Local legislators trade shots over Aliso Canyon shutdown provisions

Newhall School District Board Member Christy Smith, speaking at the podium is joined by concerned citizens, Congressman Brad Sherman, left, and California State Senator Henry Stern, right, at the one-year anniversary press conference of the Aliso Canyon blowout held at the entrance of the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility in Porter Ranch on Wednesday, October 24, 2018. Dan Watson/The Signal

Sen. Henry Stern, D-Canoga Park, called for action Wednesday morning to shut down the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility on the three-year anniversary of the facility’s gas leak.

A crowd of local activists, affected Porter Ranch residents and officials were there to show their support, along with Christy Smith, 38th Assembly District race challenger, and U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Northridge, among them.

The Aliso Canyon gas leak was discovered by Southern California Gas Co. on Oct. 23, 2015, and was capped in February 2016 after spewing massive amounts of gas into the atmosphere, prompting a state of emergency and widespread evacuations of the Porter Ranch area and the filing of criminal charges against the gas company.

In September 2016, SoCalGas pleaded no contest to polluting the air, agreeing to pay at least $4 million in fines and upgrades to monitoring gas leaks.

Stern said that the Porter Ranch community deserved justice and that the gas storage facility should be permanently shut down, as the community did not need to rely on the gas company for power.

Specifically, the senator criticized U.S. Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, for not acknowledging Stern’s Senate Bill 57, which would have prevented SoCalGas from injecting gas into the storage facility after the leak until authorities completed a root cause analysis.

SB 57 was introduced in May 2017 and died in the state Senate in February.

“Environmental law is not just an ethereal notion,” Stern said. “There are still residents who are sick, so shame on you, Steve Knight for not advocating for Aliso Canyon residents. The gas company is still making money and charging Angelenos for its mess. Folks in this community are suffering, where are you?”

Representatives from Knight’s office said the congressman had responded to the issue on the national level.

“Congressman Knight and his office responded to the Aliso Canyon leak by working with local authorities to ensure the affected areas were evacuated, providing constant updates to constituents on our website and newsletter, working with investigators to find out what had happened, and introducing and advancing into law legislation that explicitly improves safety standards at natural gas storage facilities to ensure events like this don’t happen again,” said spokesman Chris Jusuf.

“Sen. Stern is referring to a state Legislature bill and that is outside of Rep. Knight’s jurisdiction as a member of the U.S. House,” Jusuf said. “Within his own jurisdiction, Rep. Knight introduced legislation to address the underlying issues of this leak and that bill received bipartisan support on both the House and Senate and was signed into law under President Obama.”

Knight introduced House Resolution 4429, the Natural Gas Leak Prevention Act, in February 2016, requiring the secretary of transportation to issue adequate safety standards for underground natural gas storage facilities. It became law in June 2016.

Smith said she had heard from multiple Porter Ranch residents in the 38th Assembly District affected by the leak, and that she supported shutting down the facility. Many had mysterious cancers, she said, and needed justice.

Smith vowed that if she were elected, she would not take any money from fossil fuel companies. She criticized her opponent, Assemblyman Dante Acosta, R-Santa Clarita, for taking money from such companies.

Acosta, in response, said he had not taken any money from SoCalGas or its parent company, Sempra.

Acosta was a co-author of the Assembly counterpart to Stern’s SB 57 and requested funding to speed up a long-term health summary for the Porter Ranch residents, which he said the Assembly Democratic supermajority blocked.

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