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UC Santa Barbara researchers study ways to equitably reach California's decarbonization goals

 Oil Platform Holly off the coast of the Santa Barbara Channel
Glenn Beltz /
Oil Platform Holly on the Santa Barbara Channel.

UC Santa Barbara researchers released a new study looking at the most equitable ways California can reach carbon neutrality by 2045.

California has the most ambitious carbon neutrality goals in the country. UC Santa Barbara Environmental Studies Professor Ranjit Deshmukh and a team of researchers set out to test which state policies are both effective ways to decarbonize California's energy grid and equitable to disadvantaged communities.

They looked at three key decarbonization policies: carbon taxes, excise taxes and setbacks.

Setbacks are policies that require a set distance between oil and gas production and residential communities. They lead to fewer new oil wells, which means less fossil fuels are produced.

Deshmukh said that’s good for decarbonization, but when it comes to job growth and people’s health, it’s a mixed bag.

 Oil Platform Holly during sunset on the Santa Barbara Channel.
Glenn Beltz /
Oil Platform Holly during sunset on the Santa Barbara Channel.

“We found that setbacks caused the highest health benefits compared to you know, excise taxes or carbon taxes, but also caused the most worker compensation losses, right, employment losses.” Deshmukh said.

Deshmukh said previous studies show the closer people live to oil and gas-producing facilities, the more likely they are to develop cancer, asthma and heart disease.

With that in mind, Governor Gavin Newsom proposed a statewide setback last year. It would require new oil and gas operations to be at least 3,200 feet away from homes. That’s a little more than a half a mile.

Less new oil wells also means less job growth. But Deshmukh and his team also found that compared to other policies like carbon taxes, setbacks create the lowest employment losses for the state’s disadvantaged communities. He says that means setbacks are one of the most equitable ways to achieve decarbonization.

But Deshmukh said setbacks may still not be enough to meet California’s decarbonization goals.

“Just setbacks alone on new oil wells won't be enough to meet our targets; we will need additional policies like setbacks on existing wells. So we just [need to] ban even existing wells that are, you know, dug close to homes, clinics and schools, or we also impose an additional carbon or an excise tax to meet our decarbonization goals,” Deshmukh said.

The debate over oil and gas production is also playing out locally.

This year, the state removed the last two shorezone oil piers in Goleta. The city is also hosting a town hall meeting next month to update the public about a timeline for decommissioning Platform Holly — an oil platform built in the 1960s.

The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission also recently denied a proposal by an oil company to upgrade pipelines involved in the 2015 Refugio oil spill.

Pro-oil advocates say California oil production is necessary to help meet energy demand in the state.

But Deshmukh says there’s plenty of policies and technology to eventually achieve full decarbonization in California.

“We either keep on importing that oil and continue on this fossil fuel trajectory or we electrify our transportation,” Deshmukh said.

A link to the UCSB study is here.

Gabriela Fernandez is a general assignment reporter at KCBX News. She graduated from Sacramento State with a BA in Political Science. During her senior year, she interned at CapRadio in their podcast department, and later worked for them as an Associate Producer on the TahoeLand podcast.
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