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By Tambry Lee, Special to CALmatters

I’m one of many thousands of survivors of the Aliso Canyon gas leak, one of the worst man-made environmental disasters in United States history. While Southern California Gas Company signed a $119.5 million settlement with California and the city of Los Angeles, the significant and permanent impact in the lives of people affected has remained constant, and will for years to come.

The fallout destroyed lives and haunts the victims, myself included, regardless of relocation and containment efforts. It’s for these reasons, and my fear for other innocent victims, that I’m extremely concerned with the Trump Administration’s anti-environmental attitude, policies, and decisions to weaken the EPA’s safeguards.

If not for our federal government, then who else should oversee the management of pollution by mega-corporations, ensure their compliance, and protect unsuspecting and innocent people living nearby? At the time, the Aliso Canyon disaster exposed the absolute lack of existing regulation for the storage of utilities in the United States.

There’s a stark difference between the quality of our lives before the leak, and after. I’m a Marine Corps vet and former triathlete, and had been in excellent health most of my life. However, beginning a decade before the leak broke in the news, all four members of my household began to inexplicably get progressively more ill over time, with vague, sporadic, and nonspecific symptoms.

Finally, after years of fierce denials, Southern California Gas Company admitted its Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility had a leak. Air quality reports showed the leak likely began about 14 years before the actual news broke.

Then, even after news stories surfaced, featuring young people dying of a rare and aggressive cancers, Southern California Gas Company still tried to avoid responsibility.

Rather than immediately notify every affected household, or at least the most vulnerable, of a known health risk, they waited for over four months before sending one generic email, addressed to “resident”, simply advising we relocate, if desired. Unfortunately, as homeowners with devalued properties, many of us could not just pick up and move.

The toll this leak has taken on us has been immeasurable, harming every member of my household within a two-year period, 2014 – 2016. My 56-year-old roommate was diagnosed with two different types of aggressive cancers, my 31-year-old daughter developed a brain tumor, and my 48-year-old boyfriend had an infection, requiring emergency brain surgery.

And at the age of 44, my lungs inexplicably failed, and never recovered. For over a decade, I’ve had a chronic shortness of breath, a high pulse rate, been dependent on oxygen tanks, inhalers and am unable to walk any distance or even carry my purse, without triggering chest pains. Yet we’re the fortunate ones, because we’re still alive. I’m extremely worried about the future of our planet and the health of all people, if we fail to learn from Aliso Canyon.

The EPA was created to protect people’s health, and therefore needs to increase the protections against pollution from the oil and gas industry. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has proposed weakening the EPA’s New Source Performance Standards, which regulate methane pollution.

Rather than weaken these critical protections, we need the EPA to strengthen requirements for oil and gas companies, and require them to regularly check for and repair leaking equipment and storage facilities, which are currently failing nationwide.

The Aliso Canyon Gas Leak released 109,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere, and harmed thousands of people in varying degrees. Instead of creating loopholes for the worst actors in the oil and gas industry, and giving them a green light to continue polluting the air we all breathe, the EPA must protect our communities, and our children, by maintaining and enforcing standards, that would reduce harmful pollution from new and modified oil and gas sites.


Tambry Lee is a U.S. Marine Corps vet living in Southern California, [email protected]. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.