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September 1, 2022

Environmental justice leaders urge California Air Resources Board to set target to phase out existing gas-fired power plants in the state’s most far-reaching climate plan

Especially while facing a vicious heat dome and suspension of water and air quality protections

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

Thursday, September 1, 2022

CONTACT: Kristiana Faddoul, kristiana.faddoul@sierraclub.org

A tale of two Californias: Despite Gov. Newsom’s July call to remove new gas capacity from the Scoping Plan, the Governor’s office issued an emergency proclamation on 8/31 that allows polluting gas plants to run more frequently and intensely than their permits allow to meet current energy shortfall, inflicting unconscionable harm to those most exposed to climate pollution – working families and people of color.

SACRAMENTO, CA – As California stares down the barrel of another extreme heat event,  gas-fired power plants fail yet again to show up with the electricity the state was expecting from them. To avoid future energy crises caused by extreme heat, environmental justice leaders are urging the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to plan for retirement of unreliable gas plants and make room for clean energy in the 2022 Scoping Plan, the roadmap to meeting the state’s climate goals. 

Despite industry claims to the contrary, gas plants have shown to be unreliable in moments of high energy demand. According to an August 31, 2022 CAISO outage bulletin, unexpected failures at gas power plants accounted for more than a quarter of the power that was unavailable Wednesday.[1]

“We need to respond to extreme heat events, and subsequent energy shortfalls, by recommitting to building an electric grid that is clean, distributed, renewable, and that does not include faulty and fickle gas plants,” said Gabriela Mendez, Organizer for the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ). 

CARB’s Scoping Plan can make this a reality by setting a 30 Million Metric Tons (MMT) emissions goal for the electric sector in 2030. This target will necessitate investments in clean renewable energy generation, mass transit and real climate solutions that benefit all Californians, not billions in subsidies for the oil and gas industry that avoids taking more serious action to phase out their polluting infrastructure. 

“While we welcomed Governor Newsom’s bold call for no new gas plants in the Scoping Plan earlier this month, we are extremely disappointed that just yesterday Governor Newsom also suspended protections for the water and air this week, when it is unbearably hot and already difficult to breathe in low-income communities of color,” said Shana Lazerow, Legal Director for Communities for a Better Environment (CBE).

The Governor’s suspension of water and air protection harms the most vulnerable while letting industry ramp up their sales beyond usual using diesel and fossil gas. If CARB does not plan to end the grid’s reliance on unreliable gas-fired generation by setting a lower 2030 interim emissions target for the electric sector, and by standing up to the fossil fuel lobby giveaways included in its draft Scoping Plan, California will see its implementation of climate policy fall short – hurting communities of color who live on the frontlines of pollution the most. This is especially important given that the legislature just failed to pass one major component to the governor’s climate proposal: setting a target to reduce emissions to 55% of 1990 levels by 2030, instead of the current 40% goal.

“Unless our state authorities take a more assertive stand to lower emissions by setting a near-term interim target to phase out gas plants and reject deceptive and risky carbon capture technologies, California will only deepen its toxic relationship with polluting industries, undermining our state’s leadership on climate action and creating even more energy insecurity,” said Sofi Magallon, Policy Advocate with the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE).

The Governor’s recent call to reject building new gas power plants represented a significant victory for communities that are most overburdened with pollution (it roughly translated to stopping the equivalent of 100 new peaker plants). But while CARB is now creating a plan that does not include new gas plants, the draft plan fails to set an adequate interim target to limit emissions from existing power plants.

About the Governor’s emergency proclamation

As if highlighting the need to stop digging our climate hole deeper, a heat dome settled over California yesterday. In response, the Governor issued an emergency proclamation, lifting permit restrictions that protect our fragile (and stressed) waterways, and our even more fragile (and stressed) lungs from generators and ship emissions. For the next week, at the hottest part of the day, gas and diesel generators are now allowed to disregard permit limits and run at their highest power, and ships can sit at port running their engines. This is the third summer in a row Governor Newsom has lifted key public health and environmental protections in the name of electric grid reliability. A plan to end our reliance on polluting gas and diesel is long overdue.

Gas plants affect disadvantaged communities the most 

According to an analysis by Physicians Scientist & Engineers (PSE), of gas plants in California:  

  • Half (49%) of California’s gas power plants are located in communities that rank among the 25% most disadvantaged in the state.
  • In contrast, only 9% of power plants are located in the 25% most privileged communities in California.
  • 84% of California’s peaker power plants – gas plants that have some of the highest rates of pollutant emissions when they are used, infrequently — were located in communities that rank among the 50% most disadvantaged in the state.

[1] CAISO Curtailed and Non-operational Generators AM Report, Aug. 31, 2022, available at http://www.caiso.com/market/Pages/OutageManagement/CurtailedandNonOperationalGenerators.aspx (showing that 2,478.56 MW of the 8880.74 MW of CAISO’s projected unavailable capacity is missing gas plant capacity).

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About the Regenerate CA campaign

Regenerate California is a coalition of environmental and economic justice advocates led by the California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA), the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ), the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), and the Sierra Club who, together, share a vision for California where we run on 100 percent clean renewable energy – ensuring our children grow up breathing clean air and the most impacted communities have access to renewable energy and local jobs. We have a vision to transition off of dirty and dangerous gas plants in California and to create a regenerative and just clean energy economy. 

To learn more about Regenerate California, visit www.RegenerateCalifornia.org.

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