Is So Cal Gas Waging War on Southern California Edison?

The race for clean transportation solutions in Los Angeles is looking like the tortoise and the hare, with SoCal Gas taking an early lead on the public relations front.

Los Angeles smog and the coastal marine layer meet at sunset.
Los Angeles smog and the coastal marine layer meet at sunset. (Ray_From_LA/Flickr)

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These are golden days if you’re working on clean air and energy in Southern California. Air pollution regulators have clearly stated that the antidote to our smog woes is moving to zero-emission technologies powered by clean energy from as many sources as possible. A particular focus must be placed on the transportation sector where we need a dramatic increase in the use of zero-emission vehicles. Governor Brown has reiterated this need by issuing an executive order calling for a plan to transition California’s freight system to zero-emission technologies.

The stakes could not be higher in the Los Angeles region. Even though the smog levels in Los Angeles are down from 1970s and ’80s levels, the air in Los Angeles is still unsafe to breathe. In fact, we live in the most ozone-choked region in the nation. This shift to zero-emission technologies to crack down on smog should pit entrenched fossil fuel interests against those who can deliver on zero-emission vehicles powered by clean energy. But so far the fight has been one-sided.    

SoCal Gas appears to have waged war on Southern California Edison over the upcoming plans to clear our skies of smog. But mums the word from Southern California Edison, which stands to profit handsomely from a move to zero-emission technologies for things like heavy-duty trucks. SoCal Gas, perhaps threatened by the notion of kicking our addiction to burning fossil fuels in the Los Angeles region, is currently undertaking a full court press to create and expand markets for natural gas technologies, including natural gas trucks. The Fortune 500 company has very intelligent and respected lobbyists, public relations firms and others pushing this stratagem all the way from the governor’s office down to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

To rebut this formidable effort, we’d expect Southern California Edison to issue a counter punch. Instead, we’re hearing crickets from the large utility, which is a subsidiary of Edison International, another Fortune 500 company. Perhaps they are star-struck by SoCal Gas and their bevy of highly skilled lobbyists. Or perhaps the common critique of large, lumbering utilities is correct: They cannot be nimble and quickly pivot to meet clean air needs, even when the need for action is hitting them between the eyes.

Electricity providers like Southern California Edison sell the exact product (clean energy) that our agencies have said could help us meet clean air standards and also tackle harmful localized air pollution. And as the desire for clean energy from solar and wind increases and the technology continues to get even more affordable, it seems like a perfect storm for Southern California Edison. So their lackadaisical attitude is puzzling in the extreme.   

A prime example of this lackadaisical approach is the I-710 corridor expansion project in Southeast Los Angeles County, one of the nation’s largest road expansion projects. Everybody agrees we need to move zero-emission technologies forward. But sadly, Edison has been largely absent from this discussion. Electrifying this major road for freight trucks could be an immensely beneficial project for Edison and its customers on so many levels, but its silence is deafening.

We’re all waiting for Southern California Edison to live up to its deep history of competition with the gas company, as it did in the 1800’s when electricity beat out gas for street lighting in Los Angeles. But for now the lumbering beast is not quick to move. (I guess some companies are more adept at advancing their shareholders interests than others.) Come on Edison, wake up and compete; our lungs depend on it. 

Based in Los Angeles, Adrian works on clean air, clean energy, and healthy communities issues as a deputy managing attorney for Earthjustice's Right to Zero campaign. Follow him on Twitter @LASmogGuy.

The California Regional Office fights for the rights of all to a healthy environment regardless of where in the state they live; we fight to protect the magnificent natural spaces and wildlife found in California; and we fight to transition California to a zero-emissions future where cars, trucks, buildings, and power plants run on clean energy, not fossil fuels.