May 3, 2015

Protect clean energy at the May 7th CPUC meeting

Evening Sunset At Petroleum RefineryOn May 7th, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will take a critical vote on our energy future in California. Should San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) replace San Onofre Nuclear Power with a large and dirty gas plant, or with local clean energy?

The Commission’s choices:

  1. Support the proposed decision (Item 47) by Commissioner Florio and Administrative Law Judge Yacknin rejecting SDG&E’s application to contract with the 600-megawat Carlsbad Energy Center gas plant and require SDG&E to pursue all “preferred resources” (i.e. local clean energy) before defaulting to gas; or
  2. Oppose clean energy with an alternate proposal by Commissioner Picker to contract for 500 megawats of dirty natural gas with only 100 megawats of local clean energy.

This is a strategic moment for climate and clean energy. If we win, we can:

  • Divert as much as $2.6 billion (the cost of Carlsbad Energy Center) from fossil fuels to clean energy;
  • Avoid constructing a major new power plant that will pollute for decades; and
  • Create a road map for replacing nuclear with clean energy and using clean energy to maintain a reliable, cost-effective, and resilient grid.

Another issue will also be considered at the May 7th CPUC meeting. PG&E wants to flatten residential rate tiers and add a fixed charge, which would discourage rooftop solar and energy conservation, and produce higher bills for moderate income people.

You can select one or both of the following opportunities to speak on these issues:

  • Speak on Item 47 at the 9:30 am public comment period (arrive early to check in at the table).
  • Speak on Item 47 when it is presented, respond to arguments in the staff presentations, and hear the Commission discussion and vote. It’s the 47th of 56 agenda items.

You can mention rates for a sentence or two at the end of your comments, but we ask that you focus your comments on encouraging clean energy to replace the San Onofre Nuclear Power Station.

Please note that you cannot represent the Sierra Club because we are an intervenor, but you can speak as a ratepayer or as a representative of another organization.

Join us!

Thursday, May 7th, 9 am
CPUC Building
505 Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102

Please RSVP to Dave McCoard, co-chair of the Bay Chapter Energy and Climate Change Committee, at dmccoard at hotmail.com.

It is best to sign up ahead of time online (by noon on May 6th). Put in your Name, representing Self, commenting on Item 47 (if you can stay) or just Public Comment (if you need to leave by 10 am).

Please arrive early and follow these instructions:

  1. Take BART to the Civic Center Station.
  2. Walk two or three blocks west to City Hall (with a big dome).
  3. The CPUC building is directly across the intersection to the northwest of City Hall.
  4. Go up the steps into the courtyard and look for Sierra Club sign to pick up updated talking points.
  5. If you signed up online, stop at the CPUC table to ask staff to mark your presence.
  6. If not, turn in a speaker card for public comments  or Item 47, Carlsbad, or both. You cannot speak on Item 47 twice. Rules are posted here.

For more information, contact Dave McCoard at 510-524-5171 (home) or 510-367-6039 (cell).

Oakland back in Big Coal’s crosshairs — secretive project to export coal from Oakland Army Base export facility revealed

19_BeyondCoal_StickersAs Big Coal’s profits are squeezed by closures of coal-fired power plants across the US and new EPA regulations, coal companies are looking for ways to ship their dirty energy commodity to foreign markets. Major organizing victories squashing export-terminal proposals in Oregon and Washington mean that Big Coal is now targeting California’s ports and marine terminals.

Now Oakland is in Big Coal’s crosshairs with a project that would threaten local workers, public health, and the global climate.

The private real estate company California Capital & Investment Group (CCIG), in partnership with the City of Oakland and the State of California, is redeveloping the old Oakland Army Base on the waterfront just south of the eastern touchdown of the Bay Bridge. Part of the project (which is also known as Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center) is a bulk export facility that is still under development. It has recently come to light that CCIG and another company, Terminal Logistics Solutions, have been soliciting a partnership with four Utah counties — Sevier, Sanpete, Carbon and Emery — to allow them to export five to six million tons of Utah coal each year from mines owned by Bowie Resources.

The mining, transport, and burning of this coal would result in over 12.5 million tons of greenhouse emissions each year! To offset these emissions and make this project greenhouse-gas neutral, we would have to:

  • Remove more than two million passenger cars from the road each year;
  • Reduce 23 to 27 billion miles driven by passenger cars each year;
  • Cut electricity for 1.3 to 1.6 million homes each year;
  • Install 2,600 to 3,100 wind turbines each year;
  • Grow 7.8 to 9.4 million acres of  American forest for one year; or
  • Plant 244 to 293 million tree seedlings and let them grow for 10 years.

