Environmental groups back Wieckowski's bill to phase out power plants that adversely affect air quality

As renewable energy increases, SB 64 would study how to reduce negative air quality impacts without affecting grid's reliability

June 18, 2018

SACRAMENTO – Several environmental justice organizations spoke in support of legislation by Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) today to ensure that local air quality standards are met and a study is undertaken to prioritize the eventual retirement of natural gas facilities impacting the air quality of disadvantaged communities. The Assembly Natural Resources Committee approved Wieckowski’s legislation, SB 64, to help California transition to more renewable energy. 

“As we expand the use of renewable energy and rely on natural gas plants to backup this energy supply, we need to gather better data and limit the harmful effects that cycling power plants has on our communities,” said Wieckowski, chair of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. “Some communities in California already breathe some of the unhealthiest air in the nation.”

The bill requires that data on natural gas plant startups, shutdowns and cycling be available for local air districts and the public. It also requires local air districts to set limits on cycling when reviewing or revising plant permits. On bad air days, when conditions are expected to exceed state or federal air quality standards, the bill requires local districts to limit the plants’ operations, if doing so would not affect the grid’s reliability.

“Two tough and related problems facing California today are our unclean and unhealthful air and the growing impact of climate change on our coasts and inland communities,” said Laura Wisland, senior manager of western energy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “State leaders have an opportunity to make inroads on both of these problems with SB 64. If signed into law, the state will have the tools it needs to first, better understand how the hundreds of natural gas plants in California are negatively affecting our air quality and then take steps to reduce the plants’ pollution impacts on the worst air quality days. Longer term, this legislation will ensure we have a much-needed plan to turn down our natural gas use in an orderly and equitable way.”

The operation of a single power plant can significantly impact ambient air. In its analysis for the Pio Pico facility in unincorporated San Diego, the California Energy Commission (CEC) found that emissions from the facility could nearly double the one-hour concentration of nitrogen oxide from background levels. The CEC also found the Pio Pico facility in would contribute to the area’s nonattainment of federal air quality standards for fine and coarse particulate matter.

In addition to the Union of Concerned Scientists, SB 64 is supported by the California Environmental Justice Alliance, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Coalition for Clean Air, Clean Power Campaign, Community for a Better Environment, Clean Water Action, Sierra Club, Fossil Free California and several other environmental groups.