[This opinion editorial was orginally published in the Press Telegram - click here to read it on the Press Telegram's website.]
There are three pivotal questions about the Aliso Canyon gas leak that must be answered with urgency: What happened? How can it be fixed? And what are the long-term impacts?
Since Oct. 23, 2015, our community has been turned upside-down by the Aliso Canyon gas leak. Here we are — more than a hundred days after the leak was first reported — and thousands of families are still unable to return to their homes. Many are worried about the potential health impact of a leak that has released 87,000 metric tons of methane into the air. It is a scary, frustrating and chaotic time.
Most residents I speak with are livid and incredulous — and rightly so. They have been forced from their homes, their neighborhoods, their businesses and their schools. At best they believe that state regulators and the Southern California Gas Co. are incompetent. At worst, they believe there is too cozy of a relationship between the regulators and SoCalGas — all to the detriment of the public.
Once the leak is capped, residents and families deserve to know with certainty that they are returning to a safe home. As the state representative for Porter Ranch, I take the responsibility of standing up for my constituents.
To protect those affected by this crisis and ensure that something like this never happens again to any community, I am introducing a legislative package to protect our communities' health and rights, and ensure the future of our state.
I've sat in Aliso Canyon Facility gas leak town hall meetings with thousands of concerned citizens who were told by state regulators and SoCalGas executives that there would be no long-term health effects from the leak. Naturally, I am skeptical of such a wide-ranging statement. With that in mind, I have introduced a bill, Assembly Bill 1903, that would require the California Public Utilities Commission and Department of Public Health to study the long-term health impacts the leak will have on the affected area.
During public testimony at these meetings, residents shared that their No. 1 concern was the potential harm to their long-term health. This is a legitimate concern which led me to introduce AB 1902, which would double the statute of limitations from two years to four years for someone to file a health claim as a result of the Aliso Canyon leak.
To help ensure that a disaster of this magnitude never again happens, I also introduced AB 1905 to conduct a review to evaluate the gas industry's standards for safety considerations. The study will specifically look at existing wells, storage facilities and construction standards to determine if specific wells need to be re-drilled. A companion bill (Senate Bill 380) by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Calabasas, of which I am a coauthor, would provide an overview of safety measures for old wells.
For months, there have been widespread reports of debilitating headaches, bloody noses and other feelings of discomfort. Because natural gas is colorless and odorless, the gas industry uses odorants, which are supposed to help keep us safe by allowing us to detect the scent of possible gas leaks. In the case of the Aliso Canyon leak, the odorant used is mercaptan. In response, I also introduced AB 1904 to require the Department of Toxic Substances Control to evaluate the safety of odorants currently used in natural gas storage facilities and determine whether there are alternative odorants that pose a lower risk to human and environmental health than mercaptan.
As our community wrestles with crisis, I remain committed to protecting our residents and ensuring that our future does not contain a disaster like this ever again.