Despite its massive potential climate footprint, this project is moving forward quickly. Last week, the Utah Permanent Community Impact Fund Board approved a $53 million loan for the four Utah counties to lease a big share of the export terminal’s capacity for trans-Pacific shipping. In an article in South Central Utah’s Richfield Reaper, the economic development director of Sevier County was quoted as saying “It’s all about finding a new home for Utah’s products — and in our neighborhood, that means coal.”

Let’s Stop This Dangerous Project

Oakland must come together and tell CCIG, Bowie Resources, and the coal industry that Oakland will not facilitate the export of coal to foreign markets at the expense of local health and global climate. Public land should be used for the public good, not for a dirty export project that would put us all in danger. Send a letter to Mayor Libby Schaaf, CCIG President Phil Tagami, and our other public officials today to makes sure they know Oakland won’t stand for a project that would worsen local air quality and threaten climate stability.

Coal’s Devastating Climate Impacts

coal_plantCalifornia has worked hard to be a coal-free state. Coal is the most carbon-intensive of all the fossil fuels and coal is the largest contributor to climate disruption. Whether it’s burned here or abroad, the effect of coal on global climate will be felt by everyone. While California is setting aggressive carbon-reduction targets, this terminal would allow the most carbon-polluting fuel to be brought to market, with devastating consequences.

Coal is Bad Business for Workers

Coal is bad for our local workforce, organized labor, and worker health. Terminals that ship coal provide far fewer jobs than terminals that ship containers or general cargo — and that means fewer jobs for Oakland residents.

Coal is increasingly an anti-union industry. With the imminent closing of the Deer Creek mine in Emery County, Utah, there will be no union mines operating in that state. Oakland should support projects that create good union jobs.

Longshoremen that work at coal-export facilities are exposed to serious health risks. Prolonged, direct exposure to coal dust has been linked to health issues such as chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function, emphysema, and cancer. Coal dust has also been shown to increase the risk of mortality from heart disease.

Even with mitigation efforts like covered train cars and coal piles, there’s no way to completely protect workers, the community, and the environment from the risks that coal exports would pose.

Coal’s Terrible Local Health Impacts

inhaler3If this project is allowed to move forward, upwards of six million more tons of Utah coal will be traveling along rail lines through the Bay Area by 2017, covering communities with toxic coal dust linked to decreased lung capacity, increased childhood bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, emphysema, and heart disease.

Coal dust and particulate matter from train diesel engines pose significant threats to Bay Area air and water quality. Coal breaks apart easily to create dust and contains mercury, arsenic, uranium, and hundreds of other toxins harmful to humans and marine animals. Already, Bay Area communities suffer the effects of coal exports from two local facilities: the privately-owned Levin-Richmond Terminal and the Port of Stockton.

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 increased freight traffic carrying coal would intensify the air pollution already plaguing West Oakland, threatening local public health and safety. Coal is typically 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.

History of Strong Opposition to Coal Exports from Oakland and California

Rendering of the Oakland Global Trade & Logistics Center.  Photo courtesy of the California Capital & Investment Group.

Rendering of the Oakland Global Trade & Logistics Center. Photo courtesy of the California Capital & Investment Group.

Both the Port and the City have taken unambiguous positions opposing the export of coal from Oakland. CCIG’s secretive project to export Utah coal would go against that precedent — not to mention their own promises to the community — and betray the best interests of the residents of Oakland.

In February of 2014, citing environmental impacts, climate change, public-health hazards, economic pitfalls, and public opposition, Oakland’s Port Commission unanimously rejected Bowie Resource Partners’ proposal for an 8.3-million-ton-per-year bulk-export facility for coal at the city-owned Charles P. Howard Terminal.

In June of 2014, the Oakland City Council passed a resolution opposing the transport of fossil fuels by rail through the city and specifically cited opposition to coal being exported from Oakland. The resolution was the first in the state to address coal and petroleum coke in addition to oil.

In 2012, the State of California — through Assembly Joint Resolution 35 of the state legislature — also stated opposition to coal being exported from the United States to counties with fewer environmental regulations.

Unfortunately, neither the City nor the State can physically stop trains carrying coal at Oakland’s border, as rail is regulated at the federal level. However, these actions demonstrate a clear position that no fossil-fuel-export facilities should be built within the city or Port of Oakland’s jurisdiction.

Broken Promises

This plan to export coal from Oakland Global’s export teminal betrays promises from CCIG President and CEO Phil Tagami not to export coal from this facility. In the December 2013 Oakland Army Base newsletter, Tagami wrote, “It has come to my attention that there are community concerns about a purported plan to develop a coal plant or coal distribution facility as part of the Oakland Global project. This is simply untrue… CCIG is publicly on record as having no interest or involvement in the pursuit of coal-related operations at the former Oakland Army Base.”

Tagami made the same commitment in meetings with the Sierra Club, West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, and Earthjustice. CCIG has broken these promises by courting Big Coal to come to Oakland.

