Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pollution bill gets backing


Assemblyman Pedro Nava’s efforts to clamp down on chronic inland polluters like Greka Energy got a boost yesterday when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed to support Assembly Bill 1960. The bill, among other things, will add teeth to existing state laws and give state regulatory agencies the authority to shut down renegade oil and gas operators.
Nava said Schwarzenegger offered his support for the bill in an uncharacteristic, but welcome way by inviting him to the governor’s office to discuss the legislation face-to-face.

“It was quite a welcome surprise,” said Nava, adding that the meeting was the first of its kind he has had with governor. “Anytime as a lawmaker you can have a chance to sit down with the governor of California to talk about legislation, that’s an opportunity to take advantage of. I was very pleased he knew about my legislation and he offered his entire support.”
Schwarzenegger said after a tanker spewed 58,000 gallons of fuel into the San Francisco Bay in Nov. 2007, he would do everything in his power to protect the environment against future spills, and with the endorsements, he’s making good on that promise.
“We must do everything we can to protect and preserve California’s natural resources for future generations,” the governor said. “There is so much at stake – our waterways and our wildlife, our ecosystem and our economy – and today’s actions will successfully enhance our oil spill prevention and response efforts.”
Since Greka began operating in the county nearly a decade ago, the company has racked up hundreds of citations from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department and Air Pollution Control District. While some of its facilities have been shut down for short periods of time, all have been reopened after getting approval from county agencies.
But a string of spills at the beginning of 2008, one of which occurred in the Firestone Vineyard near Los Olivos and resulted in more than 80,000 gallons of spilled crude oil, prompted stern outcry from the environmental community, and one of the loudest voices by far has been Nava’s.
“There’s no question that Greka was the inspiration for my legislation,” he said.
At the moment, the County of Santa Barbara is the only entity with the power to shut Greka down, as many residents have called for. As a result of the Greka spills, the county did enact stricter regulations and fines for polluters. But in the meantime, Greka, despite hiring a new president who consistently says the company will clean up its act, has continued to spill.
In fact, Nava said in the first five months of this year, Greka has spilled nearly 250,000 gallons of polluted material, which includes crude oil and polluted water – one of the byproducts of the drilling process.
“Right now the county has ordinances that I believe provide the authority to shut down an operator who can’t run a business without continually violating laws,” he said. “But it’s obvious the state has to have the power to step in when no one else is responding.”
Schwarzenegger also offered his support to two other assembly bills that are aimed at oil spill response and cleanup.
Assembly Bill 1960 will also put into place a bond paid for by polluting companies that could be used to pay for the proper decommission of oil facilities, spill cleanup and the plugging of abandoned wells.
“It truly is a way to make the polluter pay for their misconduct,” Nava said.

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