September 1, 2014

Alameda County Board of Supervisors to consider a ban on fracking

thisoneThe fight to ban fracking in Alameda County is coming to a head. Thanks to the lobbying efforts of our local alliance, Alameda County Against Fracking, a county-wide fracking ban is on the agenda at the September 4th meeting of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. You can help make the fracking ban a reality by joining us at the meeting and writing a letter to the Supervisors showing your support for a frack-free Alameda County.

We need a big crowd to turn out and voice their support for this action. In a conversation last month, Supervisor Scott Haggerty—who is introducing the anti-fracking legislation—emphasized that the success of this ban relies on the Supervisors hearing directly from their constituents. He also said: “I will certainly hear from Chevron.”

Big Oil will fight us on this. So it’s more important than ever that our elected officials hear from YOU. Let’s make sure the Board of Supervisors stays accountable to the voters—not to the oil and gas industry.

WHAT: Alameda County Transportation and Planning Committee meeting
WHEN: Thursday, September 4, 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.
WHERE: 1221 Oak Street, 5th floor, Oakland

Even if you can’t make it to the meeting, please take a few minutes to write a letter urging your local Supervisor to sign on to the fracking ban, and thanking Supervisor Haggerty for introducing the legislation.

Read more about the Sierra Club SF Bay Chapter’s anti-fracking efforts in “New alliance calls for Alameda County fracking ban.”

“Out of the classroom”: an intern observes environmental activism up close

Author Frances Swanson (second from right) with (left to right) Chapter conservation organizer Jess Dervin-Ackerman and fellow summer interns Vanessa Gerber, Isabella Bustamante, and Thomas Munzar.

Author Frances Swanson (second from right) with (left to right) Chapter conservation organizer Jess Dervin-Ackerman and fellow summer interns Vanessa Gerber, Isabella Bustamante, and Thomas Munzar.

As the Rolling Stones said, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.” I walked away from the Senate Energy Committee Meeting on June 23 with mixed emotions. A patchwork of frustration, hope, and excitement mingled together while feelings of empowerment and disempowerment played leap-frog. At the end of the day, we—those fighting Assembly Bill 2145, the Utility Monopoly Protection Bill—got what we needed, but not what we wanted. Community Choice Aggregation in California was no longer saddled with an opt-in provision, but the bill still passed.

When I drove up to Sacramento that Monday morning, I did not know what to expect. Before that day I had attended meetings of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors and the Oakland City Council, but this was the first time I would experience decision-making at the state level. In fact, just about everything I did that day I did for the first time: going to a press conference on the steps of the California State Capitol, running around to senators’ offices in an attempt at last-minute lobbying, waiting for over an hour in a crowded hallway for the hearing to commence, and speaking in front of the committee during the public comments period.

I spent the majority of my day watching and listening. I decided to intern at the Sierra Club this summer because I wanted to experience what environmental activism looked and felt like, and this was a perfect opportunity for me to observe. I observed as the Bay Chapter’s conservation organizer, Jess Dervin-Ackerman, debated with a man there to share his support of the bill. I noticed how both of them were simultaneously joking around while being deadly serious about the matter. I saw how the people around them turned an eye and an ear to their conversation in the hope of seeing some action. I saw how both were truly listening to what the other had to say, while maintaining their own firm stance.

I observed the audience of the Senate Energy Committee meeting react throughout the hearing. I saw the woman sitting next to me raise her hands and wiggle her fingers in support of someone’s statement. I saw activists making pointed eye-contact and whispering to one another. I observed the blank faces of the senators sitting on the committee. I saw the fear on the No on 2145 organizers’ faces when thirty people stated their support of the bill. I saw the energy in those same faces when seventy people stated their opposition to the bill. I experienced the butterflies right before I got up to the microphone and the smile on my face as I walked away.

I observed all of the anger, patience, annoyance, fear, optimism, and passion of the day. While I have many, many more things to observe, people to meet, and thoughts to consider, my trip to Sacramento and the four weeks of planning and organizing leading up to it gave me a bitter-sweet taste of environmental activism out of the classroom and in “the real world.”

—Frances Swanson, SF Bay Chapter intern

Read more about AB 2145 in “AB 2145, renewable energy wrecking ball: down but not out” and “Alameda County Board of Supervisors votes to move forward on Community Choice.”

Getting UC out of the fossil fuel industry

Fossil Free UCIn response to pressure from the Fossil Free UC student movement, the Regents of the University of California (UC) will vote at their September meeting on whether to divest from their fossil fuel holdings. With a General Endowment Pool of nearly $7 billion, a vote to divest would be a huge victory for the planet.

