Last week, I received an email alert from SDG&E announcing the Reduce Your Use Day and customers were asked to conserve energy. I was surprised  because these days typically occur on San Diego's hottest summer days, when energy-hogging air conditioners are running to maximum capacity. Reducing our energy consumption at those times helps SDG&E avoid the need to turn on additional polluting "peaker" power plants to meet demand and also avoid blackouts.

But it's "winter" now in San Diego and that means we have comparatively low energy consumption; so why did SDG&E call a Reduce Your Use Day?

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Because there's a nationwide shortage of natural gas—the fuel that powers most of San Diego's electricity— due to cold weather in other parts of the U.S., leaving SDG&E and other Southern California utilities scrambling for gas reserves.

The particular irony of this gas shortage is that it comes just several days after the California Public Utilities Commission approved SDG&E's 25-year contract for a new gas plant, "Pio Pico", in Otay Mesa. To make matters worse, when they applied for Pio Pico's approval, SDG&E told customers that gas-burning Pio Pico would make our electricity system more reliable, but now they're telling us they don't have a reliable supply of gas.

Which is it?

Last week's gas shortage should make the California Public Utilities Commission and our elected officials give serious consideration as to whether expanding our reliance on gas-fired power plants makes our electricity system more reliable, as the utilities claim, or if these all too common gas market fluctuations actually makes us more vulnerable to price shocks and potential outages.

Instead of rushing to approve more risky gas plants, our state and our utilities should prioritize reliable sources of clean, local energy like energy storage, solar and efficiency.

We still don't think Pio Pico should have been approved. But at the very least, the buck (the $1.6B buck) should stop there. Moving forward, let's use the retirement of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station as an opportunity to reduce dependence on risky gas-fired power and instead shift to reliable, local and modern clean energy technology.

As a kid growing up in the LA air basin during the smoggy 50s and 60s, I thought of irritated eyes and a sore chest as normal parts of life. The sky on hot summer afternoons was a brownish yellow shade, and the air sometimes made your eyes water. In my later childhood years, I came to view air pollution as a symbol of how radically alienated from nature Southern California life was; as I thought of it in apocalyptic, if poetic, terms, we had poisoned heaven. Later, in college, I learned to think in more analytical, and hopeful, ways -- smog could be analyzed, understood and to a large extent, controlled. The ochre-brown color came from nitrogen oxides; the lung-damaging substance was ozone. Particulates added a hazy quality. It wasn't an amorphous cloud of human failure hanging over our cities, it was a specific set of pollutants with knowable causes and controls. If you increased the fuel efficiency of cars and added on catalytic converters, the air quality got better. And the photochemical smog picture of SoCal actually has improved since the 60s.

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While ozone levels have improved, California has seen a massive increase in diesel pollution from trucks, trains and ships. As the economy globalized and manufacturing jobs went to lower wage countries (another catastrophe that is not inevitable), goods are shipped here from all over the world, unloaded at California's ports and trucked or shipped by rail all over the US.

Unlike smog, diesel pollution is more concentrated near emission sources, such as ports, freeways and rail yards. These diesel hot spots, as we all know, tend to be located in poorer, people of color communities. The result? More frequent and severe asthma, earlier deaths from heart and lung diseases, more premature and low-birth-weight babies, and maybe more of a wide range of other disorders, including diabetes and autism. Not to mention the safety hazards of heavy duty trucks on narrow surface streets, and the lights, noise and vibrations of massive shipping and warehousing operations.

Freight Report 2A new report released this month by the California Cleaner Freight Coalition (of which EHC is a member) concludes that there are cleaner freight alternatives that go well beyond today's cleanest diesel and natural gas powered trucks to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. For local and short haul trips, using electric transportation powered by a clean electricity grid provides the greatest overall reduction in pollutants, and can eliminate tailpipe emissions in communities where freight movement occurs. For regional trips, moving goods by train and ship can reduce emissions compared to today's cleanest diesel trucks, if the cleanest engine technologies are used. Read the executive summary here, or the full report here. 

So, it's time to move past the idea that diesel is inevitable and the best we can do is to put filters on the trucks. We can start moving now toward zero- or near-zero emission technologies. This is life saving technology, and there's no excuse for delay.

What else isn't inevitable? Readers who are waiting breathlessly for further information about my intellectual development will be relieved to learn that I don't think technology is the whole solution. Belatedly I stumbled onto the idea that things happen because people in power make decisions about them. Bad land use, outsourced jobs, freeways cut through historic communities, distribution centers sited next to schools, all of them in disadvantaged areas – none of these are unplanned, smog-like emanations from our culture. Specific people made specific decisions that led directly to these results. Sure, there is institutional inertia, timid regulators, lack of imagination, laziness and stupidity. But beyond all that, there are decision-makers. In truth, the most important pollution control device is a functioning democracy.


