What do Schwarzenegger, Fonda and Newsom have in common? They're fighting oil drilling

Los Angeles, CA, Friday, March 22, 2024 - California Governor Gavin Newsom looks on as Jane Fonda notices former Governor Schwarzenegger's official jacket as they arrive deliver speeches at a press event sponsored by Campaign for a Safe and Healthy California at a Ladera Heights soccer field. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)
Jane Fonda notices former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's official jacket. The two stars joined Gov. Gavin Newsom in Los Angeles on Friday to make the case for California's oil drilling limits. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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As the oil industry wages a multimillion-dollar campaign to repeal California drilling restrictions, the campaign to defend the state's environmental protections is starting to resemble a Hollywood blockbuster.

In a showcase of political clout and celebrity influence, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and actor Jane Fonda joined Gov. Gavin Newsom and environmental advocates Friday in Los Angeles to call on voters to rescue Senate Bill 1137, a state law that intends to ban new oil and gas drilling within 3,200 feet of homes, schools and parks next year.

Although Newsom signed the measure into law in 2022, California's oil industry spent around $20 million to collect enough signatures to put the law on the November ballot.

However, the fossil fuel interest groups have been challenged by a well-funded political committee whose biggest sponsors include former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia and a coalition of environmental groups.

As a part of their counteroffensive, they enlisted Schwarzenegger and Fonda, two longtime opponents of oil drilling, for a news conference at a Ladera Heights soccer field that neighbors the Inglewood Oil Field — the nation's largest urban drill site.

"They're spending millions and millions of dollars because they want to tell the California people that it is safe to drill next to a house," Schwarzenegger said as pumpjacks slowly bobbed behind him.

"They're coming back with the same trick and the same dialog. There will be no difference. They will be terminated again," he continued, referencing his famed "Terminator" movie franchise.

Read more: Column: Could the mega-merger of two California oil giants benefit the climate?

The oil industry has argued that less domestic oil production will result in more imported petroleum and higher emissions from shipping.

"Senate Bill 1137 doesn’t just prevent new wells. It shuts down existing wells since maintenance is not allowed," said Rock Zierman, CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Assn. "That means we will import more from the Saudi royal family instead of using local energy produced by California workers.”

The oil drilling referendum has evolved into one of the most expensive ballot measures of the 2024 general election so far, according to state election data. And the consequences, environmental advocates say, are far-reaching.

There are more than 100,000 unplugged oil and gas wells across California, which are known to release cancer-causing chemicals and planet-warming methane.

Around 30,000 of these wells are within 3,200 feet of sensitive sites, according to the California Department of Conservation, the state agency that supervises drilling. That includes the homes of about 2.7 million Californians.

"Oil companies call the frontline communities 'sacrifice zones,' " said Fonda, who has launched her own political action committee to oust fossil fuel supporters from public office. "We have to prove to them that we will not tolerate so many Californians to be considered sacrificeable."

Activist Nalleli Cobo, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jane Fonda and Gov. Gavin Newsom stand together.
Activist Nalleli Cobo, left, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jane Fonda and Gov. Gavin Newsom at Friday's event in Ladera Heights. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Environmental activist Nalleli Cobo, who grew up within 30 feet of oil wells in South Los Angeles, said she has experienced the health effects firsthand. Since she was 9, she has suffered nosebleeds so severe she has to sleep in a chair to avoid choking at night.

"Clean air is a basic and fundamental human right that has been denied to us," Cobo said at Friday's event. "The oil industry has no place in our backyards, in our democracy, or in our future. Let us prove to the oil industry that they do not have that power."

Newsom emphasized the importance of transitioning away from fossil fuels to meet the state's lofty climate goals and stave off the worst effects of warming.

"Let's not mince words: The climate crisis is a fossil fuel crisis. Period," Newsom said.

He added: "It's the burning of gas, it's the burning of coal, it's the burning of oil. And these guys, they played us for fools."

Newsom’s remarks are his latest provocation against the state's oil producers. He has previously said he supports ending oil extraction by 2045, the year state officials hope the state will have eliminated its carbon footprint.

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks outdoors while oil pumpjacks are in the background.
Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks Friday near the Inglewood Oil Field, the largest urban drill site in the United States. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Newsom and California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta announced last year the state was suing some of the largest oil companies for deceiving the public about global warming.

In joining Schwarzenegger, California's last Republican governor, Newsom said the fight to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases is bipartisan, noting President Nixon’s formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and former California Gov. Ronald Reagan’s creation of the California Air Resources Board.

Newsom said some Californians have already witnessed the devastating effects of global warming, underscoring the need for action.

"There's no Democratic, no Republican thermometer," Newsom said. "There's just reality."

"You have to believe your own eyes," he added. "This planet is heating up. It's choking up, it's burning up. We have simultaneous droughts and rain bombs happening over and over and over again. Lifestyles, places, traditions being completely eliminated."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.