Divestment is a tactic that has worked in the past for issues such as apartheid in South Africa, tobacco, and the Sudan. Climate change is arguably the biggest issue of our time. The students of Fossil Free UC recognize that if we continue to emit atmosphere-warming greenhouse gases at the current rate, by 2050—when current UC students are in the prime of their lives—the impacts on global climate could be catastrophic. We owe it to future generations to ensure their future is not unlivable, and UC can make a difference.

The University of California has an admirable carbon-neutral goal for the year 2025. Holding stocks in fossil fuel companies (oil, gas, and coal) runs counter to that worthy goal. Also, many UC researchers have contributed to the science that concludes that 80% of fossil fuels must be left in the ground in order to avoid the worst damages of climate change. Meanwhile, the fossil fuel companies spend millions every day exploring for new sources of carbon to exploit and sell.

Holdings in fossil fuels pose a financial risk as well. Just as there was a housing bubble, there could also be a carbon bubble, and holdings could become stranded assets—worthless compared with investments in water, wind, and solar.

Divestment is a moral statement more that an attempt to financially damage the fossil fuel industry. It is wrong to profit from the destruction of the planet. While our politicians seem unable to do what needs to be done—such as put carbon taxes into place, build more effective public transportation, and subsidize clean energy—the divestment movement sends a powerful message: get dirty oil money out of politics, and do it now. Move on with slowing climate change.

WhatYouCanDo

The eyes of the world will be on the Regents as they vote on divestment at their meeting in San Francisco on September 17. Join a coalition of concerned citizens and UC students, faculty, staff, and alumni at the meeting and help put pressure on the Regents to use their investment portfolio of nearly $7 billion to address climate and sustainability. For more information about attending the September 17 meeting or getting involved in the campaign, visit www.fossilfreeUC.org.

—Kathy Barnhart, Fossil Free UC

Oakland joins forces with neighboring cities to oppose dirty fuels by rail

Canvassers in West Oakland. Photo by Ethan Bruckner.

Canvassers in West Oakland. Photo by Ethan Bruckner.

On June 17, Oakland joined Richmond, Berkeley, and Davis in passing a city council resolution opposing dangerous crude oil from rolling through the city by rail. The resolution was also the first in the state to address railway transport of dirty coal and petroleum coke (or petcoke, a byproduct of refining heavy crude oil that is produced locally) in addition to oil. The city council acted knowing that there is a real threat that the Port of Oakland and Oakland Army Base will build export terminals for these hazardous fossil fuels—and Oakland’s families, businesses, and community interests will not stand for it.

Oakland’s passage of a resolution opposing coal, petcoke, and oil from coming through the city by rail cannot physically stop trains at the city border, as rail is regulated at the federal level. However, this action sets an important policy precedent and is the first step toward ensuring that no fossil-fuel export facilities are built or approved within the city or Port of Oakland’s jurisdiction.

As Big Coal’s profits are squeezed by closures of coal-fired power plants and new EPA regulations, companies are looking for ways to ship the dirty commodity to foreign markets that have more relaxed environmental standards. As reported in the June/July issue of the Yodeler (Dangerous and dirty coal exports threaten Bay Area), major organizing victories squashing export-terminal proposals in Oregon and Washington mean that Big Coal is now targeting California’s ports and marine terminals.

In February of this year, Oakland’s Port Commission unanimously rejected proposals to export coal and petcoke because of serious community concerns about air quality and climate impacts. However, the Port has no official policy prohibiting the handling of dangerous fossil fuels on its property. Anti-export advocates would like to see such a policy adopted in order to permanently block fossil-fuel exports from the Port of Oakland—even if new commissioners were appointed.

Oakland’s other potential export site is the Oakland Army Base Redevelopment Project, also known as Global Oakland. The developer of this project, California Capital Investment Group, is not limited in the commodities it can export through a bulk terminal to be built near the eastern touchdown of the Bay Bridge. This is extremely troubling and we would like to see a binding agreement from California Capital Investment Group to prohibit fossil-fuel exports from the Army Base.

San Francisco has also taken an important step toward banning fossil fuels from its port. In May, the city’s Commission on the Environment passed a resolution stating its intent to work with Port of San Francisco staff and commissioners to draft a policy prohibiting the handling of fossil fuels at its facilities.

