Newsom must make good on his promises. He can start by shutting down Aliso Canyon.
California is in a crisis.
Fracking is harming our land, water, and air. Pollution from oil drilling and refining continues to severely impact the health of lower-income communities of color, who have been disproportionately burdened from decades of environmental racism. Many Californians are still homeless from the Camp Fire caused by PG&E, which destroyed thousands of homes and killed 86 people last year. The climate emergency is intensifying, leaving young people anxious and afraid.
On October 11, just as PG&E was beginning to restore power to more than 2 million people after widespread and dangerous blackouts, the Saddleridge fire tore across the hills of the Northwest San Fernando Valley, forcing over 100,000 residents of Porter Ranch and the surrounding area to evacuate. It threatened to engulf the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility, the site of the largest methane blowout in U.S. history, which currently holds 34 billion cubic feet of pressurized natural gas. On October 15, A huge explosion at a NuStar refinery in the East Bay caused two massive fuel tanks to collapse, shutting down the I-80 freeway and sending black smoke pouring over the bayside hills.
Yet, in the midst of all this, Governor Gavin Newsom decided to accept a public service award at a glitzy fossil fuel-drenched fundraiser in Los Angeles, sponsored by SoCal Gas.
We showed up to make our voices heard.
Governor Newsom, where are you?
Rather than meeting with fire victims or dealing squarely with Aliso Canyon, Newsom was honored at an event consistently backed by fossil fuel money. While the organization holding the dinner gala, Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles (AAAJ-LA), does important advocacy and legal work, its Board of Directors and annual fundraiser have a history of courting big corporate donors and heaping praise on fossil fuel companies and executives. The Board has given its “Corporate Impact Award” to SoCal Gas three times, most recently in 2015, one week before the Aliso Canyon disaster. SoCal Edison and BP America have also been honored at past events, while former event Chairs include the CEO of Sempra Energy, the Vice President of SoCal Edison, the Regional President of BP America, and the CEO of SoCal Gas.
Some of the largest sponsors of this year’s event were fossil fuel companies, their financial backers, and legal representatives, each contributing $25,000. The COO of SoCal Gas was a Co-Chair of the fundraiser, along with reps from Wells Fargo, Bank of America, LimNexus LLP, Wilson Sonsini LLP, and more.
- SoCal Gas is the largest gas monopoly in the country, responsible for the biggest methane leak in U.S. history at Aliso Canyon.
- Wells Fargo and Bank of America are the second and fourth biggest financers of fossil fuels among banks, doling out a combined $95 billion in 2018.
- LimNexus, which has worked for PG&E, SoCal Gas, and SoCal Edison, recently hired the former Senior Vice President and General Counsel for PG&E. PG&E paid him $5.4 million in total compensation in 2017.
- Wilson Sonsini was hired by PG&E last year to defend it against fire-related liability claims. PG&E paid them $12 million in 2018.
What’s more, AAAJ-LA’s Board of Directors is brimming with corporate lawyers either working directly with the oil and gas industry or for firms that do. There are two Board members at SoCal Gas and one at SoCal Edison, two at LimNexus and one at Wilson Sonsini. A Board member working at Sidley Austin (another $25,000 event sponsor), which has been paid more than $10 million by PG&E over the last three years, successfully defended ExxonMobil in a 2016 lawsuit.
Another Board member works at O’Melveny and Myers, the firm tapped by Governor Newsom, and paid millions, to help craft the preemptive bailout of PG&E that Newsom signed in July. The plan will cost utility customers $11.5 billion and relieve private utilities from paying the full cost of future fires. O’Melveny and Myers, which had a $5,000 table at the event, has worked for PG&E, SoCal Gas, and SoCal Edison.
The list of corporate influence goes on.
Governor Newsom, which side are you on?
Taking an award among such company is unacceptable and flies in the face of Newsom’s stated priorities and commitments. During his campaign for Governor, Newsom vowed to oppose fracking, set us on a clear path to 100% renewable energy, and fight the oil and gas industry. Result? California has issued 2,383 new oil and gas permits so far this year.
He also “proudly” signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge. Disappointingly, he violated the Pledge in both spirit and substance.
