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Valley Cool: Keeping Profitable and Green in Pacoima




John Hernandez with ICON Community Development Corp. staff Karen Cervantes and Deborah Helt

The Frying Pan recently visited John Hernandez, the owner of a State Farm Insurance agency in Pacoima, a blue-collar community  located in the North San Fernando Valley. He is also a member of the Pacoima Chamber of Commerce, Arleta Neighborhood Council, Pacoima Neighborhood Council, LAPD Foothill Area Booster Association and a member business of Icon Community Development Corp.

Frying Pan: You opened your insurance office in July 2010 — why open in such tough economic times?

John Hernandez: I guess you could say I have that entrepreneurial spirit — being in the business for over 20 years, I felt the need to open my own. I wanted to come to a community where there was no presence from other major carriers. I felt like there was a need in Pacoima for affordable insurance and a preferred carrier. I have four employees, so I was also focused on bringing some jobs to the community.

FP: Can you talk a little bit about what you’ve seen in your community over the last few years as young people are coming out of school looking for jobs with a very limited number of quality jobs available? 

JH: It starts with education. Unfortunately we’re seeing more and more [college] fees going up, making it harder for kids to get a higher education. There is money available at the state and federal level, but it’s really about making sure students are aware of what’s out there. Another issue is the lack of jobs and opportunities.

FP: What is your business doing to conserve energy and how is this affecting your operations?

JH: In the summer months, I’ve seen our bill almost double because of the need for air conditioning, so we keep the lights off in the office during business hours, and we have plenty of natural light from outside, so there’s no need to have all the lights on. We turn equipment off in the evenings and on the weekends, and there’s no air on when the office is empty, like on the weekends. We also use the low wattage light bulbs. Even with these efforts, I’m still paying over $300 a month for 1,200 square feet.

FP: Do you think building retrofits could help keep your costs down and help with energy efficiency?

JH: Absolutely. As a small business owner, any way I can save money and use that money toward other resources relative to growing my business would be beneficial.

FP: Do you have any thoughts for small business owners in L.A. regarding energy efficiency?

JH: I challenge other small business owners to look at their own offices and think of three ways to save energy on a daily basis. While it might be something small, it takes a large group to make a difference. As energy prices rise, we can work together to keep our costs down.

FP: Research indicates that low-income communities are more likely to be located near polluting industries and are often the first ones to experience the negative effects of pollution. On the flip side, there is often a public perception that people in low-income neighborhoods are not interested in environmental activism or conservation. 

JH: I will say – not necessarily as a business owner, but from being involved and engaged in the community as part of the neighborhood councils – despite the fact that the income levels are lower in this area, there is a lot of pride in this community relative to making sure this a clean and green environment. Taking pride in where you live crosses all economic barriers.

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California’s Dirty Oil Threatens Jerry Brown’s Climate Legacy

There’s something hinky about the governor’s climate leadership, an inconsistency that environmentalists warn will threaten his legacy.

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Judith Lewis Mernit




Jerry Brown, right, with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. (Photo: U.S. Dept. of the Interior)

Brown accused one environmentalist of ‘political terrorism’ when she asked him ‘to stop being Chevron’s stenographer.’


In his two most recent terms as governor, which began in January 2011, Jerry Brown has signed legislation to increase renewable energy standards for utilities, to establish California’s first groundwater regulations and to require state public pension funds to divest from coal. To the country and the world, he’s widely regarded as a climate firebrand. He has stepped into the climate fray ahead of presidents, mayors and other governors; he has traveled to China, the Vatican and Russia to address crowds about the subject. Under his leadership, California joined with the German state of Baden-Württemberg to found the Under2Coalition, a partnership among local governments and nations to keep global temperature rise from ever exceeding 2 degrees Celsius.

But there’s something hinky about Brown’s climate leadership, an inconsistency that environmentalists caution will threaten his legacy. To wit, while Brown warns often in speeches that one-third of the world’s oil reserves must remain untouched to avert climate catastrophe, the governor has not done much to keep California’s reserves in the ground. To the contrary: In 2011 Brown flagrantly axed two state regulators for holding drillers to account for their environmental infractions. In 2013, he inserted last-minute amendments into a bill to regulate hydraulic fracturing and acidizing — dissolving rock with toxic chemicals to access trapped oil. And while he managed to extend California’s greenhouse-gas trading market, cap-and-trade, as far out as 2030, he did so in collaboration with oil lobbyists, who saw many of their demands included in the bill.

‘He talks a good game, but when you look at what you need to do on climate, he is silent.’

When RL Miller, chair of the Democratic Party’s environmental caucus, pointed this out, circulating a petition “telling Brown to stop being Chevron’s stenographer,” Brown accused her and her cohort of “political terrorism.”

“He talks a good game,” says Miller, who also runs the advocacy nonprofit, Climate Hawks Vote. “But when you look at what you need to do on climate — move the electricity over to 100 percent renewable energy, for instance — he is silent.” He has not, in other words, come out in full support of state Senate Bill 100, the 100 percent renewable energy bill currently facing its last hurdle before making it to the governor’s desk: passage in the Assembly.

That Brown’s actions sometimes conflict with his climate credentials isn’t much discussed outside of California. But environmentalists like Miller, plus a wide phalanx of elected officials, national environmental leaders and public interest groups, are trying to change that in the waning days of the governor’s last term. They hope their “Brown’s Last Chance” campaign will pressure the legacy-conscious politician to rein in the oil industry before his time is up in January. They have two specific demands: Stop approving permits for new wells in the state, and declare a phase-out of oil and gas production, with funding for workers to transition into the clean-energy economy — they want both to happen before September 12, when Brown welcomes governments, investors, environmentalists and concerned citizens at the three-day Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco.

‘Permitting more oil wells next to people of color,’ says Bill McKibben, ‘is not what a climate leader for this day and age would do.’

Such actions would only be in keeping with Brown’s legislative accomplishments, says Bill McKibben, author and founder of the climate nonprofit, “He clearly was a climate leader in the early stages of the fight, and that can’t be denied,” McKibben wrote in an email to Capital & Main. “California has moved to cut energy demand and build renewables, and he’s been a part of that. The question is now whether he has the moxie left to embrace the climate movement as it has evolved.” That evolution has included embracing environmental justice. More than three-quarters of new oil wells approved on Brown’s watch are in low-income communities and communities of color, according to an analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Permitting more oil wells next to people of color,” McKibben says, “is not what a climate leader for this day and age would do.”

