Honoree Heal the Ocean Founding Executive Director Hillary Hauser, EDC Executive Director Alex Katz, and EDC Chief Counsel Linda Krop | Credit: Gail Arnold

On June 9 at its annual Green & Blue fundraiser, the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) celebrated its accomplishments over the past year and honored Heal the Ocean Co-Founder and Executive Director Hillary Hauser. The annual event drew nearly 600 supporters, including many nonprofit and community leaders, who enjoyed an extended reception and a program on the scenic grounds of Rancho La Patera.

Executive Director Alex Katz, who took the helm a year ago, shared with guests highlights of EDC’s recent victories, noting that the “scrappy” nonprofit continues to go up against some of the country’s most powerful entities. Katz pointed to the monumental victory against ExxonMobil’s attempts to truck vast amounts of oil through this community. He noted that trucking would not only have been dangerous because oil trucks “tend to crash and catch fire way too often,” but also because it would have helped Exxon restart the three platforms, pipelines, and the Las Flores Canyon processing plant. In February, Exxon dismissed its case and later sold its three platforms, pipelines, and the processing plant to Sable Offshore.

There was also the preservation of 4,000 acres of historic ranch land in Santa Ynez Valley. Another victory was a settlement to help Southern California steelhead make a comeback in local rivers by requiring more water to flow from the Twitchell Dam.

Chief Counsel Linda Krop presented Hauser with the Environmental Hero Award, noting her many talents and accomplishments as a writer, photographer, diver, environmental activist, and classical pianist. In 1998, Hauser co-founded Heal the Ocean (HTO), which immediately focused on the impacts of septic and sewage systems on the ocean, creeks, bays, and beaches. She has served as HTO executive director since inception, though recently she announced she will step down from that position, while staying on as board president.

Krop praised Hauser for numerous initiatives on which EDC has partnered and pointed to some of her other major accomplishments, including the Rincon Septic-to-Sewer project; conducting the first-ever survey of wastewater going into the ocean off California; developing a Styrofoam recycling program; and providing key support to pass SB 44, which established funding to plug and cap leaking oil wells off Summerland and create an inventory of all leaking wells offshore in California. 

“Today we recognize Hillary for her leadership, vision, and incredible effectiveness in advancing solutions to address water pollution and protect public health. She is like the Ghostbusters – when there’s a pollution threat, who are you going to call? Hillary!”

In an interview, Katz shared some of EDC’s current work. On the oil front, Sable Offshore is trying to restart Exxon’s whole operation. EDC is opposing the restart, which would involve the same pipeline that caused the tragic 2015 Refugio spill. In addition to the risk of another spill, Katz noted, the restart would constitute a huge step backwards on fossil fuel emissions because when it was operating, the Las Flores facility was the largest source of greenhouse gases in the county. Thus, EDC is working to stop Sable from obtaining the approvals it needs at the county, state, and federal level. 

Protecting the Naples coast, which EDC has been working on for 25 years,  is another priority. Presently, EDC is opposing coastal bluff development in an area home to white-tailed kites and other rare species.

Another matter is the possible injection of toxic wastewater by oil companies near the Cat Canyon Aquifer, which provides drinking water for North County residents and water for agricultural operations. EDC is opposing oil operators’ efforts to obtain an exemption from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act that would enable this wastewater injection. EDC is engaged in advocacy work and is managing legal strategies. The injection threatens to contaminate drinking water for more than 150,000 residents. This is an environmental justice issue, Katz related, since it would disproportionately impact lower income and minority communities who live near the oil fields.

EDC is an environmental nonprofit that provides legal counsel, primarily to other nonprofits, and does advocacy and educational work. It has represented more than 140 community organizations.

For more info, go to https://www.environmentaldefensecenter.org/.

Staff Attorney Rachel Kondor, Senior Analyst/Watershed Program Director Brian Trautwein, and Deputy Chief Counsel Maggie Hall | Gail Arnold
Board President Rob Tadlock and Assistant Director Betsy Weber | Gail Arnold
Former executive director David Landecker, founding executive director and founding general counsel Marc McGinnes, and former board president Judy Pirkowitsch | Gail Arnold
Lisa Stratton, Boardmember Vijaya Jammalamadaka, former board president Peter Schuyler and Board Treasurer David Powdrell | Gail Arnold

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