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Gov. Jerry Brown Vetoes Pair of Hannah-Beth Jackson Bills to Cap Old Oil Wells, Expand Parent Leave

A pair of bills by state Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson ​of Santa Barbara intended to cap old oil wells and expand job-protected maternal and paternal leave were vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown during the state legislature's recess this month.

The former, Senate Bill 900, was vetoed on Sept. 23, while the latter, SB 654, was rejected Friday — the end of the governor's window to take action on bills during legislative recess.

The Coast Oil Well Cleanup Act would have required the State Lands Commission to plug old, abandoned oil and gas wells that have the potential to leak harmful pollutants into the state’s coastal waters.

SB 900 also would have required the state to undertake an in-depth inventory of such “legacy” wells to determine which pose a hazard to the environment.

“This bill would transfer $500,000 from the General Fund to the Land Bank Fund and would require additional transfer of funds that would be available upon appropriation for coastal hazard removal and remediation,” Brown said in his veto message.

“I am directing the Department of Conservation to work with the State Lands Commission to develop an inventory of legacy oil and gas wells and other hazards along the California coastline to determine the oil seepage locations, rates and environmental impacts,” he wrote.

“Having this information will better inform what remedial actions might be warranted for both the short and long-term, and appropriate ways of funding the needed actions.”

According to Jackson’s office, there are over 200 of these wells in California, most of which are along Santa Barbara County’s shore.

According to the bill, many of these legacy wells were abruptly abandoned in the early 1900s.

“Oil drillers just drilled and when they were done and there was no more money to be had, they packed up their toys and left without properly closing down these wells,” Jackson told Noozhawk.

“And as a result, there’s been significant leakage, which is obviously something that needs to be corrected,” she said. “And without being able to charge those companies to do the work, they haven’t been remediated.”

Many of the companies that operated the wells have long gone out of business and can no longer be held responsible — leaving the state in charge of dealing with them.

No one has any idea how many wells could be leaking and need to be capped, said Errin Briggs, an energy specialist with the county’s Planning and Development Department.

Summerland and Goleta saw considerable development as far back as the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, when oil businessmen wanted to stake out sites, he said.

The Summerland Oil Field was developed in the late 1890s, and was the first offshore oil development in the United States.

The so-called Becker Well has been one of the worst offenders in Summerland, and petroleum odors and oil washing up on the beach have forced the beach’s closure at times.

SB 900 would have required the state to also monitor natural petroleum seeps and remove coastal hazards related to orphaned wells, such as cables, pipes, steel pilings, wood and railroad irons.

The bill handily passed through the Senate 31-5 and the Assembly 72-2, and is back in the State Senate for its re-consideration. A two-thirds vote in both chambers is required to override the veto.

On Sept. 9, a similar bill by Assemblyman Das Williams, also of Santa Barbara, was signed into law, and encourages operators to cap idle oil and gas wells.

According to an Assembly analysis of the bill, there are some 20,000 idle wells in the state.

AB 2729 increases idle oil and gas well fees and blanket indemnity bonds to discourage well operators from maintaining unused wells, which can leak hazardous substances and gases when they begin falling apart.

Unlike the abandoned wells of Jackson’s bill, these have operators which can look after them.

Jackson’s other vetoed bill, the New Parent Leave Act, would have granted six weeks of unpaid, job-protected maternity and paternity leave for workers at business with 20 to 49 employees — a privilege that employees at companies with over 50 workers already enjoy.

To be eligible, the employees would have to have worked at the company for at least one year and work for at least half time.

Under the bill, those workers would have had access to the state’s Paid Family Leave program, which provides up to six weeks of partial wage replacement for care-giving responsibilities through the state’s disability insurance program.

California workers themselves fund the program through employee payroll deductions.

“This particular bill is aimed at a section of businesses that, based on their employee count, are more likely to look elsewhere to go,” said Ken Oplinger, the president and CEO of the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce.

“I think from my perspective, the problem is that we continue to put these new requirements, these new obligations, on the business community with little or no relief on the other side,”​ Oplinger told Noozhawk.

“And at some point, we’ve got to start looking at how we can ensure that we’re meeting the needs of the people of California, but we’re also ensuring that we have a healthy, thriving business community. Because if we don’t have the latter, we can’t provide the former.”

SB 654 would have required parent leave to be taken within a year of a child’s birth, adoption or foster-care placement, and would have prohibited employers from refusing to maintain and pay for health coverage under a group health plan for employees who take the leave.

Job-protected time off during the critical parent-child bonding period following birth, which is common in many western countries, tends to make parents more appreciative of their employers, Jackson said, making parent leave beneficial to everyone involved.

In his veto message, Brown wrote that he was concerned “about the impact of this leave particularly on small businesses and the potential liability that could result.”

He added that this could potentially be mitigated by an amendment to the bill allowing “an employee and employer to pursue mediation prior to a lawsuit being brought.”

Though it didn’t pass by margins as wide as those of SB 900, the bill made it through the Senate and Assembly 25-12 and 54-17, respectively.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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