June 23, 2015
Sacramento–The following is testimony delivered to the Senate Natural Resources Committee by CCEJN Director, Cesar Campos.
“Good morning. My name is Cesar Campos and I am the Director for Central California Environmental Justice Network. My organization works for environmental justice across the San Joaquin Valley with a specific focus in Fresno and Kern counties. In Kern, we host the Kern Environmental Enforcement Network, which is a resident reporting network of environmental hazards. This project allows residents to report any environmental concern or anything that they feel is threatening to their health.
In March of last year we received one of these calls, from a resident in Arvin, California. The resident mentioned that there was a strong smell of petroleum inside her home. My colleague in Kern County rushed to the scene with an air sampling bucket. Shortly after that, another colleague in Kern County called us about a news story that was developing in Arvin—“people are being evacuated from their houses, something about a gas pipeline that leaked” she said. We quickly realized that it was the same story.
My colleague Gustavo arrived at the scene, took an air sample and stayed with the families of 8 houses until they were all evacuated from their homes. There was about a 9 hr time lapse between the initial call and when the residents were all out of their houses. Since this was in the middle of the week, many residents were either at work or at school and came home to find out that they could not sleep in their homes that night. In fact, they would not be able to sleep in their homes for the next nine months. After the evacuation what followed was a frenzy from jurisdictional agencies fumbling with the responsibilities for clean-up oversight.
The Division of Oil, Gas, & Geothermal Resources did not even show unitl about 6 months after the evacuation, claiming that this pipeline was not within their jurisdiction. It wasn’t until our organizations drafted several letters directly to the Governor and released a video to all major media outlets across the state, that the Division actually showed up. By then, the residents were already incredibly frustrated by this process and had already lost trust in the regulatory agencies that were supposed to protect them.
During the final meeting that the division hosted in December right before the residents were given 2 days to move back to their homes, the residents kept asking for a signed certificate that would assure them that they would be safe returning to their homes. They did not get that. In fact, since December many residents have informed us that their symptoms, things like bleeding noses and headaches have returned since they arrived back in their homes.
This does not surprise us, given that just two weeks after the residents returned, our organizations went to the location with an infrared camera and observed VOC emissions from a nearby tank field owned by the same company. This observation yielded a notice of violation from the Air District.
I’m telling you about this experience because I want to let you know that this incident is far from over, and because you have in front of you a piece of legislation that can prevent future events like this from happening and I hope that you vote in favor of that. Thank you.”
AB 1420, introduced by Rudy Salas, would prioritize the mapping and testing of oil pipelines in environmentally sensitive areas including schools, and residential spaces. Ingrid Brostrom of Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment also testified on behalf of this bill for CRPE. CRPE, CCEJN, and the KEEN taskforce continue to work with the residents in Arvin affected by this pipeline leak to bring them more resources.