From extraction to transport to burning, coal allows toxic chemicals to enter into communities and the environment causing climate disruption and deadly diseases. Don’t let Big Coal exploit Oakland’s economy, health, and environment: Send a letter to Mayor Libby Schaaf, CCIG President Phil Tagami, and our other public officials today to makes sure they know Oakland won’t stand for a project that would worsen local air quality and threaten climate stability.

On April 28, rally for SF’s clean-energy future!

tumblr_nlw2frt7Ai1urqrqbo4_1280One month from today we’re taking our call for clean and affordable energy to the streets. Join us on Tuesday, April 28th, as we rally outside City Hall to tell San Francisco’s leaders loud and clear: Launch CleanPowerSF this year!

Launching a local renewable-energy program is the single most powerful action San Francisco can take to reduce carbon pollution and help prevent the worst impacts of climate disruption. By transitioning away from dirty fossil fuels to clean alternatives like wind and solar, we’ll help clean up our air and water and leave a healthier planet for future generations. The program will also spur infrastructure development and create thousands of local green jobs: economic opportunities to benefit every San Francisco resident!

We need you now more than ever to push for the swift launch of CleanPowerSF. Earlier this year, Mayor Ed Lee came out in support of the program. But 2015 is an election year and we suspect the mayor’s support is not unconditional. This means we must act now to ensure that CleanPowerSF is well on its way to launch before Election Day on November 3rd, 2015.

Momentum is on our side, but we can’t let this window of opportunity slam shut. We need you standing with us next month to make sure city leaders get the message: San Francisco wants a clean energy alternative now!

WHAT: Rally outside City Hall and then take our message to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission meeting to make sure our support for CleanPowerSF is logged in the public record.

WHERE: San Francisco City Hall (Polk Street Steps), 1 Doctor Carlton B Goodlett Place, San Francisco

WHEN: Tuesday, April 28, 12:30 pm

WHO: A diverse coalition of neighborhood associations, environmental organizations, and community members who share our goals of clean air and water, climate action, and local green jobs

RSVP_Today!_ButtonWith your support, we could all be powered by clean and renewable local power this time next year! See you on the steps of City Hall next month!

Have questions or want to help out? Contact Jess Dervin-Ackerman at jess.dervin-ackerman@sierraclub.org or call 510-848-0800 ext. 304.

Protect Bay Area communities from coal and petcoke pollution

1.4 million tons of coal passed through Contra Costa County in 2014.

1.4 million tons of coal passed through Contra Costa County in 2014.

Did you know that coal and petroleum coke (petcoke, a byproduct of refining dirty crude oil) are being transported through and stored in Bay Area communities? Besides being the worst fuels imaginable for our climate, coal and petcoke dust pollute our water and air, causing asthma, lung cancer, and other deadly diseases. Join us at the Richmond City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 7th, to protect community health and the environment by supporting regulations on these dirty and harmful commodities in our backyard!

WHEN: April 7th, 6 pm

WHAT: Rally and City Council meeting on community protections from coal and petcoke pollution

WHERE: Richmond Council Chambers, 440 Civic Center Plaza, Richmond, CA 94804

We’ve made great strides in moving the U.S. beyond coal, shutting down 187 coal plants nationwide. And thanks to strong environmental advocacy, it’s no longer legal in California to burn petcoke for fuel. But with local markets drying up, the fossil fuel industry is now exporting record amounts of coal and petcoke abroad to countries with lower environmental standards. Whether these dirty fuels are burned here or abroad, the effects of coal and petcoke on global climate will be felt by everyone.

Coal and petcoke are transported through Contra Costa County communities en route to the Levin Richmond Terminal near the Port of Richmond, where towering black piles sit uncovered on the docks waiting to be loaded onto ships destined for Asia. Tiny dust particles from the open-top rail cars, trucks, and storage piles blow into our air and water.

Join us at the Richmond City Council meeting on April 7th to call for covering up the coal and petcoke piles and provide more protection for the community and the environment!

While fossil fuel companies continue to rack up record profits, the people who live near rail lines, refineries, and ports pay the price for their dirty practices. Stand with the Sierra Club and our local partners Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, SF Bay Keeper, and Earthjustice to protect our health, air and water quality, and climate security.

— Ratha Lai, conservation organizer

Exploding trains, backroom deals, and a warming planet: Big Oil is a bad neighbor

The fireball that followed the derailment and explosion of two trains, one carrying Bakken crude oil, on December 30, 2013, outside Casselton, ND. Photo courtesy http://earthjustice.org.

The fireball that followed the derailment and explosion of two trains, one carrying Bakken crude oil, outside Casselton, ND.
Photo courtesy http://earthjustice.org.

