A Victory in California to Grow Jobs, Reduce Methane Leaks

In California, the BlueGreen Alliance worked with labor unions and environmental organizations to enact SB 1371, which compels the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) to improve leak identification, repair, and avoidance, as well as better account for the climate change impact of natural gas leaks in the state’s natural gas distribution systems.

In 2014, labor and environmental leaders lauded Gov. Jerry Brown’s signing of a bill that will require utilities to address the growing issue of natural gas leaks in distribution pipelines. The bill, SB 1371, was authored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and was passed by the Legislature in August. The law specifically directed the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to develop and implement a comprehensive natural gas distribution pipelines leak reduction strategy that ensured the quick and efficient repair of leaks.

California is the nation’s second largest consumer of natural gas, with over 100,000 miles of pipes and other equipment delivering natural gas to customers across the state. The union representing workers who maintain and repair distribution pipelines in the state, the Utility Workers Unions of America–a member of the BlueGreen Alliance–was supportive of the measure.

“Utility workers are proud of the broad public interest coalition of unions, environmental groups and consumer and community interests that have come together to support this measure,” said Robert Hoffman, President of Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) Local 132, the sponsor of the bill, said in 2014. “Being proactive in repairing and upgrading these vital pipes will benefit the environment and public safety while creating and sustaining good jobs for workers throughout the state. We thank Sen. Leno for bringing this forward and we appreciate the Governor signing it into law.”

“This is a big step towards a comprehensive strategy in California to reduce methane pollution,” said Tim O’Connor, Director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) California Climate Initiative. “Implementing policies to curb the loss of a valuable resource is good for both California’s environment and our economy.”

“This new law will reinforce California’s leadership in reducing emissions that contribute to climate change,” said Kathryn Phillips, Director of Sierra Club California, said in 2014. “Methane as a greenhouse gas is considerably more potent than carbon dioxide and we applaud this effort to reduce these harmful and wasteful emissions.”

The new law will also help eliminate waste of a critical energy resource. So-called “fugitive” emissions of methane equate to millions of dollars of lost gas that Californians end up paying for in their monthly utility bills.

“This is the right thing to do for our environment and our economy,” said Victoria Rome, California Legislative Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Repairing these leaks is vital to California’s continued leadership in the fight against climate change.”

California joined other state and federal efforts to mitigate methane emissions. Colorado and Wyoming have already begun to develop and adopt regulations requiring leak reductions.

“This is great news for California’s economy and environment,” said Laura Reynolds, Vice President for Communications Workers of America (CWA) District 9. “Union workers are concerned about climate change and ready to act. Repairing our state’s leaking natural gas distribution pipelines is something we should all be able to get behind.”

“Communities around the state will benefit from this new law and California is showing once again that we can create family-sustaining jobs for workers, while doing right by our environment,” said Robert LaVenture, Director of United Steelworkers (USW) District 12.

In 2014, the AFL-CIO and the BlueGreen Alliance released a report highlighting the economic and environmental benefits of replacing America’s aging natural gas distribution pipelines over a 10-year period instead of the current 30-year scenario. The report showed that doing so would increase the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by over $37 billion by 2024, create over 313,000 jobs, save consumers nearly $4.4 billion in lost gas, and prevent 81 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from being emitted into the atmosphere.