Why we are fighting for clean air for Oxnard

Last night, Oxnard youth and community members shut down the California Energy Commission meeting on the proposed NRG power plant with a nonviolent civil disobedience.  Those who participated were prepared to be arrested if necessary.  Live video of the action can be seen here.

In 15 years of community organizing and advocacy for social, economic, and environmental justice in the Central Coast region, CAUSE has never engaged in civil disobedience.  However, the times we are living in of social, economic, and environmental crisis call for ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

For generations our region, from Amgen to UCSB, has been powered by polluting fossil fuel power plants dumped over and over again in Oxnard.  Every time energy companies and state agencies decide there is a need for energy in our region, they choose to meet it with gas-fired power plants in Oxnard.  These power plants would never be built on the beaches of nearby wealthy communities like Malibu or Montecito.  Oxnard is always made the sacrifice zone. 

The toxic soup in Oxnard’s air from polluting industrial facilities and agricultural pesticides contributes to asthma rates above the 90th percentile in many Oxnard neighborhoods.  Oxnard is 75% Latino and 85% people of color.  One in four children in Oxnard live in poverty and one in five residents don’t have health coverage.

See Oxnard Organizer Raul Lopez's personal video about the issue here.

In 2017, this historic injustice in our region needs to end.  California is leading the world in adopting clean energy and fighting climate change, yet here in low-income communities of color like Oxnard all we see is more fossil fuel power plants emitting particulate matter into our children’s lungs.

The California Energy Commission did not consider a single clean renewable energy alternative to NRG’s power plant proposal.  They only weighed placing fossil fuel power plants in other low-income immigrant communities like Santa Paula or other Oxnard neighborhoods.

The California Energy Commission calculated as their baseline the ongoing emissions from power plants that will be out of compliance with state environmental standards by the year 2020 and are already slated to shut down.  This fuzzy math allows NRG to tell the people of Oxnard that it is morally acceptable to continue to perpetuate this injustice on their children by replacing old power plants with new ones, rather than finally giving Oxnard a chance to breathe clean air.

For the past two years, hundreds of Oxnard residents have spent countless hours in countless hearings waiting in line to respectfully speak their three minutes before state officials.  It has been made abundantly clear to the California Energy Commission that the Oxnard community is overwhelmingly opposed to this project, yet they have continued to steamroll past our desire to determine our own destiny. 

Power plant projects are subject to different rules than other developments, giving local communities virtually no ability to stop a power plant from being forced upon them.  The fact that the Oxnard City Council unanimously opposes it, as well as Oxnard’s elected county, state, and federal representatives, means nothing if the California Energy Commission chooses to approve it.  The fact that the California Coastal Commission unanimously opposed this project because its location is highly vulnerable to sea level rise, putting our power supply at risk in a flooding disaster, also means nothing if the California Energy Commission continues to move forward.

We have turned our community out to speak at hearing after hearing, traveled up to San Francisco to meet with and speak before state commissioners, and yet this project continues to be forced upon Oxnard.  The California Energy Commission released their final assessment of the NRG project just before the holidays, planning to approve it in May.  When the wishes of wealthy and powerful corporations like NRG, a Fortune 500 company and the largest operator of power plants in the United States, matter more than the voices of the 200,000 people who live in a low-income immigrant community like Oxnard, democracy is not working. 

We did not take this level of protest lightly.  After two years, we chose to engage in civil disobedience last night because we felt we had no other options left.  When democracy is not working for the people, we have to demonstrate what real democracy looks like.  Real democracy puts people before profits.

Please submit your comments to the California Energy Commission here to send the message loud and clear, “No more power plants in Oxnard!”

In many ways we are in the final chapter of this long effort, which began with our local youth standing up for our community.  But last night it felt like just the beginning.  Between now and May when the Commission makes their final decision, we will work tirelessly to make sure our state officials hear the voice of Oxnard.

Our community’s vision is to shut down all of our old fossil fuel power plants and remove them from our beautiful coastal wetlands and immigrant communities, and power our region with clean, renewable energy, providing good jobs and clean air for our children.  This is the future we see over the horizon.  The time for that future is now.


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