Calling it “the beginning of the end of natural gas” in Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti last month announced that he was scrapping plans to rebuild three aging gas power plants on the Southern California coast. He vowed to shut down the gas units and set his city – the second largest in the country – on a path to 100 percent renewable energy.
Garcetti’s decisive action makes him a leader in the fight against climate change, not just in California, but across the country. It takes political courage to refrain from spending taxpayer dollars on outdated fossil fuel technology, especially given the colossal power of Big Oil and Gas money in California politics.
His bold action provides a road map for how Gov. Gavin Newsom should address climate change over the next four years. As a candidate, Newsom pledged to “on day one … issue a directive putting California on a clear path to 100 percent renewable energy.”
Yet, 76 days after taking office, Newsom has yet to act. If he seeks to truly meet the challenge and scope of the climate crisis, he must keep his pledge. With the stroke of his executive pen, Gov. Newsom can take strong steps to protect Californians from the worsening local effects of global climate chaos, which include fires, floods, drought and air so toxic kids can’t even play outside on some days.
First, Gov. Newsom can make good on his pledge to shut down the Southern California Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon storage facility, which is the site of the worst gas blowout in U.S. history.
“If California can accomplish that monumental lift [to retire California’s last nuclear power plant] within eight-years, I think we can be more ambitious at Aliso Canyon and I will press for quicker resolution because I know we can do much better for the community while protecting ratepayers, the environment, and union jobs,” Newsom said during his gubernatorial campaign.
More than three years after the Aliso blowout, San Fernando Valley neighbors are still sick with rashes, weakness, nausea, headaches and other symptoms attributed to ongoing leaks at the gas field.
Now that Mayor Garcetti has vowed to replace L.A. gas plants with renewable energy and agrees that Aliso Canyon must be shut down, there is no excuse to continue to store gas at the facility. Gov. Newsom should order regulators to shut it down immediately.
On the campaign trail, Gov. Newsom also expressed opposition to “fracking and other unsafe oil operations.” Fracking, along with other forms of extreme extraction, like cyclic steam injection or acidizing, sends a high-pressure, toxic chemical soup underground, putting California’s precious aquifers at risk. Families living near this dangerous drilling have been sounding the alarm for years because they are concerned that their water is being contaminated by carcinogens like benzene.
These frontline families urgently need courageous action from the governor. He can start by taking sensible action to protect families from the health dangers of conventional drilling. This means instituting a 2,500-foot buffer zone between oil drilling operations and sensitive areas like homes and schools. Such action would be life-changing for thousands of Angelenos who live just a few hundred feet – or less – from active oil wells.
Statewide, there are nearly 8,500 active oil wells within 2,500 feet of sensitive sites like homes, schools and hospitals. A safety buffer zone is a good first step the governor can take on the way to banning harmful practices like fracking and phasing out all drilling.
Finally, Gov. Newsom can show true climate leadership by keeping his promise and announcing a plan to move California off fossil fuels. If he set his sights on 2030 as a deadline, he would be in line with scientific consensus and national calls for a Green New Deal.
Gov. Newsom’s plan should ensure that renewable energy is truly clean, which means solar, wind, geothermal and existing hydroelectric. His plan must not include dangerous nuclear power or dirty energy sources like biogas and biomass. It must also include a fair and just transition for workers and affected communities. This includes the development of renewable energy in low-income communities, as well as programs to transition the state’s existing fossil fuel workforce and members of underserved communities to good green jobs.
Gov. Newsom has all the authority he needs to take these urgent steps now. If L.A. can move off fossil fuels onto renewable energy, all of California can follow. The future of our state – and our world – demands big vision and bigger courage.