The Bay Chapter is working with the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project to build a base of opposition to exports in communities and neighborhoods surrounding the Port of Oakland and the Oakland Army Base, and those adjacent to rail lines leading to these properties. On July 6, the community-engagement campaign kicked off with door-to-door canvassing in West Oakland to collect signatures and talk with residents about these threats. The canvassing program will continue throughout the summer. To get involved, contact Chapter conservation organizer Jess Dervin-Ackerman at jess.dervin-ackerman at sierraclub.org, or visit www.sanfranciscobay.sierraclub.org/coal.

AB 2145, renewable energy wrecking ball: down but not out

AB 2145 Rally

Sierra Club intern Vanessa Gerber at a June rally outside PG&E’s Oakland service center

Community Choice energy is under attack—again. Pending legislation, Assembly Bill (AB) 2145, was introduced earlier this year with the aim of destroying Community Choice in California. If it had succeeded, it would have been a significant loss to our clean energy future.

Sierra Club California, including many Bay Chapter members, helped remove the most egregious element of the bill as part of a new coalition, Californians for Energy Choice. AB 2145 would have made the monopoly utility the default service provider, forcing Community Choice programs to sign up customers one-by-one. The Senate Energy Committee in June removed this poison provision. However, two other elements in the bill, and a newly added geographical limitation that only applies to Community Choice programs, are still cause for concern.

One untenable remaining element of AB 2145 requires Community Choice programs to set rates five years into the future, while the corporate monopolies are merely required to provide rate projections. This provision is nonsensical on its face, and tantamount to requiring Community Choice programs to possess a working crystal ball.

Another problematic element requires not-for-profit Community Choice programs to be subjected to the same complaint process that exists for the for-profit monopoly utilities. One of the many benefits of Community Choice is that it establishes local control and accountability by virtue of its being run by local elected officials and members of the community. This proposed element imposes an unnecessary bureaucratic layer and expense to the state, and sets up Community Choice programs to be burdened by frivolous complaints that must be addressed at the distant and arcane California Public Utilities Commission.

Shawn Marshall of the Local Energy Aggregation Network (LEAN), a national Community Choice advocacy organization, stated, “While we would’ve preferred the bill to die in Committee, AB 2145 has yielded some upsides for Community Choice in California. The bill has galvanized statewide attention and support for Community Choice that we’ve not seen before. Just a few years ago, Community Choice was a little-known, fringe program that the legislature largely ignored or openly dismissed. Our success against the huge monopoly utility establishment in removing the ‘poison-pill’ provision absolutely changed that.”

What is Community Choice?

Community Choice, enabled by 2002 legislation, empowers local governments to buy and generate electricity for businesses and residents. Marin and Sonoma Counties, the only two California communities that currently offer Community Choice programs, provide their customers cleaner power at lower rates. Community Choice is the most powerful tool under local control to rapidly and cost-effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a variety of analyses.

WhatYouCanDo

The fight for Community Choice continues: AB 2145 will be considered in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday, August 4. Please attend the hearing and speak up for Community Choice!

For up-to-date information and other ways you can take action, visit www.no2145.org. If you are interested in doing more to help advance Community Choice in the Bay Area, consider joining the Club’s Community Choice Team. To get involved email Chapter conservation organizer Jess Dervin-Ackerman at jess.dervin-ackerman at sierraclub.org

—Woody Hastings, Renewable Energy Implementation Manager, Climate Protection Campaign; volunteer coordinator, statewide Community Choice Team

New alliance calls for Alameda County fracking ban

Anti-fracking protest.

Anti-fracking protest.

In the wake of the defeat of Senate Bill 1132 (the Fracking Moratorium Bill) and of Governor Jerry Brown’s continued support for the extreme oil extraction methods and acidization, fracking continues in California with minimal, weak regulation. Given the dearth of state-level leadership, communities are stepping up to stop fracking locally. In San Benito, Santa Barbara, Mendocino, and Butte Counties, activists are working on local ballot initiatives to ban fracking. Now, Alameda County has joined the fight.

On July 9, fifty fractivists gathered for a kick-off meeting of Alameda County Against Fracking (ACAF). Elizabeth Echols and Tony Thurmond, both running for State Assembly, took part in the launch event to show their support for a fracking ban. ACAF is actively signing on new partners; so far eleven groups have joined the campaign.

Alameda County is home to six producing oil wells, and while not currently being fracked, the Bay Chapter’s Don’t Frack CA Team, as a founding member of ACAF, is urging the County Board of Supervisors to pass legislation ensuring that the county stays frack-free. To date, a majority of Supervisors have expressed support for fracking-ban legislation in unincorporated Alameda County, but they have conveyed that they want to hear broad-based community support before moving forward.