Oil wells in California are not granted permits through the state alone. Local agencies participate in the process, as does the federal government. Drillers have to follow a suite of regulations that differ by proximity to aquifers, residential areas and land ownership. Does Brown really have the authority to unilaterally deny an oil company permission to drill on all California lands?

If California stops producing oil, Brown has argued, other states and countries will produce more to make up the difference.

Kassie Siegel, climate program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, insists that he does. “We’re asking the governor to do things precisely because he has the power to do them,” she says. “[His] administration has issued new permits for 20,000 new wells since 2011. Each of those wells was [at] the discretion of state regulators. They report to the governor, and the governor has to follow the law.” If the state looks at all the risks the well poses and the harm it might cause, pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act, it can decide to reject a permit.

Instead, Siegel says, the state agency in charge of reviewing oil-drilling permits, the Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) “rubber-stamps every permit that comes to them from the oil industry,” when closer analysis would reveal them as environmental law-breakers. “It’s actually not only within the governor’s discretion. It’s his obligation to tell those regulators to follow the law.”

In response to the accusation of “rubber-stamping,” DOGGR spokesman Don Drysdale says that “California has some of the most comprehensive and rigorous laws and regulations for oil and gas production in the world.” The Department of Conservation, DOGGR’s parent agency, “has significantly increased its oversight of the industry to safeguard the environment and the public.”

But that’s still at odds with fast action on climate, Siegel says. “There’s no way that any new fossil-fuel development can be compatible with a safe climate.”

‘California’s climate policy will be the blueprint for the next Democratic president and the world.’

Oil is a $111 billion industry in California. Though only 2.7 percent of the state’s GDP, its political muscle is legendary. The industry’s trade group, the Western States Petroleum Association, spends millions annually on lobbying the legislature, more than any other group in the state. Individual companies — Aera Energy and Chevron in particular — add in more.

Brown has said many times that California — which burns more oil than any other state save Texas — still imports 70 percent of its oil. If California stops producing oil, he’s argued, other states and countries will produce more to make up the difference. That’s true, according to the Stockholm Environmental Institute, which last February released a report analyzing the climate effects of California’s petroleum industry. “For each barrel of California oil [left in the ground],” an additional 0.4 to 0.8 barrels would be produced elsewhere,” say the study’s authors. At the same time, however, their research shows oil prices would rise, and global consumption would therefore decline by an estimated 0.2 to 0.6 barrels for each barrel not produced.

California continues to export refining byproducts of the state’s particularly heavy, dirty oil, including petroleum coke, a carbon-heavy solid that burns even dirtier than coal. Certain century-old, played-out wells in the San Joaquin Valley yield some of the most carbon-intensive oil in the world — by some analyses, it’s second only to Canadian oil sands in its climate footprint. Refining it into combustible fuel produces a lot of pet coke, which is shipped to other countries, mostly to be used as fuel.

“It’s literally the Koch brothers exporting pet coke from Long Beach,” Siegel says. Two Koch-run companies, Koch Carbon and Oxbow Carbon, operate terminals at the Long Beach port almost exclusively for the export of pet coke and coal. That might soon change, however: India, which until recently imported more pet coke than any other country, on August 17 announced a ban on burning the substance for fuel, citing air pollution concerns.

Perhaps India’s move could move Brown to reconsider oil’s prospects. “California’s climate policy will be the blueprint for the next Democratic president and the world over,” Siegel says, including many aspirationally “green” nations — Canada and Norway, for example — that have extensive oil supplies. “We have to make it a blueprint that actually solves the climate problem.”

And that blueprint cannot include oil. Most climatologists agree that there’s more carbon in already-producing fields to push the world past the warming threshold of 1.5 degrees. At that point, climate catastrophe may be irreversible.

The governor’s office has so far remained mum on the Brown’s Last Chance campaign. But Siegel is “hopeful,” she says, “that the governor will take action. There’s still time.”

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Lead Poisoning Widespread Among California Workers

The problem in California doesn’t appear to lie with finding out about lead-poisoned workers, but with what happens — or doesn’t happen — when some state officials get that information.

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Joe Rubin




Remaining part of Bay Bridge during 2015 demolition, left. (Photo: Burkhard Mücke)

Despite their company’s safety promises, 12 employees working on the demolition of part of the Bay Bridge were lead-poisoned between 2013 and 2016.


Last March, Capital & Main launched an investigative series, “Battery Blood,” which revealed that hundreds of workers at the former Exide battery recycling plant in Vernon, California, had for decades been exposed to lead poisoning. Even worse, the state’s public health department knew about it but failed to act. Now, utilizing data obtained from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), our joint investigation with the University of Southern California’s Center for Health Journalism has found at least 80 companies — including one that recently dismantled parts of the iconic  San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge — continue to have  workers in California who are lead-poisoned at levels high enough to cause birth defects, tremors and a variety of brain disorders.

Once again we found that CDPH routinely failed to refer even the most egregious employers to state enforcement officers who can levy fines and require mandatory changes.

Some of the most extensive problems were found at other car battery recycling plants in working-class areas of Los Angeles. At one plant, Trojan Battery Recycling Company had 174 employees with elevated levels of lead in their blood between 2015 and 2016.

A state safety agency accepted the dismantling company’s explanation that one bridge worker was lead-poisoned because he chewed tobacco.

“It’s beyond upsetting,” Bell city councilman Nestor Valencia said. He lives in one of the roughly 10,000 residential properties contaminated at levels above what is safe for kids by lead emissions from the Exide plant. “You know we need these jobs, but not at the expense of worker health or keeping kids who live nearby safe. This is what state government is supposed to be for, and they are failing us.” Valencia said he was shocked to learn that other nearby plants continue to have lead-poisoned workers.

The Bay Area also has serious ongoing problems. There were lead-poisoning victims among those working on the demolition of the eastern span of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge. Despite promises to keep workers safe from lead, California Engineering Contractors, which received a $200 million dollar state contract to dismantle the earthquake-damaged span, had 12 cases of lead-poisoned employees between 2013 and 2016.

