October 8, 2015

Cast your vote for clean energy in the SF elections!

Vote No on G and Yes on H!

PG&E allies try to define renewable energy to rid electricity sector of competition

no on g yes on hSan Francisco’s mandate to create a clean energy option for residents and businesses has been on the books since 2004 and reaffirmed by a majority of the Board of Supervisors more than a handful of times. Despite that, the deployment of such a program, now known as CleanPowerSF, has been continually challenged and delayed by public officials heavily influenced by the region’s investor-owned utility, PG&E.

The current fight at the ballot box — this time in the form of two ballot measures vying to define what kinds of renewables CleanPowerSF can provide to customers — is just the latest in a long war waged by PG&E to maintain its dirty energy monopoly.

The Sierra Club urges a No vote on Prop. G and a Yes vote on Prop. H; it’s important to cast a vote on both ballot measures, because if H passes with more votes than G, only H goes into effect.

No on G, the Dirty Energy Scam

Prop. G is a thinly veiled attempt to unravel the good work that San Francisco has done to shape the CleanPowerSF program — a program designed to put control of the City’s energy future in the hands of the people of San Francisco. Prop. G would block CleanPowerSF from including rooftop solar in the renewable energy package offered to its customers. Rooftop solar and energy efficiency upgrades are essential components of a local clean energy program, and both are areas with great promise for local jobs creation. Prop. G would put CleanPowerSF at a competitive disadvantage to PG&E while enabling PG&E to deceive energy customers by claiming its own nuclear and fossil fuel power is just as clean and green as CleanPowerSF’s far more renewable energy mix.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has said that Prop. G would drive up costs for ratepayers without any environmental benefit. Even the original proponent of Prop. G, IBEW Local 1245, now opposes this measure and has called for a Yes on Prop. H vote instead. Prop. G is not about defining renewable energy; it’s about maintaining PG&E’s monopoly. Save the clean energy option and solar power in San Francisco. Vote no on Prop. G.

Yes on H, the Clean Energy Right to Know Act

Prop. H is a widely supported compromise measure that will ensure that both CleanPowerSF and PG&E follow the same clean-energy reporting rules required by existing state law. Prop. H will help us move more quickly to a clean-energy economy by creating greater demand for in-state and local renewable energy projects and allowing rooftop solar within San Francisco to be counted by CleanPowerSF as “clean” or “green” energy. As a countermeasure to Prop. G, Prop. H is a vital tool at the ballot that would protect the right of San Franciscans to choose clean energy to power their homes and businesses. Vote Yes on H to protect your choice for a clean energy future.

You can find all of the Sierra Club SF Bay Chapter’s November 2015 endorsements here.

Community and environmental groups challenge proposed Oakland coal-export terminal—California law requires environmental review of coal impacts

A coal-export terminal.

A coal-export terminal on the Oakland waterfront would have major health and safety impacts on the local community and would mean massive emissions of climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases.

Today, Earthjustice, on behalf of Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, the Sierra Club, and San Francisco Baykeeper, filed a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) action in Alameda County Superior Court to challenge the proposal to export Utah coal out of Oakland’s proposed bulk terminal at the former Oakland Army Base.  The project, known as the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal, is being built by a group of developers led by Prologis CCIG Oakland Global LLC. Contrary to the fundamental requirements of CEQA, the environmental review for the project failed to include any discussion or analysis of the impacts of transporting, handling, or exporting coal from Oakland on surrounding neighborhoods or the environment. This is particularly problematic given the project’s disproportionate impact on Oakland’s most vulnerable communities of color.

After years of assurances that coal would not be transported through the bulk terminal, in April 2015, community members learned that the developers had secretly cut a funding deal with four Utah counties that would bring coal into Oakland. In exchange for $53 million in project funding, the developers promised the Utah counties shipping rights to at least 49% of the bulk terminal’s 9-10-million-ton annual shipping capacity. Utah officials have stated that they intend to use this capacity to export coal to overseas markets. This development followed a number of public statements by CCIG’s President and CEO, Phil Tagami, that the company had “no interest or involvement in the pursuit of coal-related operations at the former Oakland Army Base.”

