tomorrow, and thank you for being there on Election Day, when we send a powerful message — not just here in the state of California, but heard all across the United States.”

Newsom is backing a lawsuit claiming oil and gas companies deceived the public about the risks of fossil fuels. It's part of his efforts to fortify California's status as a climate leader as the state transitions away from fossil-fuel powered cars, trucks and trains.

The California Independent Petroleum Association, which is pushing for voters to overturn the law, is concerned about how it will impact the oil and gas industry, which generates large amounts of state and local tax revenue.

Newsom signed a law last year that was inspired in part by oil industry tactics, which have come under scrutiny, to collect enough signatures to get the referendum on the ballot. The law requires top funders pushing a referendum proposal to overturn a law to be listed on voter information guides released by the state. It also requires a referendum on the ballot to ask voters to “keep the law” or “overturn the law,” a departure from asking them to vote “yes” to keep the law or “no” to block it.

Lawmakers introduced a bill last year that would have made oil companies pay up to $1 million to people with cancer or other health problems associated with a well, but it was blocked by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Nalleli Cobo, an environmental activist who grew up near an oil well in Los Angeles, said she started experiencing nosebleeds, heart palpitations and headaches as a child and was diagnosed with reproductive cancer at age 19. She has since worked to fight against the health impacts of the oil industry and wants voters to keep the law limiting the location of new oil and gas wells.

“The oil industry has no place in our backyards, in our democracy or in our future,” she said.


Sophie Austin reported from Sacramento. Austin is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Austin on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter: @sophieadanna