And at Target Masters West, an indoor gun range in the city of Milpitas, there have been more than 25 lead-poisoning cases in the last decade amongst workers who clean and manage the range. Seven cases were reported during 2015 and 2016, the most recent years for which data is available.

The California Department of Public Health has shown a stunning level of reluctance to turn lead-poisoning cases over to Cal/OSHA for enforcement.

Target Master West owner Bill Heskett bristled at the suggestion his workers had been poisoned, asserting that a spate of recent findings by public health experts that lead at lower levels is harmful to human health “isn’t based in real science and has been set by a bunch of clerks with no accountability.” Heskett said that the recent spikes in lead levels at his range were attributable to an employee “who wasn’t following protocols.” The employee was terminated, Heskett said.

In response to the Exide revelations in our March investigation, a bill was introduced in the California legislature by Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose). Assembly Bill 2963 would require mandatory inspections at any workplace where a worker’s blood lead level is at or above 25 micrograms per deciliter. Even at levels as low as 10 micrograms per deciliter, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Controls (CDC), people with prolonged exposure to the neurotoxin are at higher risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease and reduced fertility.

While the legislation has faced stiff opposition from industry groups and only passed out of the Assembly by a single vote, it has stronger support in the Senate and appears likely to make it to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.

Among AB 2963’s supporters is Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), who expressed dismay that problems at the Milpitas gun range (which is in his district), the Bay Bridge project and elsewhere have been allowed to linger. “If you had a family member or a friend exposed to high blood lead levels, you would want to see immediate action taken to reduce that exposure,” Wieckowski said. “The health and safety of all workers should be the top priority.”

Two Agencies Working in Silos

The problem in California doesn’t appear to lie with finding out about lead-poisoned workers, but with what happens when some state officials get that information.

At battery plants, gun ranges and other workplaces where exposure to lead is common, the state of California requires companies to test their workers for elevated levels of lead. The custodian of that testing information is a division of CDPH called the Occupational Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (OLPPP). The division is funded through a small fee on employers in industries that work with lead. In theory, OLPPP provides education to companies and at the agency’s discretion can refer serious cases to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA. The enforcement agency can then determine the cause of problems and issue fines when unsafe practices are found.

“They’ve lost sight of the fundamental mission, to make sure that at the end of the day workers come home to their families safe and sound.”

Our year-long investigation found a stunning level of reluctance on the part of CDPH to turn lead-poisoning cases over to Cal/OSHA for enforcement. Of the eight companies with some of the most persistent problems with lead exposure in California between 2013 and 2016, Cal/OSHA confirmed that it received no referrals from OLPPP for any of them during the last 10 years, and conducted no lead-related inspections at any of the companies. Many of the workplaces have had lead-poisoned workers for decades.

CDPH has declined repeated interview requests and did not respond in time for publication to written questions about its management of lead poisoning cases.

Through the state Public Records Act, Capital & Main obtained communications between OLPPP and California Engineering Contractors (CEC), one of the companies awarded a contract by California’s Department of Transportation to dismantle the Bay Bridge.

Read Documents Related to This Story

In October 2013, OLPPP informed the company that workers on the project would be exposed to lead coating as the steel bridge was dismantled. “Our role is to assist employers in identifying and correcting work practices that can result in employees being over exposed to lead,” the OLPPP wrote in a letter.

Within a year, workers on the project showed signs of elevated blood lead levels. The company asserted in an August, 2014 email to OLPPP that it could bring the situation under control. “We are confident we can get even the highest exposed workers under 10 µg/dl (BLL) with aggressive oversight and support,” wrote CEC safety director Robert Ikenberry.

Despite assurances, the problem of lead-poisoned employees grew worse. By 2015 one worker’s blood lead levels had exceeded 40 micrograms per deciliter, a level deemed “very high” by the CDC.  Michael McKinney, a safety manager for CEC had an explanation, which he provided in an email to OLPPP.  “The employee admitted to us that he was chewing tobacco during work. We feel that this practice is what caused the high lead level,” McKinney wrote.  OLPPP appeared to accept that explanation, and never referred the Bay Bridge project for Cal/OSHA inspection, even when elevated blood levels amongst workers jumped 25 percent the following year.

Mariano Kramer, a former district manager for Cal/OSHA, said that simply accepting emailed assurances from a company with lead-poisoned workers is not acceptable. “There are a myriad of issues which can cause elevated blood lead levels. A trained inspector knows how to identify them.”

In 27 states, workplace occupational lead safety standards are administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a federal agency. In those states, any blood lead level above 25 micrograms triggers an automatic OSHA inspection, through which fines for unsafe conditions can be levied and changes can be mandated. A similar standard would go into effect in California if AB 2963 becomes law.

Kramer said he supports the proposed legislation because it would empower his former agency to more aggressively target workplaces that lead-poison workers.

“But,” he added, “there are cultural issues within both agencies that no law will fix. They’ve lost sight of the fundamental mission, to make sure that at the end of the day workers come home to their families safe and sound.”

This article was produced as a project for the 2017 California Data Fellowship, a program of the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.

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Can the EPA Roll Back California’s Clean Air Standards?

Co-published by The American Prospect
The Trump administration wants to argue that California has no special right to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. But their case, experts say, is weak.

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Judith Lewis Mernit




Los Angeles sunset.

The new Safer and Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles rule would nullify California regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes and its zero-emission vehicle program.

Co-published by The American Prospect

When officials within the Trump administration, on August 2, proposed scaling back Obama-era fuel-economy standards and revoking California’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes, they were betting on the chance that courts can’t tell the difference between a law against gas guzzlers and one against carbon belchers. Low-mileage cars and low-emissions cars are often one and the same, they may have reasoned. If you’re requiring a car to emit less carbon dioxide, you’re also asking that it burn less fuel.

That part might be mostly true, although there are emissions controls that have nothing to do with gas mileage. But from a legal standpoint, fuel economy and tailpipe emissions take distinctly different routes to regulation. Fuel-economy standards, known as the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE standard, as defined in the Energy Policy Conservation Act, forbid states from making their own rules. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration enforces them; states have no control.