“We have been working for many years to combat the environmental harms that our neighborhoods were subjected to through neglectful and discriminatory policies that disproportionately affected our community,” said West Oakland resident Karin Mac Donald. “Our vision for the future is a safe and healthy environment and dirty coal is certainly not part of that. Phil Tagami needs to follow the law, stick to his promises, and listen to the community that would be impacted by coal shipments.”

The Oakland City Council held a hearing on September 21st, 2015, to gather evidence on the health and safety issues associated with the proposed coal export facility. At the end of the six-hour hearing, the Council adopted a resolution to review the information and consider potential action before December 8th, 2015.

“Shipping coal through the bulk terminal would be devastating to the health of the West Oakland community and many other communities along the rail line,” said Irene Gutierrez, attorney at Earthjustice. “The California Environmental Quality Act was meant to protect the public from being kept in the dark about what this new coal project means for their health, safety and environment.  We seek to hold the City to its duties to inform and protect the public.”

“The proposal to ship coal out of Oakland would not only impact our air quality, but our water as well,” George Torgun, Managing Attorney at San Francisco Baykeeper. “Coal dust released by open train cars will pollute our Bay, and the process of suppressing coal dust is itself highly water-intensive. As we head into our fourth straight year of drought conditions here in California, we can’t afford to be wasting water on spraying down tons of dirty coal to minimize dangerous coal dust. For the sake of our water and the health of our communities, we must keep coal out of Oakland.”

“Tons of coal dust every week all year round is a dangerous threat to the lungs and well-being of Oakland residents who are already disproportionately impacted by air pollution,” said Michael Kaufman, a member of Communities for a Better Environment. “After working for decades to improve the air we won’t stand for this assault.”

“We support bringing jobs to Oakland through the Army Base Redevelopment project and the proposed bulk terminal, but not at the expense of the health of West Oakland communities and our global climate,” said Jess Dervin-Ackerman, Conservation Manager with the Sierra Club’s Bay Chapter. “We will continue to work closely with the Oakland City Council and Mayor Schaaf to encourage the project’s backers to move forward with the plan as originally proposed, without dirty coal exports. This case will ensure that the environmental impacts of this project are fully considered.”

“Coal has no place in the vision for a vibrant and thriving local economy that we all have for Oakland, especially for our most vulnerable residents,” said Miya Yoshitani, Executive Director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. “We fully support the Army Base Redevelopment project and believe it is an opportunity to create jobs and stabilize our neighborhoods, and last century dirty coal exports keep us from realizing that important goal.”

Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Sierra Club, and San Francisco Baykeeper are represented by Irene Gutierrez and Stacey Geis at Earthjustice, and the Sierra Club is represented by Jessica Yarnall Loarie.

Draft refinery emissions rules fail to cap pollutants, GHGs

Sierra Club and allies call on Air District to suspend new refinery projects until caps are in place

The Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo. Photo courtesy Thomas Hawk on Flickr Creative Commons.

The Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo. Photo courtesy Thomas Hawk on Flickr Creative Commons.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District released long-awaited draft refinery emission regulations on September 11th. To our chagrin, the draft rules completely fail to live up to the Air District Board’s promises (see “Air District moves to reduce refinery emissions 20% by 2020“) and would in fact lead to increases in refinery pollution. In its draft rules the Air District has eliminated the notion of facility-wide emission caps, instead relying on “source-by-source” regulations (a boiler here, a catalytic cracker there) with no regard to the overall picture of what’s spewing into nearby communities and the atmosphere. The new rules propose to allow the maximum refinery-wide potential to emit. On top of all this, greenhouse gases are completely exempted.

Bay Area refineries make billions in profits at the expense of the environment and public health. Putting an end to unchecked refinery pollution is the goal of a grassroots campaign made up of Sierra Club members, labor organizations, healthcare professionals, environmental justice organizations such as Communities for a Better Environment, and front-line community members who have been lobbying the Air District for years to implement robust emissions regulations for the region’s five refineries.

To communities already overburdened by pollution, it’s terrifying to learn that, under the draft rules, the refineries would essentially be allowed to continue to emit as much as they want, so long as they pay the Air District for the permit. What we are asking for is simple: certainty in our air quality. We demand facility-wide numeric caps on toxic particulate soot emissions and climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions should be capped at current levels and brought down over time. We want to know that the air we are breathing right now, as bad as it is, isn’t going to get worse.

