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New California oil well ban put on hold for voters to decide

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California’s new law banning new oil and gas wells near homes, schools and other community sites has been put on hold until after voters decide next year whether to throw it out, officials announced Friday.

Opponents of Senate Bill 1137 gathered more than 623,000 valid voter signatures to put a referendum on the Nov. 5, 2024, general election ballot, California Secretary of State Shirley N. Weber announced.

The challenge means the law, which took effect in January, will be on hold until after voters decide.

The bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom last September, bans new wells within 3,200 feet (975 meters) of locations including schools, homes, day care and health care centers, parks, jails and businesses open to the public.

It was celebrated by environmental justice advocates who had been pushing for the regulation for years to lower air pollution in poor neighborhoods and communities of color.

But days after the bill passed, Nielsen Merksamer, a law firm that specializes in ballot measures, filed a referendum to overturn SB 1137 on behalf of Jerome Reedy, a board member of the California Independent Petroleum Association.

That association has opposed several state and local measures to regulate oil and gas drilling, including bans and phase outs in Los Angeles County and the City of Los Angeles.