The Bay Area has a long and complicated relationship with the oil industry. The region is home to five refineries, the oldest of which started operating in the late 19th century. Chevron, Shell, Phillips 66, Valero, and Tesoro are five of the top seven producers of oil products in California and their Bay Area facilities represent about 40% of the state’s total refining capacity.

As we’ve described in previous articles in this publication, the oil market is changing as the world runs out of accessible crude extracted through “conventional” methods. New grades of “extreme” crudes like Bakken shale oil and Canadian tar sands are extracted through energy-intensive and highly-polluting methods like fracking and clear-cutting forests to mine for tar sands beneath them. All along the journey from the ground to refineries to your car’s fuel tank, extreme fuels leave behind a long list of devastating impacts on climate and public health.

The dangers to public safety are multiplied when extreme oil is transported from its extraction site to refineries by rail. Activists have coined these trains “bomb trains” because when they derail, they tend to explode, incinerating anything in their path and sending fireballs hundreds of feet into the air. There were four train derailments in North America between mid February and mid March, all of which caused explosions that were so intense that emergency responders let the fires burn themselves out instead of fighting them. The derailments in West Virginia and Illinois also spilled large amounts of oil into nearby rivers that provide drinking water to the neighboring communities. The oil and rail industries continue to claim that crude-by-rail accidents are anomalies that are few and far between. With four accidents within one month, those claims cannot be taken seriously.

The Bay Area’s one existing crude-by-rail terminal is operated by Kinder Morgan in the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail yard in Richmond. This terminal was given a permit to operate by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) in late 2012, without any public process or input from local decision makers. The Richmond City Council passed a resolution asking BAAQMD to revoke the permit for this terminal as it poses extreme danger to the community and is in close proximity to the Point Richmond business district, homes, and an elementary school. Many community-based organizations, including the Bay Chapter, have joined the call to revoke this permit.

Until recently, the Kinder Morgan terminal was bringing two 100-car trains of Bakken shale oil to Richmond each month. From Richmond, the unrefined crude was offloaded to trucks and driven to the Tesoro refinery near Martinez. In late November 2014, Kinder Morgan stopped receiving shipments of Bakken shale when the global price of crude oil dropped sharply. Investment in extraction of extreme crudes relies on long-term oil dependence and consistent profits. When global oil prices tanked in the fall and into the winter, the production of these extreme crudes started to become economically unsound. Kinder Morgan still has a permit to operate their crude-by-rail terminal, and can resume bringing dangerous oil trains into Richmond whenever they choose, with no public notice.

The Kinder Morgan facility is just one example of how the oil industry operates in the Bay Area: behind closed doors, with little public process or input, and often in coordination with elected officials whose first priority should be representing the interests of the communities surrounding these refineries — not those of the oil companies.

In addition to the Kinder Morgan terminal, there are several other proposed refinery projects that would bring extreme oil into the Bay Area:

  • a rail spur at the Valero refinery in Benicia;
  • the WesPac mega oil terminal in Pittsburg to bring in crude oil by barge and rail; and
  • a complicated  project to import Canadian tar sands oil by rail for processing at two linked Phillips 66 refineries in Rodeo and San Luis Obispo County (see “Toxic tar sands at center of Phillips 66 plans for Bay Area“).

There was some hope that lower oil prices would cause some of these projects to be delayed or cancelled altogether, but the future of each project is still uncertain. The WesPac project has been in limbo for the past year, while the environmental review for the Valero crude-by-rail project is being recirculated for the third time. The Rodeo portion of the Phillips 66 project was approved last month by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, while the San Luis Obisbo portion has stacked up thousands of letters of opposition as it goes through the environmental review process.

Throughout California, more that 5.5 million people live within the “blast zone”, which spans a quarter mile on either side of the railroad tracks. We’ve seen too many derailments that result in explosions and we know that our air, our water, our health, and our lives are being risked for the profit of the richest industry in the history of the planet. Residents across the state are rising up in opposition to the transport of extreme oil through our communities by rail, by barge, by pipeline, and by truck. Join the movement to keep these dirty and dangerous fuels in the ground. To get involved, email Bay Chapter conservation manager Jess Dervin-Ackerman at jess@sfbaysc.org.

Community Choice energy programs surge across the region

Bay Chapter conservation organizers Jess Dervin Ackerman and Ratha Lai rally for Community Choice energy at the February 2015 March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland.

Bay Chapter conservation organizers Jess Dervin Ackerman and Ratha Lai rally for Community Choice energy at the February 2015 March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland.

Community Choice energy is catching on across the region, confirming the Bay Area’s position as a leader in the transition to a clean-energy economy. Depending where you live, your home or business may already be powered by the cleaner electricity provided by a Community Choice program — and if you’re not right now, it’s just a matter of time.