Without facility-wide numeric caps, refineries will be able to bring in dirtier and more dangerous grades of “extreme” crude oil such as tar sands with no penalties, just profit. We call on the Air District to suspend all permitting for new refinery projects until numeric emissions caps are in place.

The oil industry has fought hard to fend off facility-wide numeric caps. Big Oil lobbyists have argued in favor of their vested right to pollute, and Air District staffers continue to parrot the oil industry’s bogus talking points; they claim numeric caps are not legal — a contention that is completely false, given that other industries, including power plants, are already subject to caps on emissions including greenhouse gases. As to feasibility, keeping emissions to the same level for now instead of further increasing them doesn’t require refiners to do anything different from what they are doing now.


It’s time to ramp up the pressure on the Air District. Add your name to our petition to the Air District asking them to:

  • Suspend all permitting for new refinery projects until numeric emissions caps are in place; and
  • Implement enforceable, facility-wide numeric caps on refinery pollution, including greenhouse gases, at today’s levels.

Sign the petition today!

—Ratha Lai

California’s utilities take aim at rooftop solar

Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture Flickr account.

Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture Flickr account.

Today, rooftop-solar owners receive a credit for the power they produce and give back (or “export”) to the grid at the same price the utility charges for electricity. The credit for excess power can be used to offset their consumption of electricity at night, on cloudy days, or at other times when their solar panels can’t produce all the energy they need. This relationship between the solar owner and the utility is called “net metering”. Once net metering reaches five percent of generation capacity for the state’s three major utilities (or on July 1, 2017, whichever comes first) the rules for the system will change. Under Assembly Bill 327, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has until the end of this year to create a Net Energy Metering Successor Tariff to govern how customers will be reimbursed for solar power by the utility going forward.

Changes to the net metering system could either incentivize solar — and build momentum for a transition away from fossil fuels to a clean-energy economy — or disincentivize solar and keep California in the thrall of investor-owned utilities that don’t seem committed to a rapid transition.

Various stakeholders recently submitted their proposals on how the Successor Tariff should be designed. California’s three major utilities — Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) — have proposed to reduce the credit for future rooftop-solar owners and to charge them fees when they are provided power from the grid. California’s solar industry, on the other hand, would like the Successor Tariff to maintain key features of the current net metering program, including giving customers credit for the power they export to the grid at the same price the utility charges them for electricity.

In the model proposed by PG&E, a solar customer would sell their excess power for an average price of only 9.7 cents per kilowatt hour — significantly lower than the average of 16.3 cents per kilowatt hour for which they buy electricity. In addition, solar customers would be charged $3 per kilowatt each month for their highest one-hour demand in order to assist in paying for maintaining the infrastructure for transmission and distribution.

One of the clearest demonstrations of the intent of the utilities is evident in PG&E’s proposal to change the “true up” billing process for solar customers. Currently, PG&E provides a solar customer with one “true up” statement at the end of the year, balancing the credits they have earned from exporting power to the grid against any charges they have accrued for using power from the grid over the course of the year. Under that system, credits for rooftop solar production in summer months offset decreased solar production in the winter.

PG&E wants to move to a monthly “true up” in which a net surplus of power for that month  would be compensated at a wholesale rate of only 4 cents per kilowatt hour — less than the retail charge of about 16.3 cents that households will pay for grid usage or the 9.7-cent proposed credit value of exported power used to offset the charges for household use from the grid. While PG&E states that “This will simplify the program for our customers, which they have indicated they want” it seems clear that rooftop solar owners would strongly prefer a fair credit for exported solar compared to the “convenience” of a monthly true up. There can be little reason for PG&E’s proposal, other than to further decrease the value of the consumer investment in rooftop solar.

Furthermore, the utilities’ Successor Tariff proposal, in combination with the CPUC’s recent decision to flatten the electricity tiers from four to two, could seriously impede the future growth of solar. With the new rate design, utilities are allowed to impose a minimum monthly bill of $10, regardless of whether a customer actually racks up a bill of $10 (and some solar customers may not).

