Urgency Measure to Halt Reopening of Aliso Canyon Clears First Hurdle

Testimony from Local Residents and Public Safety Experts Results in 7-2 Vote in Favor

February 14, 2017

SACRAMENTO – The Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee today voted 7-2 in favor of Senate Bill 57, an urgency measure by State Senator Henry Stern to stop the reopening of the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility until state regulators have completed an investigation to determine the root cause of the massive methane leak which took four months to plug and displaced more than 8,000 families from their homes.

“SB 57 is about restoring the public’s trust in government and delivering on the basic promise of health and safety to all Californians,” said Senator Stern when presenting the bill. “The root cause analysis will provide clear answers to what caused the well failure and that is critical to providing certainty to the public that all steps have been taken to prevent a future incident like the one my constituents experienced.

“Until they finish that job, we can’t bring comfort back to Porter Ranch or to ratepayers,” Stern stressed.

Committee members considered testimony and arguments in favor of the measure from local residents, representatives from the Los Angeles County fire and public health departments, environmental organizations, and a bipartisan coalition of elected officials.

“Our community has paid its dues 10 times over,” Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council (PRNC) President Issam Najm said. “No one should have the audacity to ask this canary to go back into that mine before they at least know what almost killed it the first time around.”

“What’s the rush to reinject this gas?” asked Chief John Todd from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, citing numerous concerns over seismic risks, the risk management plan and the lack of a complete root cause analysis.

“What’s often missing when we describe this facility is the impact it’s had on the population,” said Angelo Bellomo, Deputy Director for Health Protection for L.A. County Public Health. “We can’t afford to take chances with the uncertainties, we have to fill those data gaps and this measure will help fill one of them.”

“We are dismayed that everyone is proceeding with mathematical calculations on numbers, and no one is asking about the health impacts of this facility,” said PRNC President Najm.

“I believe that is the purpose of this hearing and the purpose of this legislation,” responded Senator Bob Hertzberg, the committee’s chair. “We are asking those questions in the California State Senate and that is why we are here.”

Stern expressed concern that communities may be seen but not heard. “We are moving this legislation in the event the agencies responsible for the cleanup and safety of Aliso Canyon do not heed the concerns of the public, the Fire Department and the Public Health Department,” he said. “We hope the Gas Company does the right thing.  But hope is not sufficient recourse for the thousands of families impacted here.”

After the committee vote, Stern went on to criticize the settlement recently announced by the South Coast Air Quality Management District for $8.5 million with the Gas Company. Of that, $4.65 million will be diverted from community needs into the district’s general fund.

“The community has not been made whole, health effects persist, safety concerns are not settled and yet the air district saw fit to settle for a paltry sum, and the Gas Company is pushing to reinject despite crucial unanswered questions.  That’s why the Legislature has to step in.  It is on us to right this wrong,” Stern concluded.

SB 57, an urgency measure with bipartisan support, will be heard in the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee as soon as next week.

Other supporters of SB 57 include U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), State Senators Scott Wilk (R-Antelope Valley), Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), and Assemblyman Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita), the Los Angeles City Council, Mayor Eric Garcetti, and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.