Community Choice energy (also known as Community Choice Aggregation, or CCA) is an alternative to the old model of the corporate utility monopoly that empowers governments to pool electricity customers to form a local power agency. Communities are thus able to provide power to local customers by purchasing renewable energy on the open market or by investing in local renewable infrastructure. Whereas PG&E relies on electricity from dirty and carbon-intensive sources, Community Choice programs choose clean and renewable power — and the benefits accrue locally, rather than to the shareholders of a for-profit utility like PG&E.

Since Marin Clean Energy (MCE) became California’s first Community Choice energy program in 2010, the power model has spread beyond Marin County as more communities recognize the extensive benefits that Community Choice provides. These benefits include local green jobs and investment in the local economy; cleaner air and a lower carbon footprint; and freedom from the unstable and steadily-increasing costs of electricity generated by fossil fuels.

Marin (and beyond!): a model for the region

3.4.15costcomparisons-RES-650x298Since its founding in 2010, MCE has expanded to cover unincorporated Napa County and the cities of Benicia, El Cerrito, Richmond, and San Pablo. By May of 2015, the program is projected to serve 165,000 customers in three counties.

MCE has been an unambiguous success for customers, the environment, and the local economy, as evidenced by the growing list of cities that wish to join its program. With a base rate that is cheaper and cleaner than PG&E’s, MCE saved its 125,000 customers more than $5.9 million in 2014. The program has created permanent local jobs and contracts for services like information technology and energy efficiency with local companies. Even more jobs are created as part of projects to develop local renewable-energy resources like a 2- to 5-megawatt solar plant at the Port of Richmond, scheduled for completion in 2016. MCE’s sustainable-workforce policy prioritizes fair compensation and support for local businesses, union labor, and apprenticeship programs — policies that are good for individual workers and the economy as a whole.

People who live in MCE’s service area are automatically enrolled in the “Light Green” 50-percent-renewable energy program. Residents or business customers who have the resources and desire to do more for the environment can opt up to “Deep Green” 100-percent-renewable energy. Deep Green costs only a penny more per kilowatt-hour than Light Green rates, so for most residential customers, the additional cost is less than $5 per month. In addition to slashing their carbon footprint, customers who opt up to 100-percent-renewable energy also support the development of new, local renewable-energy projects; half of the revenue from the Deep Green premium is directed to a local renewable-development fund for projects like the Port of Richmond solar installation.

MCE is launching a second 100-percent-clean energy choice called Local Sol that will draw its power from local solar installations. In its initial phase, Local Sol is limited to 200 participants. If you live in MCE’s service area and you want to learn more about opting up to either Deep Green or Local Sol, visit www.mcecleanenergy.org/power-choices.

Contra Costa County: a growing call for Community Choice

CCA_SolarPanel_constructionSince we last wrote about Community Choice in this publication last fall, three more cities in Contra Costa County have joined Marin Clean Energy. In February, enrollment notices for residents of El Cerrito, Benicia, and San Pablo landed in mailboxes, alerting them that they’ll soon be automatically enrolled in the clean-energy program.

Lafayette may be the next city in Contra Costa County to jump on the MCE bandwagon. The city’s Environmental Task Force has recommended that the city council authorize a feasibility study to evaluate joining Marin Clean Energy. Walnut Creek took this step last year. And in a discussion about its climate action plan in December, the Walnut Creek City Council decided to work to persuade the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors to establish a county-wide Community Choice energy program. Certainly, with more and more cities jumping ship for MCE, Contra Costa County should consider the option.

A county-wide Community Choice program would benefit the county in many ways. It would mean that cities like Lafayette would not have to bear the cost of feasibility studies on their own. In addition, there are many unincorporated areas within Contra Costa County — such as Rodeo, Crocket, and Kensington — that do not have the option of establishing their own Community Choice programs  but might wish to join one. Add on the benefits to the environment and the local economy and it’s clear that establishing a Community Choice energy program in Contra Costa County would be a major step toward creating more sustainable, responsible, and resilient communities.

Alameda County: steady progress

8961efbc-3966-49b5-b5af-976f00dcd604Last June, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to take the first steps in establishing a Community Choice program, allocating $1.3 million in funding for an exploratory phase. Since then, the county’s Transportation and Planning Committee has reviewed many elements that will shape the program, including its goals, structure, and the role and composition of the advisory committee. The County’s Transportation and Planning Committee has stated a goal of launching the program as soon as possible, with a current estimated launch date of early 2017.

The East Bay Clean Power Alliance, of which the Bay Chapter is a member, has been closely following this process to ensure that Alameda County’s program emphasizes community participation, development of local renewable resources, and the creation of local clean-energy jobs.

County staff have just begun developing the application process for the advisory committee and are expecting the committee’s membership to be finalized by the end of March. The advisory committee will consist of Supervisors’ appointees and representatives of cities and other entities that are interested in participating in the Community Choice program.

