An independent committee funded by environmentalists, lawyers and nurses has sent out a mailer attacking Assemblyman Richard Pan for his position on a controversial oil extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The groups are supporting Pan’s opponent, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, in the fight to represent most of the Sacramento region in the state Senate.
Pan and Dickinson are both Democrats, and the surge of advertising by outside interest groups has made their race the most expensive same-party legislative contest in California. Following are excerpts from the mailer and an analysis by Laurel Rosenhall of The Bee Capitol Bureau.
Text: Richard Pan took thousands from big oil and refused to protect our drinking water. ... As an Assembly member, Richard Pan has taken money from Big Oil and adopted their agenda. On key votes to impose tough regulations on fracking to protect groundwater, and to impose a moratorium on fracking, Richard Pan did the bidding of Big Oil. ... Big Oil doesn’t want safety regulations to slow down their permission to drill wherever they want – even in suburban neighborhoods. That’s why they have given tens of thousands of dollars to Richard Pan so he will back their efforts to expand their operations – without making them take safety precautions with groundwater contamination.
Analysis: It’s true that Pan abstained from voting on early bills to curb fracking, a move that counts the same as a “no” vote because bills pass the Legislature by garnering a majority of “yes” votes. It’s also true that Pan has accepted campaign contributions from oil companies, and that they are spending even more to benefit him through independent campaign committees.
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But the ad misleads by omitting a crucial piece of context: Pan voted “yes” last year on Senate Bill 4, which requires more regulation of fracking. His opponent, Dickinson, also voted in favor of the legislation. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, in September 2013.
While the oil industry opposed early efforts to regulate fracking, its lobbyists negotiated on SB4 and eventually removed their opposition after some amendments were made. In its final form, the bill requires oil companies to get permits for new fracking wells, monitor groundwater around oil and gas fields, notify neighboring communities when they plan to frack, and release more information about the chemicals they use in the process.
Some environmentalists, who had pushed for heavier regulation of fracking, backed off of their support for the bill by the time it passed out of the Legislature, saying it was too weak on the oil industry.
The fracking bills the mailer refers to – AB669 and AB1323 – would have gone further, but, facing substantial oil industry opposition, didn’t gain enough support to pass out of the Assembly.