Capitol Alert

Lawmakers seek to delay reopening of Aliso Canyon facility where methane leak occurred

A gas-gathering plant sits on the hilltop at the Southern California Gas Co.'s Aliso Canyon storage facility near the Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles on Jan. 12, 2017.
A gas-gathering plant sits on the hilltop at the Southern California Gas Co.'s Aliso Canyon storage facility near the Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles on Jan. 12, 2017. The Associated Press

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A year after the Southern California Gas Co. finally plugged the massive Aliso Canyon methane leak, a furious debate is brewing over whether to reopen the largest underground natural gas storage facility in the west.

After springing in October 2015, the leak spewed noxious fumes for nearly four months, driving thousands of residents from the surrounding Los Angeles neighborhood of Porter Ranch and leading to complaints of health problems ranging from headaches to cancer. Gov. Jerry Brown eventually declared a state of emergency, ordering SoCalGas to pay for emissions reductions programs elsewhere to make up for the disaster’s effect on the atmosphere, and signed a moratorium on new gas injections and withdrawals at the site.

But state regulators are now ready to reopen Aliso Canyon, announcing last month that about a third of the wells are safe to be put back into use, even though the cause of the leak has still not been determined.

Residents are livid. Hundreds of them crowded public meetings about the proposal last week demanding that the facility be permanently shut down. And they have growing political support, including from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who recently announced that she would support a California bill to delay the reopening until an investigation of the leak’s cause is completed.

That measure, Senate Bill 57 by Sen. Henry Stern, D-Los Angeles, gets its first hearing today in the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee, which will meet in Room 3191 upon the conclusion of floor session.

WORTH REPEATING: “These threats are beneath the office Trump temporarily occupies.” - Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, on President Donald Trump’s suggestions that California should be punished

1+1: The image of “two Californias” – a wealthy coast and the inland communities it’s leaving behind – has become a truism in state politics, used by everyone from Republican legislative leaders to gubernatorial candidates Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa. But the frustration felt by those living far from the Pacific Ocean that they have not had the same access to opportunity as other regions in the state is very real. Local residents and community leaders from throughout the Central Valley will rally at the Capitol today to call attention to the economic and health disparities they face, 10 a.m. on the west steps of the Capitol. Then at noon in Room 4202, the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund will provide a briefing on a new report about the impact these disadvantages have had on valley children.

VIDEO OF THE DAY: Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder didn’t have much to say during his first visit to the Capitol as outside counsel this week.

UPGRADE U: Cal-Access, the state’s online database of campaign finance and lobbying reports, has a reputation around the Capitol as being clunky and convoluted. Even Secretary of State Alex Padilla hates it, once referring to it as a “Frankenstein monster.” Last year, he pushed for legislation to finally update the system, originally launched in 2000, into something more modern and easier to use. Now Padilla is turning to the public for recommendations on what features the new version should include, 10:30 a.m. at the Secretary of State’s Office on 11th Street.

DON’T HURT YOURSELF: A pair of U.S. Supreme Court cases last decade that established “categorical exemptions” to the death penalty for the intellectually disabled and minors has rippled out into policy governing other stringent punishments, such as life imprisonment and solitary confinement. But relying on these broad definitions has also introduced new complications into determining who gets punished how. Natalie Pifer, a doctoral candidate in criminology, law and society at UC Irvine, will discuss her research into recent controversies that resulted from categorical exemptions, including overcrowding and the use of isolation in California prisons, and their implications for criminal justice, noon at the UC Sacramento Center on K Street.

CELEBRATIONS: Happy birthday to Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, who turns 48 today.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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