January 14th, 2016
California’s Porter Ranch environmental fiasco, the gas leak which has displaced thousands of Los Angeles-area homeowners and could cost billions in damages, could have a last political impact.
That’s what Democrats in Southern California’s swing 25th Congressional District are counting on, as the disaster lingers into its third month and as an aggressive new Democratic challenger ramps up attacks on Rep. Steve Knight, the Republican who represents the lion’s share of Porter Ranch constituents.
Democrat Bryan Caforio, the Valencia attorney running against Knight, told POLITICO California this week that the freshman Republican has been “totally AWOL” on Porter Ranch, failing to show up at local meetings while residents have struggled to get help.
“It’s a tragedy that’s happening here — an environmental disaster,’’ Caforio said of the incident, which has raged since Oct. 23, when the gas leak started. “Steve Knight has been totally missing in action …. his first public statement was on Dec. 30, when he said SoCalGas was ‘working diligently’ to fix it,” he said.
Daniel Outlaw, a spokesman for Knight, told POLITICO California via email that the congressman “has taken a behind the scenes role on this issue.”
Knight, in an emailed statement to POLITICO California, said: “My understanding is that state and local agencies have been informed and involved for the duration of the leak. At this point in time I don’t believe politicizing this incident by getting the federal government more involved will help anyone and in fact could interfere with the repair and cleanup process.”
Since it was discovered in October, the leak has pumped massive amounts of methane gas into the air surrounding Porter Ranch and the region of Aliso Canyon in northern Los Angeles county. Residents have complained of a sickening smell, health impacts that include headaches, and thousands have been relocated. Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency, and SoCalGas already has racked up tens of millions in costs. Critics have called the incident the worst environmental disaster since the BP Gulf oil spill.
Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat from Sherman Oaks who represents the neighboring 30th Congressional District but only a fraction of the Porter Ranch residents, has called on Brown to back efforts to make businesses near the leak eligible for Economic Injury Disaster Loans from the Small Business Administration.
Meanwhile, both of California’s U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, joined this week in urging the Obama Administration, including Attorney General Loretta Lynch, to address issues surrounding the Porter Ranch leak.
Knight, in his statement emailed to POLITICO, said his goal is “to ensure that this situation is resolved as quickly and effectively as possible,’’ and vowed to take “any appropriate steps” to protect residents.
His spokesman said Knight contacted SoCalGas officials in November “to receive an update” about their strategies and to hear about efforts to control “any potential harm” to the community. In December, the spokesman said, Knight “spoke with the Los Angeles Unified School District Deputy Superintendent Michelle King” about possible relocation of students.
He also said Knight’s staff has a web page to update residents, and “has been in regular contact” with gas company officials since then, and they have attended monthly Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council meetings.