Joy Williams has been the research director for Environmental Health Coalition for nearly thirty years. Find out more about Joy and her work here.

Chula Vista SignChula Vista City Councilmember Pamela Bensoussan recently urged the California Public Utilities Commission to deny a fossil fuel power plant proposed for Otay Mesa, an area of existing high pollution levels,  known as Pio Pico. 

Councilmember Bensoussan's letter expresses concern that Pio Pico would further burden the community with additional pollution and "repeats a familiar pattern of concentrating the region's polluting activities in South County." She also cites concern about the project's impact on climate change and on the community's choice to secure clean energy.

Thank you Councilmember Bensoussan for standing up for health and clean energy in our communities!

Here's how you can take a stand and join her:

  • Sign this petition to tell our state's energy regulators you don't want the polluting Pio Pico power plant in San Diego.
  • Sign this letter to elected officials who represent the South Bay area to ask them to take a stand against Pio Pico.

Learn more about Pio Pico here. 


Last week, I heard some upsetting news: a new, polluting, expensive and entirely unnecessary power plant might be built near my community. The California Public Utilities Commission - the state agency that's supposed to ensure that our energy companies like San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) prioritize clean energy - made a proposal to approve SDG&E's polluting fossil fuel power plant called Pio Pico in Otay Mesa— just a few miles away from my house.

Luz grankidsI'm already concerned about the current high levels of air pollution—some of the worst in the state— and the health problems that pollution brings to my community. If approved, Pio Pico would add even more pollution— the same amount as 170,000 cars- each year for 25 years. That could have a negative impact on the health of our children and make climate change worse. My grandchildren already have asthma and I don't want them exposed to even more pollution from a new dirty power plant.

In addition to the pollution damage to my community, SDG&E wants to raise our energy bills to pay $1.6 Billion for this dirty energy. My neighbors have made it clear that they want a clean energy source and are willing to pay a little more for clean energy in their neighborhoods. But they certainly don't want more dirty energy and more pollution. Latino voters from all over Southern California have said the same thing- we want clean energy now.

What really angers me is that this power plant is entirely unnecessary. We have enough energy from renewable resources, efficiency, energy storage and other clean sources now and in the future to cost-effectively and reliable meet our energy needs. Which is exactly why I don't understand how the state regulators can allow SDG&E to dump this polluting power plant in South Bay. We already have several power plants and transmission lines and terrible air quality, now this?

Join me in saying NO to another polluting power plant and demanding that government agencies and officials protect the health of our communities! Join me in taking action:

  • Sign this petition to tell our state's energy regulators you don't want the polluting Pio Pico power plant in San Diego!
  • Sign this letter to elected officials who represent the South Bay area to ask them to take a stand!

Thank you.

- Luz Palomino

Last month, under the leadership of Ann Moore, the San Diego Unified Port District took a big step towards addressing climate change and pollution in San Diego when the Board of Port Commissioners unanimously adopted a Climate Action Plan.

port sunsetThe plan is so significant because it charts a course of action to lower the Port's greenhouse gas emissions-- the pollution responsible for causing climate change -- and sets an example for the rest of San Diego. Climate change and pollution from the Port both have huge health impacts on the region, especially neighboring low-income communities of color. With its location along the waterfront, as a center and facilitator of global goods shipping and a home to a mix of heavy, polluting industries as well as waterfront tourism businesses, the Port stands as a cause of climate change as well as a future victim.

Specifically, the Port's climate plan sets targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2035 and identifies strategies that may be used to reduce emissions from the Port and the 600 bayfront businesses to which the Port is a landlord. Some such strategies include:

• Making new and existing buildings more efficient
• Generating renewable energy along the bayfront
• Increasing use of clean vehicles, vessels and machinery

Next steps for the Port's climate plan will be identifying which specific emissions reductions strategies the Port will prioritize for implementing in 2014. Meanwhile, we'll continue urging the Port to take meaningful actions to ensure community health is at the forefront of Port decisions and the necessary actions are taken to achieve climate stability in San Diego. 

We've worked diligently over the past three years to ensure that the Port, landlord for many of the largest polluters in the region, secures adoption of a plan, and we applaud the Board of Port Commissioners for unanimously supporting it. Now, we can't wait to see this vision for San Diego's sustainable future put into action.