As Kern County goes, so goes the nation

A historic section of downtown Bakersfield at sunset. (Photo: Matt Gush, via Shutterstock)

Some in California hold our state as an example as the proving ground for climate policy, and the model for the rest of the U.S. – and beyond. So, it’s fair to ask – are California’s climate policies actually helping communities and, if so, should they serve as a template for other states?

Unfortunately, the answer from working people in Kern County is a resounding ‘no.’ Folks who live in the Central Valley are seeing their jobs and quality of life negatively impacted by state energy and water policies, with the glaring byproduct of reduced tax revenues that support critical local government programs and essential services.

And while California dismantles its oil industry, the state imports oil from other states and countries to meet its energy needs.

Many local economies across the country are similar to Kern County’s, a mix of agriculture, energy, and product manufacturing and distribution. They are also similar in that their industries offer quality jobs where workers earn enough money to buy homes and send their kids to college. And unfortunately, as is the case in Kern, some of them struggle with high poverty rates.

Kern County is a dynamic region that leads the state in energy and power generation, is home to a productive oil and gas industry, and serves as a hub of alternative energy production for the state.

Kern has been producing oil responsibly with the most stringent regulations for decades, while providing more than 25,000 local jobs, $200 million annually in local property tax revenue that funds critical services and programs, and $1.3 billion in wages to Kern families each year.

And while California dismantles its oil industry, the state imports oil from other states and countries to meet its energy needs. In some of those places, clean-production regulations are nearly non-existent.

Like Kern County, thirty-five states across the nation are involved in oil and gas production. As these states consider adopting new energy policies, California’s flawed model is not one to be followed. Simply put, California is an example of what not to do.

If other states can avoid stamping out their own energy production industries, they’ll avoid the significant loss of tax revenue, the job losses, and the business closures that have become the depressing cornerstones of evening news broadcasts.

And it does not stop at energy.

California’s water policy, impacting the state’s most valued and necessary industry, agriculture, continues to be a disaster. The U.S. as a whole is hugely dependent on farm products from Kern County, the second-largest ag producing county in the country. Unfortunately, the state’s water plan continues to decrease water supply for farms.

Not only does this result in reduced agricultural production, but it impacts residents, families, and jobs. Sacramento politicians have made empty promises to Kern County regarding oil production, and it’s the same song-and-dance as far as water is concerned. Sacramento bureaucrats have developed plans to “transition” the state to a more resilient water system. While the critical parts to that plan have yet to be approved, the consequences of failed water policy are having significant ramifications for the region and ultimately will for the entire country.

Agricultural states in the Midwest and the South should be watching the situation play out with a jaundiced eye, keeping in mind that California-style climate “solutions” might devastate their own water supply and agricultural industries.

While these harmful policies come with detrimental impacts, they also come with broken promises. Promises from the Newsom Administration of a “transition” – with financial support, adequate workforce retraining, and a commitment to “backfill” revenue lost by local governments.

Unfortunately, job training programs do not replace the loss of quality jobs, and a one-time handout or subsidy cannot replace entire industries destroyed by government policies.

As a county of nearly one million residents that’s already suffering with a 12% unemployment rate, (nearly twice as high as the state’s 6.9% rate), and a poverty rate at 19%, (compared to the state average of 11.8%), these promises are completely empty. The suffering in Kern County is real, and the Newsom Administration’s “transition” support has to be tangible, comprehensive, long-term and immediate.

Kern is a bellwether for what will happen across the country if California’s failed energy and water policies become a copy-and-paste model for other states.

California’s leaders like to applaud themselves for creating forward-thinking climate policy. But working people and the most vulnerable in Kern County – the lower wage workers, those dependent on county health and social services – are being left behind. It’s not a model for success but a cautionary tale.

Other states should take note before it’s too late.

Editor’s Note: Clint Olivier is the CEO of the Central Valley Business Federation and a former Fresno City Councilmember.


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