California governor Gavin Newsom JD Lasica/Flickr.com

Fracking Actually Had Nothing to Do With the Firing of Ken Harris in California

In mid-July, California governor Gavin Newsom surprised the state when he summarily fired the state’s highest-ranked oil and gas regulator, Ken Harris. Statewide outlets were quick to connect Harris’ firing with an increase in the number of fracking permits handed out to energy in recent months.

In Newsom’s own words, however, that wasn’t the case (not even close).

It’s a ‘Strong Arm’ Environmentalist Pipe Dream

It’s a pretty attractive narrative, to be quite honest.

As the Sierra Club framed it, Newsom was told of the increase in California’s fracking permit approvals and — presumably while wearing a green cape and rights — he zoomed into the office of California State Oil and Gas Supervisor Ken Harris and fired him in a blow for environmental justice.

Unfortunately, in an interview Newsom gave to reporters, he revealed that the romantic story being woven by sympathetic reporters wasn’t the real deal.

‘Just Been Here Six Months’

Speaking to CBS, Newsom explained that the move was just one of “a few dozen” political replacements that will be happening over the first months of his administration. 

In fact, the “soaring number of fracking permits” at the heart of so many stories didn’t even factor into Harris’ dismissal. In fact, Newsom wasn’t even aware of what was going on in the state’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR).

“I don’t think anyone was paying attention (to the fracking permits),” said the governor. “I don’t think anyone is unaware of my position on fracking. I’ve been explicit about it. The fact that they did not exercise consistency with that is one of the reason he’s not there. (sic)”

A Scary Precedent

When it comes down to it, Newsom’s real reason for firing Harris is irresponsible. Had Newsom discovered some sort of wrongdoing in fracking permit approvals and then acted, that would have been one thing. It would have been shortsighted, but at least there would have been some factual basis for the dismissal. 

In Newsom’s own words, Harris was fired because he supported fracking and Newsom didn’t. Again: Newsom wasn’t even aware of the permit approvals. In one deft movement, the new governor of California demonstrated that he’s ready to make sweeping, potentially cataclysmic changes to the state’s infrastructure just to prove a political point.

Even more alarming for the voters in California, their governor didn’t know whose job it was to be “paying attention” to the fracking situation. 

That isn’t environmental heroism. It’s the knee jerk reaction of a man who seems keen to score political points. 

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