Proposals put forth by the utilities attack solar customers with the aim of slowing the growth of rooftop solar. Seeking to protect and maintain their failing business model, the utilities would punish customers — whether they have solar or not — as they implement mechanisms such as fixed charges and minimum bills that provide an unfair strain on those who use little electricity, and may harm low-income ratepayers. The California Energy Commission predicts that the flattened rate tiers will reduce demand for rooftop solar by 1,200 megawatts by 2026 — the equivalent of electricity for more than one million homes. The net metering proposals put forward by the utilities would likely reduce the demand for rooftop solar by an additional thousand megawatts or more, and many potential solar customers would no longer see the economic benefit in making the investment.

These utility proposals ignore the benefits that rooftop-solar owners contribute to the grid by decreasing the need for new generating capacity, the need for additional long distance transmission lines (an annual loss of six to eight percent of generated power in the course of transmission), and upgrades to local distribution infrastructure.

Over the last three years, the solar industry has grown dramatically, employing more people than the three utilities combined. With California suffering the worst drought in recorded history and already experiencing significant consequences due to climate change, adding and incentivizing rooftop solar is crucial to moving toward a booming 100-percent clean energy economy. We must continue effective policies, like net metering, that sustain the growth of solar and empower families, schools, businesses, and public agencies to save on their utility bills through clean energy.

—Luis Amezcua

Richmond to house the second-largest solar project in the Bay Area

A tractor carries solar panels to be installed. Photo Courtesy MCE.

A tractor carries solar panels to be installed. Photo Courtesy MCE.

Marin Clean Energy (MCE), the first Community Choice energy program to launch in California, has finalized an agreement with Chevron to lease a 60-acre brownfield site for 25 years (with one five-year extension option) at a price of $1 per year. The site will soon be home to a 10.5-megawatt solar facility known as MCE Solar One that will be able to power up to 3,400 homes, becoming one of the largest solar projects in the Bay Area.

The lease agreement between Chevron and MCE is part of the community benefits package Chevron was required to provide in exchange for approval of its Refinery Modernization Project. In addition to putting land that cannot be used for any other function to good use, the Solar One project will provide even more community benefits, such as a minimum 50-percent local hire requirement (local unions welcome!) and investment in American-made solar panels.

MCE currently provides electricity to all of Marin County, unincorporated Napa County, and the cities of Benicia, El Cerrito, Richmond and San Pablo. The program’s approximately 165,000 customers are already being served up cleaner, cheaper energy than they would receive through PG&E. When the Solar One project is completed in November of next year, it will increase MCE’s supply of local renewable energy for its customers, which will effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions and spur local job growth.

MCE ratepayers who have opted into the Deep Green (100-percent renewable) option can take satisfaction in knowing that the premium they are paying (an additional penny per kilowatt-hour more than the default 50-percent-renewable option) is being used to support local economic development like the Solar One project; MCE dedicates half of the premium to support their Local Renewable Development fund, which is used to fund clean energy projects within MCE’s service area. Solar One is expected to be the first project to use this funding source.

As a strong supporter of Community Choice throughout the Bay Area, the Sierra Club applauds MCE for developing local clean-energy projects that show the extensive benefits a Community Choice program has within its community, including creating clean-energy jobs and having a power mix with more renewable energy than PG&E. The Sierra Club will continue to advocate for Community Choice throughout the Bay Area to provide communities with an alternative to PG&E and local control for affordable energy.

—Luis Amezcua

Berkeley dance center goes solar with community-based approach

The Shawl-Anderson Dance Center solar project. Photo courtesy facebook.com/solarseedfund.

The Shawl-Anderson Dance Center solar project. Photo courtesy facebook.com/solarseedfund.

In Berkeley, at the corner of College and Alcatraz, sits the Shawl-Anderson Dance Center. Shawl-Anderson has been teaching dance students of all ages for over 50 years. When the directors of Shawl-Anderson started to explore going solar they ran into a problem: because they are a nonprofit, they’re ineligible to take advantage of federal solar tax credits, and because of their small project size, there weren’t a lot of solar finance companies willing to work with them. While big solar finance companies typically work with homeowners or large commercial projects, small- to medium-size nonprofits are often left out.

Then, in the spring of 2013, Shawl-Anderson discovered an organization that specifically works with nonprofits like theirs: RE-volv, a nonprofit based in San Francisco. RE-volv connects people from around the world through crowdfunding to finance solar projects for nonprofits and cooperatives.