Newsom took large campaign contributions from PG&E, Sempra Energy (owner of SoCal Gas), SoCal Edison, Calpine Corporation, and others. He also took money from (among others) multiple executives at Calpine, the CEO of Sempra, the CEO of PG&E, and the CEO of California Resources Corporation, an oil and gas drilling and exploration company. This is the same class of fossil fuel executives who hoped to have his ear at the October 17 fundraiser. (At the last minute, we, along with the attendees, learned that Newsom would not be the dinner gala in person, sending his Labor Secretary in his place. He may have caught wind of our action or the union protest targeting the AAAJ-LA Board before the event.)
Meanwhile, the media are spotlighting Newsom’s condemnation of PG&E over the recent blackouts. Newsom emphasized PG&E’s “greed and mismanagement over the course of decades” and it’s “desire to protect not public safety but profits.” Earlier in the year, he pointed out PG&E’s history of “lying, manipulating or misleading the public,” and stated, “They cannot be trusted.”
Despite this rhetoric, just months ago Newsom spearheaded and sped through a utility bailout bill, putting ratepayers on the hook for $11.5 billion in future liability for wildfires caused by PG&E, SoCal Edison, and SDG&E. At the behest of Wall Street analysts and worried investors, he hired a team (including O’Melveny and Myers) to devise a plan to ensure that ratings agencies wouldn’t downgrade the investor-owned utilities. Thanks to the generous contribution of ordinary Californians, stock prices stabilized and Wall Street investors are sleeping easier.
PG&E has made a habit of paying out big dividends rather than fixing infrastructure, cutting huge executive paychecks rather than checking power lines it knows are dangerous. But the bill continued the trend of apologizing after disasters rather than preventing them. After the blackouts, instead of listening to calls to municipalize the bankrupt, corrupt, and incompetent utility giant, Newsom’s only suggestion was for PG&E to pay $100 to everyone affected by the outages.
Governor Newsom, will you shut down Aliso Canyon?
This Wednesday marks the fourth anniversary of the Aliso Canyon gas blowout, which sickened hundreds of people and forced thousands of families to evacuate their homes for months to escape exposure to carcinogens like benzene and lead. People are still feeling the health impacts to this day. SoCal Gas has shown a history of negligence, but our politicians and regulators have refused to hold them accountable. The Aliso facility is still operating, it is old, it is at risk from fires and earthquakes, and it is still leaking.
The fires last week retraumatized many Porter Ranch residents, who once again had to evacuate, wondering whether their homes would survive, whether the flames at Aliso would cause a devastating explosion, whether another blowout would happen, spewing toxic chemicals into their communities and poisoning their children, who were the most affected by nosebleeds, nausea, and respiratory issues during the 2015 disaster.
Nine months into his term, nothing has happened.
SoCal gas has been desperately trying to keep us addicted to natural gas, claiming that we can’t give up Aliso Canyon. This echoes decades of scare tactics from the fossil fuel industry, as it profited and bought out our politicians. Governor Newsom needs to reject all fossil fuel money, not accept honors at fossil fuel-funded events. He needs to truly serve the public, not accept public service awards alongside SoCal Gas. He needs to stand up to SoCal Gas and shut down Aliso Canyon.
Governor Newsom, what is your plan?
You have a chance to stand with us, the generation who has everything to lose from the continuation of fossil fuel domination, with Californians who have suffered, are suffering, and will suffer from fires, from blackouts, from fossil fuel pollution in our backyards, with the residents of Porter Ranch who are sick and terrified.
We don’t want you to tout past achievements. We don’t want you to tell us that you’re on our side or that you’re “working on it.” We need you to tell us what your plan is. We need your actions to match your words, and for you to be “committed to the highest standards of public transparency, health, and public safety above all else.”
We need a Green New Deal in California. We cannot keep drilling, fracking, extracting. We cannot keep storing dangerous fossil fuels next to our families. We cannot say climate change is urgent while refusing to prioritize people over private utilities and fossil fuel corporations.
Governor Newsom, show us which side you are on.
Shut down Aliso Canyon. Now.