Pictured: The California Public Utilities Commission at their June 3, 2021 meeting.
by Kimberly Rivers
On June 3, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) heard over two hours of public comment from 47 residents and organizations from across Ventura County in opposition to Southern California Gas Company’s (SoCal Gas) plan to expand a natural gas-methane compressor site across from E.P. Foster Elementary School in West Ventura.
“We cannot treat children as collateral damage for industry,” said Vera Long of Ojai, a former firefighter and teacher, during public comment at the CPUC. “Especially when there is a clean energy solution.”
“How many of you would send your kids to E.P. Foster knowing this?” asked Isba Silva, a resident of West Ventura and mother of two children who will be attending the school in the fall. “I don’t have the means to move my kids to another school at this time . . . Our kids deserve to go to school with clean air.”
Calling the project part of “modernizing” the facility, SoCal Gas states the company needs to upgrade the decades-old facility with equipment that will increase capacity to push gas north through the system because of decreases in gas production in Santa Barbara County. According to the company, this has increased the need for more gas from the Ventura Oil Field to be pumped over a longer distance up the network to meet the ongoing demand for gas in that area.
Alex Edgar, a senior at Royal High School in Simi Valley, spoke in opposition to the expansion plan, calling it “unethical” to increase the health risk in a densely populated area.
Members of the CPUC are appointed by the state governor and the agency is responsible for overseeing public services and utilities as well as protecting consumers and the environment. Part of the role of the CPUC has been to ensure the state has adequate infrastructure to ensure a stable energy supply to customers.
The public outcry focuses on air quality degradation, health impacts and other risks related to the site being so close to a school and the Boys and Girls Club, and in the middle of a residential neighborhood. At one of the recently held public meetings held by SoCal Gas after public pressure was mounting, an official said they could not think of another facility like this in the state positioned so close to a school and residents.
The expansion plan is likely to “increase health issues,” in a “predominantly BIPOC working class community,” said Liz Lamar, an Oxnard resident and board member of the Los Padres Chapter of the Sierra Club. The residents of that community “should not have to face yet another burden like this while SoCal Gas makes millions benefiting from the expansion . . . gas is dead. It’s dead energy. The future is electric.”
Lamar and others asked the CPUC to not allow any more expansions of fossil fuel-based energy sources, citing climate change and the need to move to renewable energy sources. Speakers also called for an Environmental Impact Report as part of the project.
“Even a botanical garden in our area had to do an EIR,” said Tomás Rebecchi, a West Ventura resident and senior organizer with Food and Water Watch.
Liz Beall, executive director of Ventura-based Climate First: Replacing Oil and Gas (CFROG), highlighted information about the negative health impacts of living near natural gas facilities on young children, statin that it “is well known, so the fact that this compressor station is placed across from an elementary school and the Boys and Girls Club means that the pollution burden experienced by this community [is] extra extra high . . . that’s the long history of environmental racism in Ventura . . . it’s time for that practice to come to an end.”
Speakers from Patagonia and Fillmore based One Step a la Vez also spoke in opposition to the gas compressor expansion.
The June 3 CPUC meeting is online at www.adminmonitor.com/ca/cpuc/voting_meeting/20210603/.