Frank Shawl, co-founder of the Shawl-Anderson Dance Center explained: “We’ve been looking at the possibility of solar for years now. It never seemed affordable or doable. Now, because of RE-volv, we have the opportunity to lead the community in reducing our collective carbon footprint. I couldn’t be more thrilled.”

RE-volv’s first crowdfunding campaign paid the up-front costs of Shawl-Anderson’s solar project. Now, on Shawl-Anderson’s roof is a beautiful 10-kilowatt solar array that provides the organization with 100 percent of its power and saves it thousands of dollars on energy costs every year.

A pay-it-forward model for solar

Funding one solar project through crowdfunding was just the beginning. RE-volv has developed a first-of-its-kind pay-it-forward model for solar energy using a revolving fund it calls the Solar Seed Fund. As Shawl-Anderson pays RE-volv back through a 20-year lease, RE-volv will reinvest the money to build three additional solar projects for other community-serving organizations.

Since Shawl-Anderson, RE-volv has completed two more projects in the Bay Area: the Kehilla Community Synagogue near Lake Merritt in Oakland, and the Other Avenues Food Co-op in the Outer Sunset in San Francisco. Through its three crowdfunding campaigns, RE-volv has raised over $120,000 from nearly 1,000 people in 38 states and 22 countries. It seems people are excited to support a revolving fund for solar energy, even if a given project is not in their community. This year RE-volv is expanding its reach through its Solar Ambassador Program, training college students in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Santa Barbara to develop solar projects in their communities.

How to get involved

When it comes to climate change, the problem can seem so big that it’s hard to know where to begin. But with clean energy we can start to address the problem right now in our communities.

To find out more about RE-volv visit www.re-volv.org, facebook.com/solarseedfund, and twitter.com/RE_volv.

—Andreas Karelas, Executive Director, RE-volv

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant and the fallacy of the “baseload” fetish


The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, Units 1 and 2. Photo courtesy Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Flickr Creative Commons.

The Sierra Club opposes nuclear power plants because of the hazards posed by loss of containment of the active nuclear fuel in the event of a meltdown; the long-term hazard of storing spent, but still radioactive, fuel waste securely for periods over 100,000 years; and the hazards inherent in the nuclear fuel mining, processing, and transporting process.

Here in California, PG&E continues to operate the two-reactor power plant at Diablo Canyon and has made an early request that the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) extend permitted nuclear operations there by twenty years, to 2045.

Diablo Canyon is located in San Luis Obispo County and the Sierra Club’s Santa Lucia Chapter is actively opposed to the operating license renewal. Since the dense population of the Bay Area is within 150 to 200 miles of Diablo Canyon and the Bay Area is one of the major “beneficiaries” of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, the Bay Chapter stands shoulder to shoulder with Santa Lucia against any extension of operations.

In its August 5, 2015, comment letter to the NRC, the Santa Lucia Chapter cites the “baseload fetish” of the NRC and of PG&E. Specifically, the letter from Chapter Director Andrew Christie notes that “…PG&E echoes the NRC’s utility-scale baseload fetish in its Amended Environmental Report, with a focus on ‘standalone’ energy sources.” The Sierra Club recognizes that the concept of baseload demand is a fallacy that often continues to distort electric-utility planning, investment, and regulation.

The premise of baseload, in the electric-utility industry, traditionally has been that there is a basic, round-the-clock, round-the-year minimum demand for electric power which should be the foundation for planning electricity-generating resources. Above that basic demand there are occasional demand peaks when there is an unusual demand for energy. In the past, coal was the fuel of choice to meet baseload demand for electric power. The idea was that a coal-fired power plant used the lowest-cost fuel and could be run cheaply day after day, month after month, year after year without shutting down.

With the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, Congress sought to legitimize, broaden, and commercialize the applications of ongoing nuclear weapons research. The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 created the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (to replace the Atomic Energy Commission) because of concerns about radiation protection and reactor safety. Within five years of the formation of the NRC, the reactor core of unit two at Three Mile Island melted down ­— 64 miles from Baltimore, 85 miles from Philadelphia, 91 miles from Washington, 148 miles from New York. Nevertheless, building on the baseload premise, the NRC and much of the electric-utility industry continue to promote nuclear power as the long-term replacement for coal. The baseload premise ignores two very important facts:

