Methane leaks need to be a thing of the past, and Sacramento is taking a step in the right direction with SB 1371

California has more than 100,000 miles of often-aging natural gas transmission and distribution infrastructure.   Methane, the primary component of natural gas, when vented or allowed to leak into the air is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide at contributing to climate change over a 20-year timespan.  In addition, according to data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, more than one-third of today’s human-caused global warming comes from short-lived climate pollutants that include methane. Taken together, this data shows how critically important it is to minimize natural gas leaks quickly.

Senate Bill (SB) 1371, authored by California State Senator Mark Leno, aims to cut methane pollution from California’s gas transmission and distribution system by requiring the Public Utilities Commission to get more aggressive in requiring utilities to find and fix natural gas leaks.  Yesterday, SB 1371 passed a critical vote in the State Assembly and is well on its way toward final passage later this summer. 

What does SB 1371 do?  Put simply, SB 1371 changes the way utilities respond to natural gas leaks. 

Currently, California utilities only have to fix leaks that pose imminent public safety concerns.  There is no corresponding requirement for those leaks that aren’t a direct threat to safety but contribute to climate change. However, because of the huge volumes of natural gas that are used in residences and commercial buildings across the state, a large amount of smaller leaks that persist over time can yield serious global warming pollution and cost Californians millions of dollars in revenue – money that comes directly from ratepayers’ pocketbooks.

To prevent these negative impacts, methane leakage needs to be reduced.  SB 1371 facilitates this by commencing a process requiring utilities to use cost-effective strategies to identify and repair leaks of all sizes.  By fixing those leaks that present the most economic and environmental “bang for the buck,” as well as requiring best practices for finding, fixing and tracking leaks over times, SB 1371 will allow California to see sustained benefits from the use of natural gas. 

In tandem with upcoming regulatory action by the California Air Resources Board that will address emissions from oil and gas production – something we’ve discussed here – SB 1371 represents the type of forward-thinking environmental progress for which California has garnered a well-deserved reputation. 

SB 1371 is a logical and necessary next step in the state’s fight to address climate change and help consumers.  We have to pay attention to this issue.  Science tells us we need to deal with carbon dioxide AND methane.  It can’t be one or the other – it has to be both.  Yesterday’s vote in the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee shows that Sacramento gets this.  Stay tuned!

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