San Francisco: unexpected breakthrough

IMG_0869After years of blocking progress on CleanPowerSF, this January San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee dropped his opposition to the city’s Community Choice program, allowing it to finally move forward. The success of the program is not assured, however; 2015 is an election year and we suspect the mayor’s support is not unconditional. This means we must ensure that CleanPowerSF is well on its way to launch and unable to be stalled or thwarted before Election Day on November 4th, 2015. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), which oversees the program, has pledged to launch CleanPowerSF by the end of the year. At present, however, it appears that the SFPUC is moving too slowly to meet that goal.

The SFPUC has decided to adopt a two-tiered pricing structure like that of Marin Clean Energy, which the Sierra Club has advocated for several years. Under this pricing structure, CleanPowerSF will sell two types of electricity. The base level, into which all customers will be automatically enrolled, will be generated from 50 percent renewable energy and will sell for less than PG&E’s standard, dirtier electricity. The low price will help keep customers in the program. CleanPowerSF will also offer a 100-percent renewable option for an as-yet-undetermined price.

Unfortunately, the SFPUC is delaying the formal setting of the program’s maximum electricity rates. Despite Commissioner Francesca Vietor calling for rates to be set in February, the SFPUC has put off this step — a prerequisite to getting CleanPowerSF up and running.

The Sierra Club will rally at 12:30 pm on Tuesday, April 28,  at San Francisco City Hall to ask the SFPUC to end the delays and finally provide a clean energy choice for San Francisco after 12 long years. Learn more here.

WhatYouCanDo

Want to advocate for Community Choice in your community? Add your name at www.bayareaenergychoice.org and we’ll be in touch with opportunities for you to make a difference.

Toxic tar sands at center of Phillips 66 plans for Bay Area

Forest and Mine Site

Canada’s boreal forest before and after tar sands mining.

As reported in the December-January Yodeler (read “Your help needed to protect California from the next oil-by-rail disaster”), energy giant Phillips 66 is fighting to upgrade its two-part San Francisco Refinery so that it can join the growing list of Bay Area refineries that receive and process highly toxic and explosive grades of “extreme” crude oil. Canadian tar sands oil is the crude grade intended for this project. Tar sands, or oil sands, come out of the ground as a solid mix of sand, clay, water, and bitumen — the most dense and viscous form of petroleum —which must then be diluted with highly-flammable solvents for transport. If the Phillips 66 project is approved, the diluted crude would travel south in mile-long trains, coming down the Feather River Canyon, over the delta, through Bay Area communities, and southward along the coast to the Santa Maria refinery. After being partially refined there, solvent-dissolved tar sands products would be sent back north through a 200-mile pipeline to the Rodeo refinery for production of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and recovery of propane and butane.

If approved, the project to bring Canadian tar sands to the Bay Area would threaten air quality, climate security, and public safety. Despite widespread outcry from communities living along the rail lines and in the shadows of the two refineries, the plan continues to gain approvals necessary to proceed. On February 4th, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors gave nearly-unanimous approval for a land-use permit for the Rodeo portion of the two-refinery project, with only District 1 supervisor John Gioia dissenting.

Phillips 66 has sought to minimize the perceived impacts of their plan by presenting these two proposed projects “piecemeal,” as if they were two distinct or separate projects. The company sought approvals for the changes it will need to make in order to switch to tar sands via at least five separate environmental reviews processes in two counties. This misleading practice is expressly prohibited under the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires the environmental impacts of all new projects or modifications be considered. As a result of the “piecemeal” approach, communities have to fight this project in both Contra Costa and San Luis Obispo Counties.

In early March, three separate lawsuits were filed against Contra Costa County and Phillips 66 — by Communities for a Better Environment, the Rodeo Citizens Association, and Safe Fuel Energy Resources of California, which represents the United Steel Workers union members at the Rodeo refinery — on exactly this rationale: that by failing to consider the linked refineries’ two projects as pieces of a larger plan to import and process tar sands they were underestimating its impacts on air pollution, climate, and safety.

Phillips 66 has been deliberately unclear about the true goal of these interrelated refinery upgrade projects: that being to enable them to switch from the type of crude being processed from a more “conventional” mixture of oils (supplies of which are dwindling worldwide) to cheaper Canadian tar sands. It is only through community groups’ and activists’ consistent watchdogging and digging deeper into the details that we know that Phillips 66 is switching over to the much more dangerous crude stock.

