Dear California: Fossil Fuels are Fueling a Public Health Crisis

By Jayla Burton, Program Officer, Breast Cancer Action

On March 9, I testified before state regulators from Cal-GEM (California Geologic Energy Management) and Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration, emphasizing that fossil fuels are fueling the cancer crisis. Although everyone who testified had different stories and different reasons for being there, we were united around one goal: to make state regulators understand why we need a 2,500-foot health and safety buffer between oil and drilling sites and communities to ensure protection from hazards that threaten human health.

Over the years, working with other members of the Last Chance Alliance, we mobilized hundreds of people across the state to take action, and we had several wins — including a name change of the department that oversees the drilling and operations. The department formerly called DOGGR (Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources), is now Cal-GEM (the Geologic Energy Management Division). Along with this name change, Newsom instructed Cal-GEM to establish rules to protect public health and the environment from the impacts of oil and gas extraction.

Cal-GEM is currently hosting a series of pre-rulemaking hearings throughout California. The sessions will inform formal rulemaking, and hundreds of activists have already shared their testimonies. I felt empowered to stand in solidarity with our environmental justice partners, community leaders, and people from frontline communities to bring the fossil-fueled health crisis to the surface.

As a founding partner of the Last Chance Alliance, we understand that fossil fuels are fueling both the climate crisis and the cancer crisis. The Last Chance Alliance is a coalition of over 700 environmental, social justice, health, and community activist groups, fighting for the future of California. Together we have been pushing for the phase-out of fossil-fuel extraction with three simple demands for Governor Newsom and his administration: stop approving new fossil fuel projects, cease current oil extraction, and roll out a 2,500 foot health and safety buffer zone.

I delivered the following testimony:

My name is Jayla Burton, and I am here as the Program Officer at Breast Cancer Action and as a Masters of Public Health student from the University of San Francisco. I urge Governor Gavin Newsom and Cal-GEM to take immediate action to protect the health of communities located near active oil wells and refineries across California. I stand here in solidarity on behalf of my family members who live in Richmond and Kern Counties, as well as the millions of people affected by breast cancer. Fracking and dangerous drilling practices threaten our health and may increase the risk of breast cancer. Of the two billion gallons of chemicals used in fracking across the U.S., 25 percent are linked to cancer and 30 percent are known endocrine disruptors. These environmental exposures are more harmful to children and women currently in treatment, who are in a vulnerable window of susceptibility. In other words, the same fossil fuels that are fueling the climate crisis are fueling the cancer crisis.

Every year in the U.S., more than a quarter of a million people are diagnosed with breast cancer and the numbers are rising. I was inspired to join Breast Cancer Action because of its mission to stop breast cancer before it starts. I have stood at the sides of family members and friends who have had to deal with this devastating disease, and as a black woman, the mortality rates for my community are substantial and only continue to rise. African American women are much more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age and more likely to die from the disease in comparison to white women. Over half of the women diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States have no known risk factors and research indicates that toxic chemicals may increase our risk of developing the disease. The truth is no one, no matter their shape, size, age, or color should have to endure this disease. We have to stop breast cancer before it starts and this happens by going directly to the source and turning off the tap to harmful exposures, including fossil fuels.

California is the United States’ third largest oil-extracting state, and over 5.4 million Californians live near a drilling site. This translates to even more than 5.4 million people currently at risk of developing acute and long-term health problems, including breast cancer. I am here because I care about putting an end to the breast cancer epidemic – but we are all here because we care about today and our future. I am here to address the environmental injustices that communities on the frontlines are forced to endure. And I am here on behalf of everyone who has been affected by breast cancer. We are here because we need a 2,500-foot health and safety buffer between oil and gas operations and places where people live, work, and learn.

If you live in California and want your voice to be heard, RSVP to receive more information for an upcoming hearing near you!

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