The 1970 Clean Air Act, on the other hand, gives California the explicit authority to regulate air pollution, albeit with EPA sign-off in the form of a “waiver” each time the state wants to impose a new standard. Other states can adopt California’s stricter rules (12 of them and the District of Columbia, have). Or states can stick with the standards set by the federal government. Tailpipe emissions of other pollutants from cars and trucks — carbon monoxide and nitrous oxides, for starters — have long been a chief source of air pollution, and California since 1961 has acted to curtail them.

“California regulators were the first to understand how smog was formed, the first to act on how to control that smog.”

That’s one of the reasons why the administration might lose its coming battle with 19 states and a host of environmental groups gearing up to fight the “Safer and Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles” rule, as the Environmental Protection Agency calls its apocalypse-hastening rollback, which would freeze the CAFE standard at 37 miles per gallon instead of aiming toward the 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 that the previous administration had set. It would nullify not only California regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes but also California’s zero-emission vehicle program, which requires carmakers to market a certain number of all-electric or hydrogen vehicles in the state.

But the rollback doesn’t pass legal muster, says Irene Gutierrez, clean-energy attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Among its many legal and factual flaws, the proposed rule seeks to revoke California’s authority over tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases on the grounds that “the environmental problems it addresses are not particular or unique to California.” Yet nowhere does the Clean Air Act mention “particular or unique” as a waiver requirement.

California’s transportation sector puts more carbon-dioxide and its equivalents into the atmosphere than any state but Texas.

“The EPA has not in the past looked at California and said, ‘Prove to us that your ozone problems are worse than any other place in the country,’” Gutierrez says. “It’s not like there aren’t polluted air basins in other states.” When past waivers were granted — there have been more than 50 — it wasn’t because California and California alone had an air-quality problem. It was because California was seen as particularly aggressive about cleaning up its air and, in 1970, was far ahead of the federal government in doing so.

“California regulators were the first to understand how smog was formed, the first to act on how to control that smog,” says Meredith Hankins, a legal scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles. So it allowed the state to forward with what’s known as “technology-forcing” regulation.

“Technology-forcing means regulators aren’t picking the technology, aren’t picking the winners and losers,” Hankins says. “They’re saying ‘You figure it out — you’re the technology experts. All we care about is public health.’”

Climate change is undeniably hitting the state now with a particular and unique dose of fury.

But even if the law said California had to be unique in its suffering from greenhouse gas emissions, it would not be hard to make the case that it is. For one thing, with its glut of cars, California has an urgent responsibility to reduce its contribution to greenhouse gas pollution from cars and trucks. Forty-one percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, according to the California Air Resource Board’s latest climate inventory. The state’s transportation sector puts more carbon-dioxide and its equivalents into the atmosphere than any state but Texas.

Plus, climate change is undeniably hitting the state this moment with a particular and unique dose of fury. “There are 18 fires burning in the state right now, and none of them are contained,” Gutierrez says. Several more have already leveled neighborhoods. One of them, near Redding, in Northern California, burned so hot that it scorched away a layer of earth.

It’s an odd time, then, for the Environmental Protection Agency to be fighting against environmental protection. Especially in California.

California’s climate gas waiver for cars was first denied by the Bush administration in 2008, when then-EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson made basically the same case: That California does not “need to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions” with respect to greenhouse gas pollution. Six months into the Obama administration, the EPA officially reversed that decision. “Opponents of the waiver have not demonstrated that California does not need its greenhouse gas emission standards to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions,” EPA Administration Lisa Jackson wrote at the time. She also affirmed that “Congress recognized that California could serve as a pioneer and a laboratory for the nation in setting new motor vehicle emissions standards.”

“Trump is trying to rehash those old Bush administration arguments,” Gutierrez says. Trump’s administration is also adding a bonus caveat: that clean vehicles are, by definition, small and unsafe. The proposal claims that canceling out both national fuel standards and California’s waiver will reduce traffic fatalities by 12,700 from 2021 to 2029.

Never mind that it’s possible to produce a substantial, low-emissions plug-in hybrid, such as Chrysler’s Pacifica minivan, just as it is to make a smaller car that pollutes (the 2009 model of the Ferrari F430, for instance, isn’t particularly big, but it packs the same climate wallop as the 2001 model of the hulking Ford Explorer.) Carmakers are getting better all that time at designing more substantial, longer-range and affordable cars that qualify as clean. Nearly every manufacturer has a plug-in hybrid crossover SUV on the line for 2019. Even Ford, which has been slow to the EV game — dutifully churning out “compliance” vehicles just to qualify for the strict California market — has announced a plug-in hybrid model of its crossover SUV, the Escape.

Besides, the goal of saving 12,000 lives rings a little hollow when you consider that heat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the leading cause of all annual weather-related deaths in the U.S. The World Health Organization predicts that between 2030 and 2050, 250,000 people will die globally due to climate-related health impacts. Maybe we could all just drive a little more carefully.

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Energy Democracy in Alameda County: Greener, Cleaner. Or Is It?

Energy experts have their doubts about East Bay Community Energy’s ability to immediately deliver power that does not involve a hydroelectric dam — or even a smokestack.

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Judith Lewis Mernit




All photos by Crystal Huang

When, on July 18, a brand-new community energy venture unveiled its five-year business plan, advocates for clean energy and environmental justice touted it as a first-of-its-kind coup. East Bay Community Energy (EBCE), a coalition of 11 cities and unincorporated areas in Alameda County, came together last year to find potentially cleaner and cheaper electricity for its customers than their for-profit utility, PG&E, can supply. The group has also promised to nourish the local economy with good jobs tied to renewable energy development, harnessing the county’s abundant wind and solar resources to clean up the air.

But some experts who monitor California’s energy policies have their doubts about EBCE’s ability to deliver power that does not involve a (carbon-free but fish-killing) hydroelectric dam — or even a smokestack — at least in the near future. “The business plan is of little relevance,” says Matthew Freedman, staff attorney with The Utility Reform Network (TURN), a nonprofit that polices corporate utilities and advocates for ratepayers. “The proof is what they actually commit to buy.”

EBCE has come together under the aegis of a 2002 California law that granted local jurisdictions the right to procure their own power, as “community-choice aggregators,” or CCAs. The ideals of the CCA have always involved encouraging more clean energy generated locally, and offering it to consumers at competitive rates. For-profit utilities have been accused of delaying the transition from coal and natural gas to renewables, as well as starving local economies by importing power from out of state.