  1. Coal-fired power plants and nuclear power plants do not run non-stop. They must be shut down for maintenance, for operational emergencies, and, in the case of nuclear plants, to load fresh fuel rods. A coal-fired power plant may require a two-week cool down and restart. A nuclear power plant has a two-month cool-down and reheat cycle. When a one-gigawatt (1,000-megawatt) plant goes off-line for two weeks to two years, that disrupts power supplies!
  2. There is no baseload of demand. There are patterns of peak, mid-peak, and off-peak demand during certain hours of the day, days of the week, and months of the year. A combination of solar- and wind-power peak production typically coincides with the hours of peak and mid-peak or shoulder demand in California. Geothermal energy, pumped hydro-storage, and, potentially, tidal power could be used to meet off-peak demand. A geographically dispersed array of generation sources tied to a robust smart grid further minimizes any shortfall in power supply when local clouds dim the sun or when wind patterns shift.


The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) manages the wheeling of electric power around the entire state. Its report for August 18, 2015, shows the peak demand of 40.8 gigawatts occurred shortly before 5:00 pm. Solar power generation peaked at about 3:00 pm, but while solar generation was in decline wind energy continued to rise from its 11:00 am lull to its 9:00 pm peak. Combined renewables generation peaked at about 4:00 pm. Over the 24-hour period CAISO reported total electric power demand of 781.8 gigawatt hours while renewables — primarily wind, solar and geothermal — produced 185.2 gigawatt hours of electric power to meet that demand.

Renewables can satisfy environmental and safety concerns better and be built far more quickly than nuclear power plants. Then there is no fuel cost, no emissions, or radiation, and no fuel waste to worry about.

Renewable power resources, when scaled up, will be a better fit for real electric energy demand than so-called baseload power ever could be in a world of air-conditioned offices and shopping centers.

Current NRC operating licenses for the twin reactors at Diablo Canyon are due to expire nine to ten years from now when each reactor is over 40 years old. If we can increase solar power generation in California by 25% per year through 2025 (compared to an average of 38% over each of the last ten years) and increase wind power generation by the same 25% per year (compared to an average of 12% over each of the last ten years) California can retire its nuclear power plants, eliminate all use of coal or oil for electricity generation, and reduce natural gas generation by almost 60%. In this scenario, total electricity generation would rise by over 50% to provide capacity for powering additional electric mass transit and battery-powered or fuel-cell-powered vehicles.

We can do this.

—SFBay Energy-Climate Committee

Sign up to testify against Bay Area coal exports at Mon, Sept 21 hearing in Oakland

9gILoejbf7unOeWhsFIhzzol_FrlbRqUW4h3NWMhXc6EOpi82luMujpwGtXU94TQr44IvXApS8vxnPUOHC0MsHYIROGGWdeRLSi0muMTEUTvSRiuWlafjrrZBpp95uLoMc9jWK3nD3lOvXQDIt_P5cf8bcwwpFEsqlUj3mrVBdf-AQ=s0-d-e1-ftFor those of you planning on attending the September 21st hearing on the health and safety impacts of proposed coal exports out of Oakland, you can now sign up online to tell the City Council why you think coal exports are wrong for the Bay Area. You don’t need to be an expert to testify; you just need to care about your community and your planet. We’ll have talking points available at the event.

Even if you don’t like to speak in public we still need you to fill out a speaker card, since you can cede your time to give other people more time to make the case against coal exports — but note that in order to cede your time you need to be present at the event. Here’s how to sign up:

  1. Click here to open the Speaker Card form.
  2. Type “4″ in the box labeled Agenda Item Number. Enter your name and contact information. Select City Council in the Comm/Council Name drop-down menu, and pick the date September 21 in the calendar. You don’t have to fill out any of the items after the date. Click Submit!
  3. Send an email to jess@sfbaysc.org to let me know that you signed up.
 You can let me know if you want to speak or if you want to cede your time.
  4. Show up next Monday, September 21st, between 3:30 and 7 pm at Oakland City Hall, 3rd floor council chambers.

We know coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel on the planet and the largest contributor to climate disruption. The only question that remains is whether there is the political will to put the health and safety of our kids and the future of humanity before corporate profits. By showing up next Monday you can help build the political will to make the right choice for Oakland and the entire Bay Area.

