Repair America, Now!

Aliso Canyon Gas Leak and Flint Water Contamination Proof Positive

The man-made crises in Aliso Canyon, CA, and Flint, MI, are the latest life-threatening emergencies highlighting the urgent need to address the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, the backbone of the national economy.

It’s becoming more and more critical to invest in the physical and human infrastructure necessary to maintain reliable services to keep the nation strong.

“If we want to be a first class nation, if we want to be a world leader, then we better put our money into re-building our water, gas, and electricity infrastructure,” says UWUA President Mike Langford. “It’s going to take everybody to say ‘enough is enough,’ it’s time to do what’s right!”


Largest recorded gas leak

Aliso Canyon
On site at Aliso Canyon storage facility natural gas leak. (Kim Rice-Bogdan)

Natural gas began leaking from a SoCalGas aged well in Aliso Canyon in southern California on Oct. 23, 2015. As a result of the leak, 6,000 residents were relocated, two elementary schools were temporarily closed, and Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency. The leak lasted for 118 days until it was stopped on Feb. 11.

A University of California study published in Science confirmed that the 100,000 tons of methane released at Aliso Canyon was the country’s largest recorded natural gas leak, and that it doubled the methane emission rate of the entire Los Angeles basin.

Methane is 85 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

Health hazards from water

UWUA Local 101, MSUWC, delivered 348 cases of water to the people of Flint.
UWUA Local 101, MSUWC, delivered 348 cases of water to the people of Flint.

Flint water contamination started in April 2014, after the Governor’s appointed state administrator/emergency manager decided to cut costs by changing its water source to the Flint River. Officials failed to apply corrosion control treatment, resulting in lead contamination and a serious threat to public health.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency on January 5, 2016, and President Obama did so shortly afterward.

Between 6,000 and 12,000 children have been exposed to drinking water with high levels of lead. The water change is also suspected of causing other health crises.

UWUA Local 105, MSUWC, delivered 505 cases of water – one case for each member –to the Red Cross in Flint, MI.

UWUA doing its part
The UWUA is doing its part to educate members, the public, and policy makers about the importance of solving the country’s infrastructure deficit as part of a broad-based coalition of labor, business, finance and government interests in the Repair America Campaign.

A highly skilled workforce is key to the future. One goal of the Rebuild America Campaign is to ensure that all UWUA members remain the highest skilled, safest and most productive in the industries where they work by staying ahead of the technological curve, and by recruiting and training tomorrow’s workforce now.

Delivering Water to Flint
Members of the locals of the Michigan State Utility Workers Council volunteered their support for the people of Flint by donating and delivering water. This was all part of the Michigan State AFL-CIO’s relief efforts to reach out to residents, identify urgent needs, collect stories, and get people engaged in community action.

Left to right: Robin McGregor, president, UWUA Local 105; Ric Hogerheide, director, Michigan Education Association UniServe; and Dick Long, director, United Auto workers Retiree Region 1.

Local 105 President Robin McGregor explains, “On January 12, a great union leader, Elizabeth Maye of the UAW, passed away. She was a men-tor to me and others. She always helped; so as I thought about how to honor her, I realized that she would want to help the families in Flint that need water. Union members from all over helped to pass out six semi-trucks worth of water. People were so grateful.”

Among the initiatives the UWUA is actively involved with are:

Infrastructure Bank — Passing the National Infrastructure Bank Development Act to finance long-term solutions that repair and upgrade basic systems. The act would leverage hundreds of millions of desperately needed private investment dollars to modernize our nation’s infrastructure.

A National Infrastructure Bank could finance energy efficient smart grids; safer, more efficient water systems; transportation systems that cut carbon emissions; energy systems that allow us to further advance the use and transmission of renewable energy, and be an engine of job growth for jobs that cannot be outsourced.

Carbon Capture — As part of its campaign to keep coal plants viable, the UWUA joined with the AFL-CIO and a coalition of fossil fuel companies and environmental groups to push for a legislative tax fix to boost carbon capture and sequestration projects.

The permanent extension of the 45Q tax credit would support research and development of carbon capture technology, and is essential in building a twenty-first century economy that provides large numbers of good paying jobs while addressing environmental concerns.

Stateside Legislation/Regulation — In numerous states, the UWUA is pushing for legislation and policies to rebuild infrastructure, and sustain and create good jobs, while protecting safety and the environment.

Union-supported legislation in California (Senate Bill 1371) is doing just that by requiring absolute reductions in leaks of natural gas from pipeline systems, and specifies procedures and timelines for developing a strategy for achieving the reductions. After the Aliso experience, the UWUA and its allies are now working to extend such legislation to cover storage facilities as well.

In a number of other states, the UWUA is supporting efforts to secure investments in upgrading infrastructure, and is meeting with success, particularly in gas.

The nation’s engineers have given a D- grade to U.S. infrastructure. No one should accept that! It’s time to Reclaim, Retrain, Repower, and Repair America!