What if you gave a press conference, but the “guest of honor” wasn’t present?
What if you gave a press conference, but the “guest of honor” wasn’t present? That was the case when the SoCal Health Care Coalition and Save Porter Ranch hosted a press conference just yards away from the SoCalGas storage facility gate. The topic was Steve Knight, the Congressman who represents the area in which the storage site is located. And about the perception that he has not taken any action in support of the residents who lived near the facility that was responsible for the worst gas release in US history.
Save Porter Ranch board member Richard Mathews started off the event by summarizing: “We’ve been suffering for three years. We’re still getting sick. That’s why we really need to shut it down.” He then listed the candidates and incumbents who are running for local and national offices that have agree with the message of “Shut It down” and underscored that current congressman Steve Knight hasn’t echoed that call.
Noting that it’s his birthday as well as the third anniversary of the Aliso blowout, Brad Sherman, who represents the 30th Congressional district, just south of the CD-25, mentioned that well SS-25 had its subsurface safety valve removed in 1979 and never replaced by SoCalGas. The congressman talked about how Aliso is the fifth largest such facility in the US and that these storage sites were originally oil fields. “They were never designed to hold natural gas and in most places, there’s no regulations at all.”
Sherman gave the history of the bill he introduced, The Natural Gas Storage Safety Act , in 2016. It was signed into law in June of 2016, but President Trump withdrew it on June 20, 2017. He described that action as “insane,” then quickly adding, “We’re not here to talk about the 25th amendment (which got laughs from the crowd), but how mistaken does a president have to be, after the world’s largest methane leak, to withdraw the only nationwide national natural gas storage regulations,” he said.
“I need partners in Congress who will stand up to the president and say, ‘No you can’t withdraw natural gas storage safety regulations for the entire country.’ We need to hold this administration accountable at a minimum to republish the regulations.”
The next speaker was Henry Stern, who represents the area near Aliso, as well as parts of Ventura County, the west San Fernando Valley, the coast, and part of Santa Clarita in the state senate. He indicated those standing behind him, and said, “They’re still on edge because they don’t know why they’re sick. We still don’t have answers about the chemicals that blew out of this field just about three years ago. We still don’t know why people have barium laying in their couches, benzene in their air and their houses, and yet the Gas Company is still making a profit and still charging Angelenos not just from Porter Ranch, but from all over the southland for their own disaster.”
Getting to the subject of the press conference, he added, “We’re here today to talk about leadership there are moments when you’re judged, and when you’re faced with a disaster like that, the question is ‘Do you stand up or do you stand by the wayside?’ Congressman Sherman stood up, Save Porter Ranch stood up, the folks in this community, they all had to stand up. But Steve Knight was nowhere to be found.”
Stern said he’d asked Knight for his help with passing SB-57, the Aliso Canyon moratorium bill, and the congressman didn’t respond.
“We’re talking about things you can’t touch or see. Because this disaster was invisible, but the impact was not. And there are people who are still sick, and for that, I say shame on you. For not coming out to advocate for the immediate shut down of Aliso Canyon, because let’s be clear, the gas company’s got big money, and there’s big politics playing with them.” He added that it takes courage to stand up to the gas interests. “It’s hard, but the people who’ve elected us, expect it.”
Next to the podium was Christy Smith, Member of the Newhall School District, and a candidate for Assembly district 38. She said, “It is hard to believe we are three years out, and the risk from this facility has still not been mitigated and that is significant not because of costs or where we will be in our clean energy future that is the most significant because of the people behind me. And the people of this community who are still experiencing adverse health effects and the fear every day that this will happen again.”
She then told the story of a woman who has lived in Porter Ranch for twenty years and has been recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Smith pointed out that there have been other cases of multiple myeloma found among the residents here, as well as other blood-related cancers, lupus, asthma, headaches, nosebleeds, and respiratory conditions. And many of the stricken are not just “the most vulnerable, but people who’ve been strong and healthy their entire lives. That doesn’t happen unless people are facing toxic risks.”
“What they deserve and what they are entitled to, is representation that works and speaks for them, not for corporate interests. So I am here to say that Steve Knight has stood up for corporate interests and continued to take money from the fossil fuels industry.”
“My opponent Dante Acosta has not stood up for the residents of this community and continued to take fossil fuel money. As long as I am a candidate and hopefully a representative for this community, I will never take fossil fuel resources, because these peoples’ lives matter more to me than any dollar ever could.”
Smith called for a comprehensive health study and a plan to shut down Aliso. As for the community members, she said “They won’t stop until they are safe, until their kids and neighbors are safe.”
Andrew Krowne, a resident who has been one of the community leaders working to shut down Aliso, talked about how his family was so sickened by the “toxic soup that began uncontrollably spewing out from the facility,” that his family had to spend five months in a hotel during the blowout.
“My mission has been to shut Aliso Canyon for good and hold SoCalGas accountable to clean up their contamination.” He then discussed Congressman Knight. “He is standing with SoCalGas and Sempra — the same people he’s taken more than $16,000 from over the course of his career. This is our example of what’s wrong with politics today. Our elected officials and our government agencies, are supposed to represent our interests, protect our health. Yet time and time again, they do not.”
“Congressman Knight would rather side with polluters; wealth over health.”
Krowne added, “Steve Knight practices his politics in boardrooms and in Washington, not here in the San Fernando Valley. Too often I hear from stakeholders in my community who have reached out to Steve Knight with one issue or another, and never ever get a response. It’s time for a change. The Aliso Canyon facility is still here. The daily leaks are still here. The suffering is still here.”