Personal greed behind dirty proposal to bring coal through Bay Area for export out of Oakland

11781794_10152822455527723_8881289664513556428_nIn recent years we’ve written a lot about the threat of coal exports through Bay Area ports to markets overseas as domestic coal consumption plummets. Now the coal industry has targeted Oakland, and a Bay Area-wide campaign is full swing to preserve public health and stand up for climate justice. Volunteers and staff have held meetings in four of Oakland’s seven city council districts. We’ve gone door to door to talk to neighbors; met with public officials at the local, regional, state, and federal levels; engaged with labor and faith leaders; and reached out to realtors and business owners to talk about the dangers of coal coming through Bay Area communities by rail for export overseas.

Almost everyone we have encountered agrees: coal is bad for our communities, our workers, and our climate, and the City Council should block coal from being a part of the Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center development (aka Oakland Global) at the former Oakland Army Base in West Oakland.

Oakland Global, which is being built by developer Phil Tagami, is supposed to bring Oakland’s maritime operations into the 21st century by making the process of moving goods more efficient; reducing pollution by transporting goods by train instead of truck; moving some of the more polluting facilities away from West Oakland neighborhoods onto the Oakland Global site; and diversifying the industry on the waterfront. Bringing coal through the East Bay and into Oakland for export flies in the face of the original intent of this project to clean up pollution and provide benefits to the local community.

Unfortunately, Phil Tagami and others involved in building the bulk terminal are singularly focused rushing through with the project — no matter the costs to the community. In a recent article in the East Bay Express, reporter Darwin BondGraham reveals that there are individuals who stand to make millions if the deal with Big Coal goes through. BondGraham’s report shows that there has been a concerted effort to conceal the plan to bring coal through Oakland, as well as the greed motivating the deal.

Luckily for us, there are diligent reporters working to uncover the truth, as well as a whole lot of community and political power on our side. More than 165 local businesses, organizations, and prominent community members have signed on to our letter to the Mayor and the City Council. You can see the latest version here.

Oakland’s City Council has the power to keep coal out of Oakland Global through a clause in the original development agreement that states that the City can further regulate the development if they “determine based on substantial evidence and after a public hearing that a failure to do so would place existing or future occupants or users of the Project, adjacent neighbors, or any portion thereof, or all of them, in a condition substantially dangerous to their health or safety” (section 3.4.2 of Development Agreement).

The public hearing for finding evidence of dangers to health and safety from coal exports is scheduled for September 21st. At that hearing, experts, health professionals, faith and union leaders, workers, community groups, businesses, and residents will testify that coal is a huge threat to the health and safety of the communities along the rail lines and near the project site.

The Sierra Club and our allies are asking the City Council to use this opportunity to further regulate the development and ban all exports of coal and petroleum coke through the Oakland Global project. The Mayor and almost all the council members have stated that they are opposed to coal trains coming through our communities. The only question that remains is whether there is the political will to put the health and safety of our kids and the future of humanity before corporate profits.


The City Council will vote on whether or not to ban exports of coal and petroleum coke through Oakland Global sometime in early October, based on evidence gathered at the September 21st hearing. A majority of the council is needed to ban coal, and some of our usually trusted allies could waver due to political pressure from the developer.

If you are an Oakland resident, please take the time to call your council member now and ask them to vote to keep Oakland coal free! If you are not an Oakland resident, please call Mayor Schaaf and tell her that coal exports would be a disaster for the local economy, public health and safety, and climate.

  • Dan Kalb, District 1, (510) 238-7001
  • Abel Guillen, District 2, (510) 238-7002
  • Lynette Gibson McElhaney, District 3, (510) 238-7003
  • Annie Campbell Washington, District 4, (510) 238-7004
  • Noel Gallo, District 5, (510) 238-7005
  • Desley Brooks, District 6, (510) 238-7006
  • Larry Reid, District 7, (510) 238-7007
  • Rebecca Kaplan, At Large, (510) 238-7008
  • Mayor Libby Schaaf, (510) 238-3141

For more background on the Coal Free Oakland campaign, visit sierraclub.org/sfbay/coalfreeoakland.

