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March 14, 2014

Natural Gas Expansion: Bad for Us, Bad for Future Generations


By Yassamin Kavezade, My Generation Campaign volunteer activist.

Typical days in the Inland Empire, just east of Los Angeles in Riverside and San Bernadino Counties, are plagued by smoggy skies that block views of the nearby mountain peaks, which soar to over 11,500 feet. This hazy soup is often coupled with the thick, acrid smell of fuel exhaust and industrial emissions, as if we lived in a time before catalytic converters were required equipment on vehicle exhaust pipes.

As one born and raised in Southern California, I was always aware of the region's smog problem. And because Southern California has enacted the strongest air-pollution regulations in the nation, I knew that the environment needed to be taken care of. But as I grew older -- I'm now in my early 20s -- I became aware of the connection between pollution and poor health, and the fact that low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately affected. It is this environmental injustice that has prompted me to declare that enough is enough.


The Inland Empire, where I live and attend school at the University of California, Riverside, is afflicted with the worst air quality in the country. It is also primarily comprised of communities of color -- mainly people of Latino and African American descent -- where many residents are battling poverty.

A major driver of air pollution -- in Southern California, statewide, nationwide, and globally -- is the combustion of fossil fuels. The thing that motivates me to keep volunteering with the Sierra Club's My Generation Campaign is that too little is being done in California to incentivize and create local affordable renewable-energy options for residents, business, and infrastructure in order to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. As one who would like to have a family someday, I would like my children to live in a safe and healthy world, not one plagued by pollution that damages the health of my family and friends -- and ultimately the health of the only planet we have.

Before I met Allen Hernandez, the community organizer who informed me about the Sierra Club's My Generation campaign, I had worked as a solar outreach coordinator and experienced the challenges of actually completing solar installations. Many prospective customers were unable to afford the cost of installation and purchasing of solar panels. Even leasing the panels became too exorbitant after local utilities ran out of rebates for affordable installation and payback.


The stigma behind the "failure" of renewables is constantly perpetuated by corporate fossil fuel interests -- not only the energy companies themselves, but also the utilities who choose to purchase their electricity. These utility companies have been getting away with raising rates, while simultaneously avoiding a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The My Generation campaign, in partnership with groups like the California Environmental Justice Alliance, has been working to get big utilities like Southern California Edison to stop natural gas expansion. This is especially critical now that the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station has been retired.

Southern California Edison and their partners who owned the failed nuclear plant are trying to pave the way for an expansion of fossil fuels, particularly natural gas, instead of making a commitment to become leaders in the renewable energy market. The California Public Utility Commission, which acts as the middleman between the utility companies and the public, mandated that some of the energy previously produced by the San Onofre plant come from renewable or "preferred" resources, and the rest be up to the owners of the plant, including Southern California Edison.

On March, 13, the PUC approved a plan that will make building new natural gas plants easier. Instead, Southern California Edison could have been a leader in paving the way for the growing renewable energy sector. Sadly, the PUC plan will likely encourage the utility continue to keep its lines powered by dirty fossil fuels -- unless people rise up and get involved to stop them.

Southern California, and especially the Inland Empire with its chronic air pollution, should be a region full of renewable energy options like rooftop solar. Instead it is home to the most polluting gas plant in the state, owned and managed by Southern California Edison and located a couple miles from my college campus.

We can no longer afford the expansion of fossil fuels like natural gas, which emits volatile, harmful greenhouse gasses. A continued reliance on fossil fuels will only keep renewables as an expensive commodity. Renewable energy technology can only improve and become more affordable if utilities make a commitment to investing in renewables instead of lining their pockets with profit.

Humanity, which has produced so many remarkable achievements that have improved our quality of life, has also inadvertently done much to hurt this earth. Southern California, long a center of innovation and recently a leader on clean energy, is no exception. It's time to stand up against any new proposed natural gas plants in Southern California and invest in a clean energy future -- for the sake of our communities, our families, our children, and our planet.

Yassamin-KavezadeYassamin Kavezade is the co-president of the student-led environmental club Sustainable UCR, she sits on the Associated Students Green Campus Action Plan committee and the Chancellors Committee on Sustainability at UC Riverside, and she is expecting to finish this year with a B.A in Psychology and a Minor in Environmental Sciences. She has been volunteering with the Sierra Club for a year in the San Gorgonio area.

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