Yet even for the community energy groups, those ideals have been almost impossible to realize. Community power programs are opt-out — if you live in a place that has one, you’re automatically subscribed — but consumers can still defect if prices spike. Power suppliers have to stay competitive or die.

And some did die early on, victims of both organized campaigns by the large utilities, and a renewable energy landscape that wasn’t quite ready to meet their demands. Even after the price of solar cells began dropping in 2009, inciting a solar boom, labor unions still opposed CCAs on the grounds that the groups weren’t doing anything for new energy development — they were, instead, doing an end run around utilities to buy the same old dirty power. “At present, there is no pathway from a power purchase agreement with [traditional energy] companies to creating local jobs with union-scale wages and benefits,” read a statement from IBEW 1245 in 2013. (Disclosure: IBEW 1245 and the California Nurses Association are financial supporters of this website.)

East  Bay activists were acutely aware of these factors when they started lobbying for a community choice program in the county. “One of our demands was not to use ‘renewable energy certificates,’” says Jessica Tovar, lead organizer with Oakland’s Local Clean Energy Alliance. Renewable energy certificates, or RECs, are green-labeled kilowatts sold on the electricity market independent of actual generation. Because they’re not investments in new renewable generation, RECs don’t spur the development of new wind and solar projects. (They might not even originate from renewable generation at all — on the mixed-up electricity market, you can’t tell a coal electron from a wind one.) “We emphasized from the beginning that we wanted to have actual local renewables produced in the county.”

That demand was part of the organization’s “unity position,” says Tovar, along with the Alameda Labor Council and the California Nurses Association. “Oftentimes the environmental and social justice movements don’t work together,” she says. “It was a big deal for us to be able to ask for those things, working together, at the time.”

EBCE, which has supplied electricity to non-residential consumers since June, and will begin serving residential customers in November, has agreed only to buy renewable energy certificates if they prove necessary to its financial health. It’s hard to know exactly what that means. Until the CCA has the credit rating and assets to sign long-term contracts for new projects with local energy developers, it will have to rely on electricity from existing facilities throughout the West. Such purchases often involve some kind of environmental trading mechanism that can disguise dirty energy as clean. One of EBCE’s options offers “carbon-free” power, which in this case, means power from large hydroelectric plants in the Pacific Northwest or Canada.

“The carbon-free angle is worse than meaningless,” Freedman says. “We’ve seen Northwest utilities that have abundant electricity supplies send a clean resource [to a CCA] and then backfill with a dirty resource to meet their existing demand.” The amount of hydroelectric in EBCE’s resource plan, Freedman says, “is staggering.”

Tovar isn’t happy with the carbon-free option either. “We know better and want to do better,” she says. Doing better just takes time.

Freedman doesn’t dispute that. “When a CCA starts up it needs to have a product to sell on day one,” he says. “New clean energy infrastructure takes time to design and implement.”

If all goes well, Tovar sees EBCE paving the way for other energy innovations, such as shared solar, solar cooperatives and microgrids — small, self-contained distribution networks that can interact with the grid or “island” and operate on their own in a crisis. She and other clean-energy advocates hope to see rooftop solar and battery storage become accessible to low-income households and renters, through shared and community projects made possible by the CCA.

Those are all towering asks, and Tovar is careful to note that none of them will become reality if energy decisions get made in a bubble. Consumers have to participate, too. “We call it energy democracy,” Tovar says. “It requires us all to play advocates for the kind of energy we want to produce.”

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Video: Questions Surround Slow Exide Lead Clean-up

California allocated $176 million to test and clean 2,500 lead-threatened properties surrounding the closed Exide battery plant near downtown Los Angeles. To date only 335 parcels have been cleaned.

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Photo: Joanne Kim

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Did Disneyland Try to Sink a Bill Protecting Workers from Lead Poisoning? 

Why would Disneyland, which hosts thousands of kids every day, be part of an effort to defeat a bill that simply requires reporting of blood-lead levels high enough to produce heart disease and serious brain disorders?

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Joe Rubin




When Assemblyperson Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) learned about Capital & Main and USC’s Center for Health Journalism investigation into how hundreds of workers at the former Exide Battery Recycling Plant near downtown Los Angeles became victims of lead poisoning, he created a modest bill to try and ensure it wouldn’t happen again.

Among our report’s revelations was the fact that the California Department of Public Health was aware of thousands of troubling blood tests revealing high levels of lead, but failed to tell the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) about the problem.

Kalra’s bill, Assembly Bill 2963, requires that the Department of Health inform Cal/OSHA when workers have seriously elevated blood levels and Cal/OSHA performs inspections.

The bill has had clear sailing until now, easily passing in the Assembly Labor Committee in March and winning unanimous approval from Democrats on the Appropriations Committee last week. But as the worker-protection measure headed to a crucial floor vote this week, a coalition of industry groups, one of which includes the iconic Disneyland Resort, worked the halls of the Capitol to kill the bill. The lobbying effort nearly prevailed: AB 2963 passed by a single vote Wednesday evening and now faces what is certain to be a battle in the California state Senate.

So why would Disneyland, which hosts thousands of kids every day, be part of an effort to defeat a bill that simply requires reporting of blood-lead levels high enough to produce heart disease and serious brain disorders? A May 29 letter endorsed by 15 industry groups, including the Battery Council International, the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Hotel and Lodging Association (which includes a Disneyland Resort vice president on its board) argues that California’s current system to protect employees, depending largely on voluntary compliance, is working just fine.

The letter states: “Perversely, AB 2963 would transform this existing well-functioning public health program into an enforcement program that creates an allegation of a serious violation where none exists in Cal/OSHA law and the workplace may not even be the source of exposure.”

The bill will be costly, the opposition letter also says, with an estimated price tag of $267,000 to implement and requiring Cal/OSHA to hire one or two additional inspectors.

“That’s a small price to pay” said Bill Allayaud, California Director of Government Affairs for the Environmental Working Group, which is trying to keep moderate Democrats from being swayed by the industry lobby.

