Being called one of the worst environmental disasters, a ruptured gas valve in California’s Aliso Canyon is still spewing methane into the atmosphere, making nearby residents sick, and thousands more fleeing their homes. Now people are fingering California’s governor, Jerry Brown, for sitting on his hands amid growing allegations of conflict of interests. The gas rupture occurred just outside of Porter Ranch city last October at a storage facility owned by parent company Sempra Energy.
To date, at least 150 million pounds of methane gas have gushed into the atmosphere. Gov. Brown finally met with residents at a home in Porter Ranch city after residents fumed to media outlets regarding the governor’s apparent lack of concern.
Some are also alleging a blatant conflict of interest, owing to the fact that Gov. Brown’s sister, Kathleen L. Brown, sits on the Board of Directors at Sempra Energy, which owns the Southern California Gas Company (and the Aliso Canyon gas facility where the rupture occurred). The company doesn’t expect the valve to be fixed until late February or early spring.
Serving as a director of Sempra Energy, Ms. Brown received $188,300 in compensation in 2015. Federal filings show “she also holds stock in the company currently worth about $400,000.” Gov. Brown has repeatedly said that fossil fuels (like methane) would be phased out by the end of the century, and of having the dubious distinction of attributing the statewide drought to global warming. Numerous studies say otherwise.
More dubious is that Gov. Brown has received over “$100,000 in campaign contributions from Sempra Energy and its employees, pulling in $96,800 from the corporation and $7,200 from employees throughout his political career,” according to the state’s campaign finance records. The watchdog group OpenSecrets.org shows that since 1992, Sempra has made over “$3 million in total political contributions, with 55 percent of those donations going to Democrats.”
Brown did find time to attend the UN’s Paris Climate Talks at taxpayer expense, who’s long-term goal is the complete eradication of fossil fuel use by 2100 in favor of solar and wind and other renewables. California officials also announced at the talks that “all new passenger vehicles sold in the state would not emit any greenhouse gases by 2050.” It’s unclear if a consumer could purchase a gasoline- or natural gas-powered vehicle from a neighboring state, or what would happen if someone relocated to the state but owned a regular car.
And while “Los Angeles County and the Los Angeles school board have declared the crisis a state of emergency,” so far Brown refuses to acknowledge it as such. By declaring it a state of emergency, it would unlock federal funds that could be used to fixing the leak faster, medical and relocation services, and monitoring air and soil for contaminants. “State emergency-services officials say there’s no current need for a state declaration,” the OC Register writes.
Meanwhile, officials have relocated students from two schools, and forced thousands to leave their homes amid growing health concerns from exposure to mercaptans. Because methane is an odorless, colorless gas, mercaptans are added to “help people detect its presence.” But long-term exposure to the additive can cause headaches, nausea, nosebleeds and other health issues.
The governor’s spokesperson Evan Westrup noted there was no conflict of interest in determining how the state has responded to the massive methane leak, saying that “The focus is the health and safety of residents, period.” The utility company has already ponied up money to help relocate the nearly 3,000 residents affected by the poisonous and deadly gas and lawsuits are already being generated.
Even the environmental group, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), normally chummy with Governor Brown, calls the gas leak “absolutely uncontained.” The group also writes on its website that “methane is estimated to be leaking out of the Aliso Canyon site at a rate of about 62 million standard cubic feet, per day. The daily leakage has the same 20-year climate impact as driving 7 million cars a day.” As is usually the case, rhetoric trumps reason when it comes to science and the environment.