Meet other fractivists, share your ideas, and learn what you can do to help ban fracking in Alameda County at the Don’t Frack CA Team’s next monthly meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 16, at 6:30 pm at the Chapter office in Berkeley.  Also, look for us at the Chapter Picnic on Friday, August 1.

For more information, to join the Google Group announcing upcoming events and news articles of interest, or to volunteer, contact Aria Cahir, Chair of the Bay Chapter Don’t Frack CA Team, at dontfrackcal at gmail.com. If you are active in a group that would support a ban on fracking, please get in touch about bringing that group on board—we are aiming for one-hundred and fifty organizations to support the ban on fracking in Alameda County.

Canvassing for cleaner air in Oakland

Canvassing in the Prescott neighborhood of West Oakland. Photos courtesy of Ethan Buckner of Forest Ethics.

Walter Pope and Kenneth Gibson canvassing in the Prescott neighborhood of West Oakland. Photo by Ethan Buckner of ForestEthics.

Volunteers from the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project and the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter joined forces this past Sunday, July 6, to spread the word about stopping pollution from fossil fuel exports in West Oakland. Proposed exports of coal and petroleum coke (a byproduct of refining crude oil) from the Port of Oakland and the Oakland Army Base redevelopment project would bring open-top rail cars carrying the fuels through West Oakland, releasing coal dust and other debris into air already hard-hit by pollution from the surrounding freeways and truck traffic.

The volunteers on Sunday knocked on 400 doors and collected over 80 signatures from residents saying “no” to coal and petroleum coke exports from the Port and Army Base. And this is only the beginning of a larger campaign. The West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project and the Sierra Club will be hosting additional educational canvases in the near future, as well as a community forum in September to build a strong base of community opposition to new fossil fuel exports that would increase air pollution in West Oakland.

To sign up for the next community outreach event, email Jess Dervin-Ackerman at jess.dervin-ackerman at sierraclub.org.

For more information about the campaign visit http://sanfranciscobay.sierraclub.org/coal.

Prevent coal-dust pollution in West Oakland: campaign launch and community outreach event

Corrine L. Van Hook at a rally in downtown Oakland. Photo by Alonzo Young.

Corrine L. Van Hook at a rally in downtown Oakland. Photo by Alonzo Young.

On the one-year anniversary of the tragic crude-by-rail accident in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that claimed the lives of 47 innocent people, a coalition of local environmental organizations will launch a grassroots campaign to build a strong base of community opposition to coal and oil trains running through the city of Oakland.

West Oakland residents are already twice as likely to visit the emergency room for asthma as the average Alameda County resident, and are also more likely to die of cancer and heart and lung disease. The future Oakland Army Base Port could begin to export coal and petroleum coke as soon as 2020. The increased freight traffic carrying coal would intensify the air pollution already plaguing West Oakland, threatening local public health and safety. Coal is transported on open-top rail cars that lose up to 600 pounds of coal dust per car; this translates to 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter entering our air and water for every trip made by a coal train.

West Oakland residents—the people most profoundly and intimately affected by the air pollution coal exports will cause—need to know about the threat of coal transport in their neighborhood. West Oakland communities must be given the opportunity to make their voices heard.

Join us on Sunday, July 6, to canvass the Prescott neighborhood of West Oakland. We will be spreading the word about these serious threats to health and safety; engaging community members in the campaign to protect and improve Oakland’s air quality; and inviting our neighbors to a town hall in August to learn more about these issues.

RSVP now!

This event is sponsored by West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, Communities for a Better Environment, the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter, Earthjustice, San Francisco Baykeeper, 350 East Bay, and the Sunflower Alliance.

Contact Jess Dervin-Ackerman at jess.dervin-ackerman at sierraclub.org or (510) 848-0800 x 304 for more information.

Help keep the Bay Area frack-free—attend the Kick-off meeting for Alameda County Against Fracking

Fractivists in Sacramento

Photo by Aria Cahir.

Local fractivists are needed to protect Alameda County against fracking!

As Governor Brown continues to allow fracking to spread across the state, communities are stepping up to stop fracking locally. Now Alameda County is joining the fight. The county is home to six oil wells, and while not currently targeted for fracking, the San Francisco Bay Chapter and Don’t Frack California are urging the Board of Supervisors to pass an ordinance to ensure that Alameda County stays frack-free. Help launch Alameda County Against Fracking; RSVP today for a kick-off meeting co-hosted by Food and Water Watch, 350 Bay Area, and Moveon.org.