“The California Chamber of Commerce and their allies are misrepresenting what the bill does and convincing industries like the hotel industry to lend their name to the fight, even though this bill would have zero impact on hotels,” Allayaud said. “The law focuses on workplaces where lead is in heavy use, like firing ranges and battery recycling facilities where workers are actually being impacted by a dangerous neurotoxin.  Besides, I can’t imagine [that] parents who visit a resort like Disneyland would want their kids anywhere near lead if found at the levels that would have employees testing at the alarm bell level. Who wouldn’t want an OSHA inspection in that case?”

Suzi Brown, vice president of communications at Disneyland Resorts, said that the “California Lodging Association is just one organization that we are involved with. As you can imagine we are involved with many trade organizations.” Brown said that Disney vice president Elliot Mills, who sits on the association’s board, was not present for the vote to oppose AB 2963. “To somehow link Disney to this in a specific way is not accurate,” she added. “And to somehow position this that we are not concerned about worker safety is flawed as well.”

At the March California State Assembly Labor and Employment Committee hearing, Kalra introduced his bill by reading a letter from former Exide lead smelter Alvin Richardson (who struggles with lead poisoning symptoms we documented in our investigation) and his wife, LaShawn. “We read a recent investigative story, and it was very hurtful to learn that Cal/OSHA excused the high lead levels that Alvin and the other Exide workers were constantly exposed to,” the letter said. “People shouldn’t be treated like they are disposable. That’s not what America or California is supposed to be about.”

Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) was moved to vote yes. “My district’s right next to the Exide plant, and it’s had an impact on my community and my residents,” he said. “And if this is something that could have prevented what happened at Exide, we should have been doing this a while ago.”

AB 2963 needed Jones-Sawyer’s vote again on Wednesday to barely pass it out of the Assembly. Whether the bill makes it to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk is dependent on how well the arguments of the California Chamber of Commerce and other industry voices opposing the bill go over in the Senate.

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Critics Worry Proposition 70 Will Bring Back Budget Gridlock

Among other things, the ballot measure could endanger the bullet train, one of Governor Jerry Brown’s favorite projects, by giving Republicans a say over how cap-and-trade money is spent.

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Jerry Brown photo by Mark Miller.

There are not as many propositions on the June ballot as usual, but none has fewer supporters than Proposition 70, a constitutional amendment calling for a one-time, two-thirds vote in 2024 to determine how the billions of dollars generated by California’s cap-and-trade program will be spent. That two-thirds vote requirement conjures up frustrating memories of the gridlock that occurred each year before past budgets were finally passed.

Supporters are a collection of strange bedfellows: Governor Jerry Brown, former Assembly GOP leader Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley), who crafted the amendment, and the state Chamber of Commerce. Opponents include the Democratic and Republican parties, every environmental group in the state and nearly every major newspaper.

Cap-and-trade requires that polluting companies buy permits allowing them to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Money from these permits now goes into the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), and the legislature decides by a simple majority vote on how to spend that money each year during budget negotiations.

If Prop. 70 passes, money from those permits would be deposited into a new state reserve fund starting in 2024, until each chamber in the legislature passes that one-time bill on a super majority vote that would decide how to spend the money. But once that bill passes, new money collected through cap-and-trade would once again go into the GGRF and again could be allocated on a simple majority vote.

Prop. 70 emerged from a compromise last year to extend cap-and-trade, California’s ambitious climate change program, until 2030. Brown has called climate change a “threat to organized human existence.” But some Democrats were skeptical of the extension and their support was shaky at best. Republicans were also looking at the program with wary eyes. Gov. Brown knew he would need Republican votes to extend the program, and decided it was time to deal. He enlisted Mayes to round up the needed GOP votes.

Brown sought the supermajority vote, when only a simple majority was required, as an insurance policy against unforeseen future legal challenges.

Prop. 70, however, could endanger the bullet train, one of Brown’s favorite projects, by giving Republicans a say over how cap-and-trade money is spent. By the end of 2016, about $800 million had been spent on the high-speed rail project. Given the GOP’s opposition to the train, it could strangle the project if their votes are needed in 2024 to provide a two-thirds majority to continue its subsidy.

Opponents of Prop. 70 say that it makes sense for cap-and-trade allocations to be reviewed, but that review should be done every year through the budget process on a simple majority vote. If passed, Prop. 70 could change the mix of cap-and-trade funding sent to state and local programs.

“We’ve seen other legislation where the two-thirds vote holds hostage money for disadvantaged communities,” says Strela Cervas, interim director of the California Environmental Justice Alliance. “This would be budget gridlock and backtracking.” Cervas worries that one major program benefiting from cap-and-trade investments, Transformative Climate Communities, could be starved of funds if Prop. 70 passes.

Bill Magavern, policy director of the Coalition for Clean Air, said that a two-thirds vote would lead to budget gridlock, regardless of the partisan composition of the legislature in 2024.

“For years we had budgets that were delayed. Since 2010, when we passed Prop. 25, which required a simple majority vote, we’ve have had balanced and on-time budgets. Brown’s success in getting his climate agenda passed is largely due to this.”

California’s major political parties oppose Prop. 70. With the exception of the Bakersfield Californian, all major newspapers have opposed it. The San Jose Mercury News called it a “colossal waste of voters’ time.” And the Los Angeles Times described it as a “pointless exercise.” The only institutional supporter of the ballot measure, the California Chamber of Commerce, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

So far there’s no evidence of big money backing Prop. 70. But Magavern said he isn’t complacent. “Our side definitely doesn’t have the money to fight this,” he said.

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BlueLA E-Vehicles Hit the Streets

With rates roughly equal to rideshare services like Lyft and Uber, BlueLA appears unlikely to make a significant dent in Angelenos’ travel habits anytime soon.

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Rex Weiner




The writer test-drives an e-vehicle.

Last month a controversial French company and the Los Angeles Department of Transportation rolled out the blue-carpet at a full-launch party for BlueLA, an eco-friendly car-sharing service. BlueLA enjoys enthusiastic municipal backing for its mission of helping to ease L.A.’s desperate transportation woes with a fleet of electric cars and charging stations, initially targeting, LADOT says, some of the city’s lowest-income neighborhoods. (A soft-launch of the L.A. program was unveiled last June.)