Canadian tar sands oil is one of the world’s dirtiest forms of fuel. Here are some of the facts:

  • Refining one barrel of oil from tar sands produces two-to-three times more climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions than refining a barrel of conventional oil.
  • Processing tar sands oil releases pollutants directly linked to asthma, emphysema, and birth defects into our air and water. Tar sands oil contains toxic heavy metals, including 11 times more sulfur and nickel, six times more nitrogen, and five times more lead than conventional crude oil.
  • The derailment of a train carrying tar sands could start a fire that would burn for days, creating toxic air pollution, or spill into our waterways and pollute drinking water and precious ecological resources.
  • Super-heated, high sulfur, acidic tar sands is a perfect storm for accelerated corrosion that can lead to refinery explosions and fires, like the one that occurred at the Chevron Richmond refinery in August of 2012.
  • The process of releasing propane, gasoline, diesel, and other products from tar sands produces large quantities of petroleum coke (also known as petcoke), a solid waste product of the refining process that is exported and burned overseas as a cheap, yet more toxic, fuel source. Acid rain, anyone?

Given these facts, it only seems right that plans to import and refine Canadian tar sands should be shared openly with the public and subject to open debate. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Phillips 66 is already the most polluting refinery in California; and according to the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, Rodeo already has one of the highest asthma rates in the Bay Area. It’s time to stand up to Phillips 66 and fight for our health, safety, and climate.

WhatYouCanDo

Thousands of Californians have already sent in comments to the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors telling them to reject the second half of this dangerous project at the Santa Maria refinery. But letters will not be enough if we’re going to win this one. We’ll need as many people as possible to join us in San Luis Obispo to testify to the Planning Commission when they consider whether to approve this filthy project. The meeting should be scheduled for some time in April or May. To receive our notification about the hearing, make sure you are on the Bay Chapter’s email list. Go to www.sierraclub.org/sfbay/email and sign up for our “General” list. For specific information on this project or to get more involved with the Bay Chapter’s campaign against hazardous fossil fuels by rail, contact conservation organizer Ratha Lai at (510)848-0800 x 328 or ratha.lai@sierraclub.org.

— Charles Davidson

Richmond leads the fight against corporate money in elections

On March 11th, Sierra Club staff and volunteers stood outside Chevron’s Richmond refinery alongside community members, social-justice advocates, and local elected officials to announce the introduction of a shareholders resolution that would prevent the company from dumping money into the America’s elections. The resolution will be considered at Chevron’s annual shareholder meeting in May and is part of a growing movement of Americans fighting to take back our air, water, climate, and democracy from mega-polluters like Chevron and other corporate interests who try to buy their way our of regulation.

chevron shareholdersIn 2014, Chevron dumped over three million dollars into the election for four seats on the Richmond city council and the mayorship. Chevron bought a small army of canvassers, took over every billboard in the city, and flooded mailboxes with political advertising that featured an ugly smear campaign against the progressive Team Richmond candidates. Despite being outspent 20-1, the Sierra Club-endorsed candidates swept the election on their promise to hold the fossil fuel giant accountable for health, safety, and environmental transgressions at the local refinery.

Chevron’s obscene spending exemplifies the growing influence of corporations in our elections following the infamous Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, allowing corporations to be considered on equal footing as people when it comes to campaign donations. And Chevron’s political spending goes far beyond the election in Richmond. “Chevron has spent millions of dollars to try and roll back state and federal regulations to the detriment of our climate, our environment, our communities, and even the safety of their own workers,” said Bay Chapter director Michelle Myers as she announced the Sierra Club’s support of the shareholder resolution. “Unlimited corporate spending distorts our democracy and takes away the power of the people to fight polluters and transition to a clean-energy economy.”

We know that unchecked, Chevron will only continue to increase its political spending – in Richmond and anywhere else Chevron’s interests are challenged. Chevron’s bottom line is profit at any cost, which is inherently at odds with the basic needs and wants of our communities like Richmond: clean air, clean water, a stable climate, food to eat, and safe and reliable jobs. Richmond is far from the only company town dealing with deep-pocketed industry whose interests clash with those of the community and the environment. Getting the shareholder resolution passed is a long shot, but it is just one tactic in a larger campaign to educate and engage voters nationwide. And given what we saw in Richmond in November, there’s reason to be optimistic.

Richmond’s is a tale of two cities: one fighting fiercely to maintain an aging institution whose product threatens our climate, our health, and our very lives, and the other taking steps to move to a more equitable and just clean-energy future. Indeed, even as the refinery seeks to make the “upgrades” necessary to process higher-sulfur crude oil—a process that results in more toxic contaminants and carbon pollution being spewed into the air—Richmond’s residents and businesses are benefiting from renewable electricity from the state’s first Community Choice energy program, Marin Clean Energy. This is proof that a government elected by and for the people can serve the community’s best interests.

Ratha Lai

Bay Chapter advocates for stricter smog regulations to clean up California’s air

EPA smogLate last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to update the nation’s air quality standards for ground-level ozone — otherwise known as smog — based on extensive scientific evidence of its impacts on human health and the environment. Smog pollution, largely driven by the burning of fossil fuels, can trigger respiratory problems like asthma attacks, nervous system disorders and cardiovascular problems. Over time, exposure can lead to permanent lung damage and even premature death.

