Ventura Residents Demand DTSC and CPUC Reform Amid Environmental Justice Violations

Westside Clean Air Coalition decried DTSC and PUC for inhibiting public dialogue around the SoCalGas compressor expansion and promoting a weak regulatory process for natural gas

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Climate and Energy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Members of Ventura’s Westside Clean Air Coalition are using public comment to decry the hypocrisy and negligence of state agencies responsible for managing the environmental and public health risks of natural gas infrastructure. While the California State Assembly reviewed the budget of the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC), coalition members pointed out the agency’s avoidance of public comment regarding remediation of toxic soil on the site of a SoCalGas compressor station. Despite the site’s proximity to an elementary school, parents were left out of the notification process for the remediation plans. Citing lack of public interest, the DTSC denied each community request for public hearings on the project in English and Spanish.

“The DTSC and CPUC are complicit in the environmental injustice happening in Ventura’s Westside,” said Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer Tomás Rebecchi. “While the CPUC has neglected its mandate to independently regulate SoCalGas’ compressor station, the DTSC has refused to engage with members of our community and relegated Ventura’s Westside to a sacrifice zone. The cleanup plans initially proposed by the DTSC affect the entire community, particularly the children at E.P. Foster Elementary School whose lungs are vulnerable to the toxic particulates unearthed by any remediation efforts. We need the DTSC to go back to the drawing board and include the voices of those most impacted by these efforts: the parents and residents of Ventura’s Westside.” 

Without notifying the community, the DTSC agreed on an exemption for the remediation plans from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and any environmental impact report. 

“SoCalGas claims they have already obtained the needed approvals for this massive expansion project, in a time where it is widely acknowledged that we should be phasing out natural gas for the health of people and planet.” said Liz Beall, executive director at CFROG. “Yet there is no evidence this project was formally approved by any state or local agency, and we will not be satisfied until a full Environmental Impact Review is performed.” 

“The DTSC has members appointed from the oil and gas industry who know the gas company is simply cleaning up to protect its employees during the compressor expansion project,” said Liz Campos, Chair of the Westside Community Council. “To exempt the gas company from an EIR for the entire project ignores the imminent danger to the community. In meeting with the local DTSC regulators I was given the impression that the people who live in the disenfranchised neighborhood of West Ventura were unimportant, even perhaps expendable; that the DTSC’s relationship with SoCalGas is of primary importance; and we (the citizens whose health has been badly affected) must understand that the gas company’s expansion of the compressor station after an awkward excuse for toxic soil cleanup is a done deal.”

“Something is wrong at the Department of Toxic Substance Control,” said Jonathan Ullman, director of the Sierra Club’s Los Padres Chapter. “And if what’s happening in Ventura’s Westside community is any indication, its funding must be tied to reform. When local residents, social justice and environmental groups asked the Toxics Dept to re-open up the comment period and hold an official public hearing, they were denied. This would never have happened in Beverly Hills or Santa Monica. It shouldn’t happen in Westside Ventura. It’s an environmental injustice that must be reopened.”

The Ventura City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) before further work can continue on the natural gas compressor station on 1555 North Olive Street, yet the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has yet to hold SoCalGas accountable. SoCalGas plans to expand the compressor station site, adding four new compressors, more than doubling the horsepower of the current compressors.

“According to CalEnviroScreen, the project is located among the most pollution-burdened communities in California,” said CAUSE Senior Policy Advocate Lucia Marquez. “A super emitting toxic facility like this with a known history of leaks throughout the years should have never been built next to hundreds of small children, yet an expansion doubling its size is being considered. The City of Ventura was pushed to pass a resolution requesting further review of this project because of the inconsistent and inaccurate information they received from SoCalGas staff when asked about the expansion plans. We believe this project is a major violation of the PUC’s environmental justice policies.”

Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]