Although questions remain about the viability of BlueLA’s business model, on April 20 — while a DJ spun tunes under sunny skies on the L.A. Community College campus in East Hollywood, community organizers and environmental groups dispensed brochures, food trucks served lunch and reporters test-drove the nifty blue e-vehicles — local pols hailed the co-venture between LADOT and Blue Solutions, the parent company of BlueLA.

“BlueLA is making a difference,” said Sandy Berg, vice chair of the California Air Resources Board, which is granting $1.7 million of cap-and-trade regulation funds to the $10 million project. A statement from Mayor Eric Garcetti declared that the company would provide “underserved communities with an environmentally-friendly way to get around town—at an affordable price.”

BlueLA’s first seven stations are located at Los Angeles City College, Koreatown, MacArthur Park and downtown Los Angeles. The next round of stations will include Los Angeles Trade Technical College, Echo Park and Westlake. The program’s first phase aims to have 100 vehicles available in 40 locations, with subsequent expansions tripling the program’s reach by the end of 2021. A phone app allows users to locate and reserve available cars.

The pricing structure offers users a “Community” level subscription: one dollar per month and 15 cents per minute, provided the user is “low-income qualified,” with a total annual gross income of less than $31,550 for an individual. Proof requires pay stubs, tax returns or enrollment in Medicaid/Medi-Cal, SNAP or other public-assistance programs. At this level the second and third hours of any rental period are free, adding up to a cost of $9 for the first three hours, after which the 15-cent-per-minute rate applies.

A statement from Marie Bolloré, CEO of Blue Solutions, a division of the Paris-based Bolloré Group, which manufactures the Blue Cars and the e-vehicle’s battery, reiterated the goals of sustainability and “creating inclusive communities,” and saluted CARB and LADOT for “unwavering support” for their co-venture.

Yet it’s not all been a win-win for her company. The 30-year-old heiress to the Bolloré business, which dates back to 1822, and “director of the Electric Side of The Empire,” according to the French press, might not have known that less than a week later her father, Vincent Bolloré, would be arrested by French judicial police. The 66-year-old head of one of France’s richest conglomerates—counting Universal Music Group and a large tranche of French TV and film media companies among its diversified holdings, which yielded 18.3 billion euros in 2017 revenues—is the target of a bribery investigation involving the presidents of Togo and Guinea in West Africa, where the Bolloré Groups’ myriad interests in transport, palm oil plantations and shipping make it one of the continent’s biggest investors.

“That is about things that happened 10 years ago,” Blue Solutions managing director Christophe Arnaud told Capital & Main by phone about the senior Bolloré’s arrest. “It won’t affect our operations in L.A.”

Indeed, l’affaire Bolloré has not yet affected AutoLib’, the company’s 3,000-car rideshare service in Paris, or BlueIndy, the company’s three-year-old American test project in Indianapolis. But, even if the parent company’s distant troubles don’t impact the rollout of BlueLA on the streets of Los Angeles, other factors present daunting challenges to the car-share venture’s success here.

BlueLA is not expected to turn a profit for 12 to 13 years, says Arnaud, describing it as a “long-term investment.” The business plan envisions revenue, beyond customer subscriptions, coming from three main sources: the offering of its charging stations to other e-vehicles; advertising on the sides of Blue Cars; and selling the car batteries’ stored juice back into the grid. Arnaud admitted, however, that for the scheme to pay off, BlueLA’s infrastructure will have to scale up quickly.

With rates roughly equal to rideshare services like Lyft and Uber, and competition from rapidly expanding bike-share services around the city, as well as other share-ventures such as Santa Monica-based Bird electric scooters, BlueLA appears unlikely to make a significant dent in Angelenos’ travel habits anytime soon.

As for the idea of servicing the EV community, BlueLA’s charging stations do not currently accommodate other e-vehicles, nor are the Blue Cars compatible with any of the city’s existing charging stations, despite the fact that Los Angeles is one of the country’s top 10 EV cities, according to a recent study by Indiana University, with more than 1,200 plug-ins within 10 miles around the city.

The car’s solid-state lithium battery has its pluses—such as “no cobalt,” Arnaud emphasized, referring to the rare-earth element that is often mined under conflict conditions for other batteries—but faces overwhelming competition from Tesla and other battery manufacturers. Also, outside of sunny California, the Blue Solutions battery must be kept plugged in and warmed above a certain temperature.

Still, a quick spin around L.A.’s Mid City neighborhood in a BlueCar was easy, with radio and AC functioning on a recent hot day, built-in GPS guiding my way and pretty good acceleration, although I wouldn’t take it on the Santa Monica Freeway. Want to practice your French? Tap the Help button; it connects to customer service in France. But don’t forget the nine-hour time difference. “It is two in the morning!” said the voice with a touch of Parisian impatience, as I rounded the corner of Melrose and Vermont avenues.

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EPA’s Scrapping of Fuel Efficiency Standards Sets Up Fight With California

Based on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s public statements, clean-air advocates fear that federal fuel-economy standards for automobiles are likely to be lowered.

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The Trump administration signaled Monday that it would lower vehicle fuel economy standards, a move that would undermine one of former President Barack Obama’s major efforts to combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it would re-examine the Obama administration’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard of achieving an average 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light duty vehicles by 2025. That target was reached in a compromise between the Obama administration and the auto industry. Trump’s EPA isn’t calling for a specific new CAFE average, but based on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s public statements, the standards are likely to be lowered.

In 2009, via a special provision in the Clean Air Act, California was granted a waiver to enact tougher controls on greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA could be setting up a new battle between California and the federal government if the agency tries to revoke that waiver.

California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) developed an Advanced Clean Cars program, including mandates to reduce greenhouse gases and smog-forming contaminants from vehicles. Cutting vehicle emissions is a key part of California’s goal of slashing carbon emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia also follow California’s more stringent rules.

Pruitt had been a zealous defender of states’ rights when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general, but he may not be that staunch a supporter of those rights in California’s actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Although EPA’s Monday decision did not mention California’s waiver, Pruitt’s public statements suggest that the EPA will make it harder for California to justify its own standards. On Monday Pruitt said, “Cooperative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country.” He also said he looks forward to “partnering with all states, including California, as we work to finalize that standard.”