The proposed updates will improve public health protections, particularly for sensitive populations like children, the elderly, and people suffering from lung diseases such as asthma. The EPA estimates that lowering allowed levels of smog to a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion would prevent 320,000 to 960,000 asthma attacks and up to one million missed school days by 2025. The Sierra Club urges the EPA to go even further, lowering allowed smog levels to 60 parts per billion. You can read the full text of the EPA’s proposed rule at http://tinyurl.com/epasmog.

The EPA held public forums on the proposed updates in three places across the United States: Washington, D.C., Austin, Texas, and Sacramento, California. According to the American Lung Association, California cities have the dirtiest air in the nation, so we knew we had to pack the hearing room with hundreds of people demanding clean air. The SF Bay Chapter, in coordination with Sierra Club entities from Southern California all the way to Washington, joined together to bring over 300 community members impacted by smog to attend the hearing in Sacramento and testify in favor of lowering allowed smog levels. In addition to bringing community leaders including recently-elected Richmond City Councilmember Eduardo Martinez, the Bay Chapter also filled a bus with approximately 50 fifth graders from an Oakland elementary school to pack the hearing room and show support for the EPA’s proposal.

Many of the Sierra Club representatives were young people of color, who are disproportionately impacted by industrial pollution; one recent study from the University of Minnesota found that on average, non-whites inhale 38 percent higher levels of air pollution than whites.

A memorable moment with the fifth graders was walking off the bus in Sacramento as they began chanting all by themselves: “What do we want? Clean air! When do we want it? NOW!” Despite their enthusiasm and energy, by the time we went into the hearing room they were respectful and quiet, demonstrating by their presence and their “I Love Clean Air” t-shirts that they respected the regulatory system in charge of protecting their air — and wanted it to reflect their needs.

For these fifth graders, the event was a powerful demonstration of their right to “peaceably assemble” and “petition the Government for a redress of Grievances.” This trip undoubtedly instilled a civic culture of grassroots participation in these young Americans.

Ratha Lai

Help determine the future of oil extraction in Alameda County

10984045_10152492757977723_3580958582661980563_nUPDATE: The Alameda County Planning Commission hearing on the anti-fracking ordinance has been rescheduled for Monday, May 4. See details below.

Alameda County has joined the fight against fracking. In September, the Transportation and Planning Committee of the Board of Supervisors took action directing staff to draft an ordinance to protect the county from any risky new oil drilling activity. The staff came back in January with a creative and comprehensive proposal, not simply addressing fracking, but also the overall issue of expanded oil exploration and extraction.

In California, counties and municipalities have the responsibility to regulate land use. This includes the right to issue conditional use permits to cover special uses of land for activities that would not be otherwise be allowed within a zoning district. Under the current East County Area Plan (ECAP) and the Alameda County Zoning Ordinance (ACZO), conditional use permits can be granted for oil and gas operations. Under the proposed changes to the zoning regulations, such conditional use permits would no longer be available. This change would be accomplished by removing all references in ECAP and ACZO to oil and gas exploration and extraction.

Predictably, opposition has surfaced. E&B Natural Resources, the only active well operator in Alameda County, has objected to any limitation on its operations despite declaring it has no plans to practice fracking on its current wells in the County. Under the proposal, E&B would not be allowed to drill new wells, though it would continue to possess a valid permit allowing the company to extract oil from its existing wells. Also coming out against the proposed changes were the California Cattlemen’s Association and Californians for Energy Independence.

thisoneIn their submission to the Board of Supervisors, Californians for Energy Independence — a coalition funded by the petroleum industry  to advocate against restrictions on oil production — advised rejection of the changes and adoption of a “wait and see” approach. As rationale for delaying county regulation, the group made the disingenuous claim that regulation at the state level can better protect the environment, through new procedures being developed by the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR). Yet, as recent news reports have described, the same state agency permitted protected, potable water aquifers in Kern County to be contaminated with saline produced water and waste water from fracked wells. E&B Natural Resources was one of several firms recently ordered by DOGGR to shut down waste water injection wells in Kern County.

However small the current footprint of fossil fuel extraction in Alameda County, any increase in such operations would build its own momentum and increase resistance to environmental oversight. The proposal would obviate the need to fight this battle permit by permit — a battle that no one should have to wage in an era of drought and climate change.

WhatYouCanDo

Opponents of fracking need to attend every public hearing that takes up this proposal. Look to the Chapter’s Activities and Events calendar online for updates. As it currently stands, the Alameda County Planning Commission will hold its second hearing on the matter at the County offices in Hayward at 224 West Winton Ave., Room 160 Auditorium at 6 pm on Monday, May 4.

Questions? Contact Rebecca Franke at dontfrackcal@gmail.com.

— Rebecca Franke