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How Tom and the People turned the tide to stop the Puente Power Plant

In the coastal city of Oxnard, California, Tom Steyer and the people defeated one of the largest energy corporations in the United States. The victory changed the way large, gas-fired power plants are permitted in the state and sent a powerful message to communities across America: when people come together, they can win.

For decades, polluters targeted Oxnard as an industrial dumping ground, instead of the wealthier, whiter communities of Malibu and Santa Monica nearby. The city’s population of primarily Latinx, foreign-born, and low-income residents don’t have easy access to their beach — three power plants and a Superfund site divide homes from the sand. The asthma rates in some neighborhoods are higher than 90% percent of the rest of the state.

A group of Oxnard residents, including many young activists, wanted to change their community. They started organizing and successfully pushed the Oxnard City Council to unanimously approve a ban on new power plants along their city’s coast. But NRG Energy, the country’s biggest independent electric power company, ignored the ban.

NRG applied to the state for a new, gas-fired facility — the Puente Power Plant.

A coalition of residents, environmental activists, and local elected officials protested NRG’s proposal. Tom heard about their efforts and asked how he could help. He attended state hearings with them, testified against the power plant, wrote articles, and rallied supporters around the state.

Together, Tom and the people turned the tide. State officials announced their decision to reject the gas facility and NRG withdrew its application. The Puente Power Project was dead. 

Today, all the power plants on Oxnard’s coast, two of them owned by NRG, are closed. But NRG is refusing to take responsibility for demolishing its plants and restoring the beach. There is still a lot to do, but Tom will continue working with communities to take on corporate polluters.