Organized labor and major environmental groups in California have joined forces to support new state legislation to quickly find and fix natural gas pipeline leaks. Recognizing that leaking gas pipelines are both a major safety problem as well as a source of emissions into the atmosphere of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, State Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco has introduced new legislation to address the problem.
According to Leno’s office, SB 1371 requires the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to open a proceeding to produce a set of rules to “reduce pipeline emissions of natural gas to the greatest extent technically feasible.”
The UWUA, whose Locals 132, 483 and 522 represent some 5,000 members at Southern California Gas Company, is sponsoring the bill. It has also gained support from the California State AFLCIO, BlueGreen Alliance, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council and Union of Concerned Scientists. The interest of the environmental organizations stems from their recognition that “any net climate change benefit from the use of natural gas is reversed if methane emissions are not curtailed.”
Decades of deregulation and workforce downsizing in the state’s gas utilities have resulted in catastrophic accidents, including the tragic pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people and destroyed an entire neighborhood two years ago.
In order to minimize costs and staff size, the CPUC allows gas utilities to vent gas leaks to the atmosphere rather than fix them. SB 1371 directs regulators to change that. The bottom line is a need to aggressively seek and find leaks, and to repair them without delay when they are found.
The unions believe that the bill provides a means to address safety and environmental hazards caused by chronic understaffing at the utilities. In the words of Los Angeles County Labor Federation leader Maria Elena Durazo, “This bill will have positive local employment and investment impacts in California. It will assure that we put people to work fixing leaks.”
“Our union members are the first responders to gas leaks from natural gas pipelines and we see firsthand the need to repair this vital part of the gas company’s infrastructure,” said Robert Hoffman, president of Local 132. “Fixing and updating these pipelines will also create and sustain good jobs for our locals — no one knows better than us how to keep our customers safe. Union members are committed and trained to insure proper safety and service.”