  • What: Alameda County Against Fracking Kick-Off Meeting
  • When: Wednesday, July 9, 6:30 – 8 pm
  • Where: Food & Water Watch office, 1814 Franklin Street, Suite 1100, Oakland

The campaign needs local fractivists to help with educational outreach, coalition-building, and media engagement. We need all hands on deck to help grow the movement in Alameda County and across the state. Governor Brown has deep roots and connections in this county and we want him to know that his neighbors and community members don’t want fracking here—or anywhere in California.

RSVP for the kick-off event today!

Questions? Email Aria Cahir, chair of the Chapter’s Stop Fracking Team.

To learn more about fracking in California, read “Fracking moratorium blocked in Senate“.

Oakland City Council formally opposes transport of hazardous fossil fuels

Community members rally at City Hall

Community members rally at City Hall

Community members rallied at City Hall this evening, urging the Oakland City Council to support a resolution that opposes transporting coal, petroleum coke, crude oil and other hazardous materials along rail lines in Oakland and the East Bay. A few hours later, the council unanimously passed the resolution, officially raising city concerns about environmental problems, public health hazards, economic pitfalls and public opposition to exports. The resolution marks the first step in addressing the hazards of Bay Area coal and oil exports.

Oakland is the first city in California to pass a resolution that addresses railway transportation of not only oil but also coal and petcoke. The resolution was originally introduced by councilmembers Dan Kalb, Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Rebecca Kaplan.

“This resolution is critical to protect the health, safety and well-being of Oakland and East Bay families and businesses, not to mention the cultural and economic vitality of our communities,” said Councilmember McElhaney. “Oakland is leading the way for Californians who want to tell Big Coal and Big Oil that we cannot bear the risk they impose upon on our town.”

A coalition of local community members and organizations mobilized to support passage of this resolution, including the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, San Francisco Baykeeper, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club.

“From the Gulf Coast to the Pacific Coast, from mine to rail and port to plant, local communities are standing up against dangerous coal and oil exports,” said Jess Dervin-Ackerman, conservation organizer with the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter. “We want our local economy to be bolstered by clean, renewable energy from wind and solar, not carbon-intensive, highly-polluting fossil fuels.”

Due to strong community organizing, coal, petcoke and oil export facilities have been unable to move forward along much of the West Coast. Other communities in California have passed similar resolutions regarding oil transport, including Berkeley and Richmond. In Washington and Oregon, three coal export proposals have been abandoned and the remaining three face fierce opposition from tens of thousands of citizens and hundreds of groups, businesses and elected officials.

“If we allow fossil fuel exports to travel through our communities, it will undo our region’s energy and climate leadership and threaten the health and safety of our local communities,” said Suma Peesapati, staff attorney with Earthjustice. “It makes no sense to move backwards at a time when the EPA and our state leaders are taking real steps to protect Californians from dirty fossil fuels, carbon pollution and the threat of climate disruption.”

Coal dust and diesel particulate matter from the numerous open top mile-long trains to transport these commodities would pose significant air and water quality threats to Bay Area families. On average, each car loses 500 pounds of coal per trip for more than 60,000 pounds lost per train. Coal breaks apart easily to create dust that contains lead, arsenic, uranium, and hundreds of other heavy metal toxins harmful to fish and human health.

The city of Oakland has an asthma hospitalization rate that is two times higher than the rest of Alameda County.

“Ten years of advocacy have cleaned our windowsills of diesel soot,” said Brian Beveridge, co-director at West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project. “We don’t want replace it with coal dust.”

“We’ve seen damage from the Cosco Busan oil spill continuing to impair the Bay years later, and yet shipment of crude by rail lacks most of the basic safety protections in place for marine vessels,” said Jason Flanders, Program Director at San Francisco Baykeeper.  ”Oakland is simply playing self-defense, while more state and federal regulations are needed.”

Coal dust can also contribute to train derailments, which is especially troubling in light of the oil train traffic also moving through the densely populated urban area.

“I’m thrilled that Oakland City Council took a strong stand to protect our communities by opposing transport of dangerous Fossil Fuels by rail through the heart of Oakland,” said councilmember Kalb. “Let’s protect the health and safety of our communities by investing our expertise and resources in choices that keep Oakland on the leading edge of the country’s clean energy economy.”

For more information about the hazards of shipping fuels by rail, see “Oakland City Council to consider opposing transport of hazardous fossil-fuel materials,” “Dangerous and dirty coal exports threaten Bay Area” and “Explosive crude oil may be coming to a train track or a refinery near you”.