—Jess Dervin-Ackerman

Air District set to release refinery emissions rules — Demand pollution caps now!

asthmaBay Area refineries make billions in profits at the expense of the environment and public health. Putting an end to unchecked refinery pollution is the goal of a grassroots campaign made up of Sierra Club members, labor organizations, healthcare professionals, environmental justice organizations such as Communities for a Better Environment, and front-line community members who have been lobbying the Bay Area Air Quality Management District for years to implement robust emissions regulations for the region’s five refineries. As the Air District readies to release these regulations, let’s reflect on what we hope to achieve.

What we are asking for is simple: certainty in our air quality. We demand facility-wide numeric caps on toxic particulate soot emissions and climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions should be capped at current levels and brought down over time. We want to know that the air we are breathing right now, as bad as it is, isn’t going to get worse.

The idea of numeric caps has been heavily contested. It’s no surprise that Big Oil lobbyists have argued in favor of their vested right to pollute. But it’s astonishing ­— given their mandate to protect public health, air quality and global climate — that Air District staffers continue to that claim that numeric caps on emissions are not possible or even legal.

As to the legality of caps, other industries, including power plants, are already subject to caps on emissions including greenhouse gases. As to feasibility, keeping emissions to the same level for now instead of further increasing them doesn’t require refiners to do anything different from what they are doing now!

In August, the Air District announced fines on Tesoro’s Golden Eagle refinery outside Martinez and the Chevron Richmond refinery for bypassing air-pollution controls. Such accountability is good, but it’s based on specific, narrow incidents such as flaring or other breaches of protocol. This ultimately falls short of full accountability.

And, as it stands, lots of pollutants that aren’t on the EPA’s  “criteria pollutants” list aren’t even being tracked. We want tracking of more pollutants and caps on all pollutant emissions, including greenhouse gases.

Without numeric caps, refineries will be able to bring in dirtier grades of “extreme” crude oil such as tar sands — which are more highly polluting than conventional oil — with no penalties.

Here’s what the EPA says about one common refinery pollutant, particulate matter:

Particulate Matter is smaller than a single strand of hair and fine particles are easily inhaled deep into the lungs where they may accumulate, react, be cleared or absorbed […] Scientific studies have linked particle pollution, especially fine particles, with a series of significant health problems, including: premature death in people with heart or lung disease, nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, and increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing.

Particle pollution settles on soil and water and harms the environment by changing the nutrient and chemical balance […] Fine particles can remain suspended in the air and travel long distances. For example, a puff of exhaust from a diesel truck in Los Angeles can end up over the Grand Canyon. (Read more at www.epa.gov/pm/fastfacts.html.)

The Air District itself estimates that particulate matter is associated with more than a thousand premature deaths in the Bay Area every year. From 2011 to 2013, here are the average yearly emissions in particulate matter for the five Bay Area refineries:

  • Chevron, Richmond: 459 tons per year
  • Shell, Martinez: 419 tons per year
  • Tesoro, Avon (near Martinez): 159 tons per year
  • Phillips 66, Rodeo: 56.7 tons
  • Valero, Benicia: 165 tons per year

Scary, right? And yet without numeric caps on particulate matter emissions, refineries can emit as much particulate matter as they want.

The Air District has promised to release draft emissions regulations at its September 21st meeting (head back here for updates). But we’ve seen enough delayed and cancelled meetings, weakened proposals, and hollow promises to know that we can’t let up the pressure. When we organize and show up to meetings we can get what we want.


Come to one of three refinery rules workshop the Air District is hosting in refinery communities this September:

  • Tuesday, September 15th, 6-8 pm
    Las Juntas Elementary School 4105 Pacheco Boulevard, Martinez, CA 94553
  • Thursday, September 17th, 6-8 pm
    Robert Semple Elementary School, 2015 East Third Street, Benicia, CA 94510
  • Monday, September 28th, 6-8 pm
    Lincoln Elementary School, 29 Sixth Street, Richmond, CA 94801

And on September 21st, come to the Air District’s Stationary Source Committee Meeting, where the draft refinery emissions regulations rules may be released. Join us at 10 am at 939 Ellis Street, San Francisco.

Can’t be there in person but still want to help? Sign our petition to the Air District asking them to implement strong refinery emissions regulations establishing an enforceable numeric cap on refinery pollution, including greenhouse gases, at today’s levels.

Questions? Contact Ratha Lai at ratha.lai@sierraclub.org or 510-848-0800 ext. 328.

—Ratha Lai