Capital Roundup: Gov. Touts Climate Action, CPUC Rebuked for Aliso Canyon

By Published On: March 10, 2021

In his State of the State, Gov. Gavin Newsom pointed to climate driven wildfires and the necessity of curbing greenhouse gas emissions, particularly from the transportation sector. It is the largest source of state emissions.

During his evening March 9 address, Newsom highlighted his executive order banning the sale of gasoline powered cars and passenger trucks by 2035. He also touted his proposed $1 billion budget for fire prevention, including to harden homes and reduce potential fuels in forests.

Ford, GM, and Volvo backed Newsom’s plan to phase out gasoline fueled cars, which will enable them to create jobs and dominate the electric vehicle industry, according to Newsom. “Proving yet again that protecting our planet and growing our economy aren’t conflicting goals – they’re one in the same.”

He said California was a leader on environmental policy, “yet we are mindful of our responsibility to do even more.”

Newsom, however, was slammed for not doing more, in particular for failing to ban the fracking of wells for natural gas and oil.

“While trumpeting his environmental leadership, the governor proposed 79% less in funding to increase oversight for fracking operations than he allocated last year and has already issued 11 more fracking permits in 2021,” said Food & Water Watch California Director Alexandra Nagy.

She also faulted the governor for not singling out a new Kern County ordinance that expedites the permitting of new oil and gas wells for 15 years. Thousands of new wells are expected to be permitted.

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Sen. Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles) rebuked the California Public Utilities Commission for going against the grain of climate protection efforts and not moving to phase out SoCalGas’ Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage field. The state’s former and current governors and legislature have directed the closure of the storage field.

“Despite the specific direction from two Governors, as well as statutory guidance from the Legislature, the CPUC appears to be moving in the opposite direction by laying the groundwork to relax the current restrictions on the amount of gas that can be stored and withdrawn from the facility,” Stern wrote in a March 5 letter to CPUC president Marybel Batjer.

He faulted the CPUC staff for concluding natural gas use will not decline in Southern California over this decade because of reliance on “outdated assumptions.” The Commission, he continued, is failing to use alternate gas demand scenarios up to 2030 in its gas modeling, including presumably in the opaque model work being conducted by a third-party consultant.

The CPUC is in the midst of its proceeding that will decide the fate of Aliso Canyon, including how much gas can be stored there. Energy Division staff concluded the gas field is needed for summer and winter peak reliability. Communities that live near the field and clean energy advocates object and are challenging the CPUC staff analysis.

On the evening of March 8, the Culver City Council approved a resolution urging the state to set a timeline for closing Aliso Canyon.

Gov. Newsom was called on to follow the city’s lead. He should commit “to building real solutions for the safe, fair and equitable transition away from natural gas,” Ethan Senser, Southern California Organizer for Food & Water Watch, said.

There was a severe methane leak from a well at Aliso Canyon more than five years ago, which lasted four months. Subsequently, former Gov. Jerry Brown directed the commission to phase out the field by 2027.

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