“Historically the EPA has said that California has compelling reasons, meaning it [has] worse air quality, for enacting stricter rules,” said Sean Hecht, co-executive director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the University of California, Los Angeles Law School. “The federal government could put a higher burden on California to prove it deserves a waiver, or it could simply say, as the Bush administration did, that California doesn’t deserve a waiver.”

Governor Jerry Brown slammed the EPA’s decision as a “cynical and meretricious abuse of power.” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has said he will sue the EPA over any attempt to weaken vehicle fuel efficiency standards.

Clean energy advocates say relaxing vehicle efficiency rules could put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage worldwide. Developing more electric and hybrid vehicles is critical for companies to reach the corporate average fuel economy standard set during the Obama administration. Two automakers, Ford and Honda, have signaled that they’re not on board with attempts to weaken standards. Volvo, for its part, has pledged to offer multiple electric vehicles in the 2020 model year. China is already claiming leadership in electric and hybrid vehicles.

“Possibly a transition to alternative fuel vehicles will happen without regulation, and there’s already a movement in that direction,” Hecht said. “But the most effective way to make change happen faster, whether it’s by adding airbags or even seatbelts, is through regulation.”

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Residents and Lawmakers Renew Push to Close Aliso Canyon Gas Facility

Residents and activists acknowledge that action on closing Aliso Canyon may not come until a new governor takes office next year.

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Alexandra Nagy (left) and Porter Ranch residents outside LA. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger's office. (Photo: Save Porter Ranch)

Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) invented shortages to justify using the troubled Aliso Canyon storage facility, the site of the October 2015 blowout that forced nearby residents from their homes for months, residents and lawmakers have charged. The blowout, caused by a ruptured well, sent more than 100,000 metric tons of natural gas into the atmosphere and resulted in a four-month-long leak.

Governor Jerry Brown allowed the utility to inject gas into the facility last summer despite objections from nearby residents, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the Los Angeles Unified School District and local lawmakers. Brown, who has the authority to shut down gas storage facilities, recommended Aliso Canyon be closed in 10 years. Residents, however, say Brown is kicking the can down the road, and they have stepped up pressure on local officials to urge the governor to close it.

Stern letter about a “contrived emergency”

State Sen. Henry Stern (D-Canoga Park) slammed regulators for allowing SoCalGas to make withdrawals from the partially idled Aliso Canyon storage field, which he said “exacerbates the ongoing risk to ratepayers and residents without any evidentiary basis or public hearing.”

The Aliso Withdrawal Protocol, approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), stipulated that the storage field could not be used unless SoCalGas can demonstrate that it is withdrawing gas as a last resort and that there was an “imminent risk” that the region’s electricity would be curtailed without additional gas supply.

In a March 5 letter to the CPUC, Stern said SoCalGas didn’t meet those criteria this winter, and that expanded use of Aliso was authorized without public comment. He also accused the company of mismanaging its gas pipeline system to justify keeping Aliso operating, citing three major gas importing pipelines that the company took offline for unplanned maintenance before peak winter demand.

“A contrived emergency, justified by an opaque, self-interested rationale by SoCalGas, is no emergency at all,” Stern wrote.

Stern also raised concerns about ongoing risks at the facility, noting that seismic and fire safety reviews still have not been completed and that the root cause analysis of the 2015 blowout has not been finished.

In a letter responding to Stern, the CPUC said SoCalGas’ injection of gas was “consistent with the withdrawal protocol’s requirement that Aliso Canyon be used as an asset of last resort.”

Chris Gilbride, a spokesman for Sempra Energy, the parent company of SoCalGas, told Capital & Main in an email that Aliso Canyon is needed to meet winter demand.

“The more we rely on our three other storage fields to support peaks in demand, the more likely withdrawals from Aliso Canyon become necessary to prevent service interruptions to customers,” Gilbride wrote.

Alexandra Nagy, Southern California organizer with Food and Water Watch, said responses from CPUC and Sempra didn’t address all of Stern’s concerns.

“They didn’t justify why these pipelines are still offline or explain what the hourly peak demands were and how other mitigation measures were deployed to prevent withdrawals or any other mention of conservation measures used to lower demand,” Nagy said.

Report says Aliso Canyon still poses risks

The nonpartisan California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) released a three-part study in January examining whether underground natural-gas facilities pose a risk to safety, health and the environment, whether natural gas storage is needed through 2020 and whether such facilities were in line with the state’s climate policies. Researchers said tighter regulations implemented in 2018 would make all facilities safer, but in an assessment of all California natural gas storage facilities, researchers found that Aliso Canyon has many serious risks, including danger to the health of facility workers.

CCST researchers also noted that it is unclear what chemicals residents have been exposed to because SoCalGas has not released a list of the compounds released in the blowout. But posts on the Save Porter Ranch Facebook page, started by residents in the community closest to the facility, routinely note headaches, nausea, dizziness, nosebleeds and other health problems residents suffered long after the leaking well was capped in February 2016.

Several residents said they noticed an increase in symptoms during the recent gas withdrawals this winter. Local physician Dr. Jeffrey Nordella released the findings last October of his independent toxins study on more than 100 patients living near Aliso Canyon and found that many had above average levels of the carcinogens styrene and ethylbenzene in their hair.

Not giving up on Brown

Most recently residents have taken aim at Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, urging them to demand that Brown close Aliso Canyon permanently and immediately. Barger, despite her previous efforts to block limited injections at some of the wells at Aliso Canyon, appears to be backing off from her goal of closing the facility right away.

Jarrod Degonia, Barger’s senior field deputy for the San Fernando Valley, told Capital & Main that Barger was awaiting the results of three studies before demanding the shutdown: a CPUC-led energy reliability study; a report on the health effects of the blowout and leak; and an analysis of the root cause of the blowout, by Blade Energy Partners, an independent consulting firm hired by the CPUC. Begonia said that Barger is still opposed to withdrawals and injections of gas at Aliso, even though she was denied a restraining order last year to stop them, and that she is “actively trying to obtain more money for a long-term health study.”

Residents and activists acknowledge that action on closing Aliso Canyon may not come until a new governor takes office in January. Two Democratic candidates for governor, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin have said the facility should be shut down now. Newsom stressed his intention to shut down Aliso in a video.

Food and Water Watch’s Nagy said proponents of shutting down Aliso “want to maintain urgency and not let Jerry Brown off the hook.”

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