On January 8, 2014, I attended a public hearing on the proposed DOGGR regulations for fracking and other oil and gas well stimulation in California. This meeting was held at the Kern County Administrative Building.
Kern County produces nearly 80% of all oil and gas in the state. It is also a political stronghold of the oil and gas industry. During the entire hearing, I counted no less than 8 industry representatives, nearly a dozen “outside supporters,” as well as 5 or so Chevron employees who were there to “support the proposed regulations on behalf of the parent company.”
The hearing began as any other, except this was the only time that an interpreter was provided to translate the opening statements into Spanish, and any comments which were provided in Spanish into English. However, that was the extent of the interpreter’s job. At no point were services available for non-English speakers to understand the rest of the hearing, or comments made by others in English.
DOGGR failed in its duties to provide professional translation services not only into English, but also into Spanish and for other non-English speakers in the audience. By doing so, DOGGR is potentially excluding from the public process more than half of Kern County’s population that identified as Hispanic or Latino in the 2010 census.
Environmental and social justice issues disproportionally affect Hispanic and other minority populations in Kern County and all over California. It is DOGGR’s responsibility to ensure they are informed so that they can make informed choices. Their voices must be heard.
I inadvertently sat in front of some folks who were clearly industry representatives. At the beginning of the hearing, they proceeded to make unfortunate, and highly offensive remarks regarding the need for a Spanish interpreter. I am not sure if they noticed that I am Hispanic, or that I could hear the extremely loud “whispering.”
When a Hispanic woman came up to present her comments, further remarks were directed by the industry representatives at her, her weight, and her ethnicity. The comments continued when a different Hispanic woman spoke in Spanish for the first time. Later in the hearing, I found out the name of one woman making disparaging remarks behind me, and identified her as the Policy, Government, and PR Representative for Chevron.
Bigotry, in any form, should be unacceptable in this day and age. Especially from the paid public relations representative of a Fortune 100 company whose activities directly impact Hispanic communities.
As industry supporters continued to speak, one subject in particular seemed to dominate the discussion – energy independence. Several speakers went as far to say: “anyone against local oil and gas extraction is un American.” I have been called a lot of things in my time, but never that. I tend to believe that protecting public health and the environment is as American as apple pie.
America’s natural resources are precious., Their use concerns every single American, whether they speak English or not. They are not there to be exploited for profit by a select few. Name calling towards those who want to protect our country is un American, not the other way around.
At the end of the meeting, I have never felt prouder to be Hispanic, and an American.