February 9, 2016

Hundreds urge Planning Commission to deny Phillips 66′s dangerous oil train proposal

Hundreds gathered for a rally during the lunch break on the first day of the Planning Commission hearing (photo courtesy of Vanessa Tsimoyianis)

Hundreds gathered for a rally during the lunch break on the first day of the Planning Commission hearing (photo courtesy of Vanessa Tsimoyianis)

On February 4th and 5th, hundreds of people from across California converged on downtown San Luis Obispo to urge county planning commissioners to reject Phillips 66′s proposal to build an oil train terminal at its Santa Maria refinery.  The oil giant seeks to transport tar sands crude from Canada in mile-long trains — each laden with over 2 million gallons of dirty crude — that would travel through hundreds of communities before arriving at the refinery on California’s Central Coast.

By Thursday afternoon, nearly 400 people had signed up to speak at the Planning Commission hearing.  The local paper reported that it was the largest turnout for a public hearing in years.  The crowds were so large that the historic movie theater next door had to be used for overflow seating.  People came not just from San Luis Obispo County but also from farther afield: Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Sacramento, Fresno, Santa Barbara, and other towns and cities that would be put at risk by oil trains rolling through their communities.  Oil train derailments and explosions have skyrocketed in recent years.  The most catastrophic accident occurred in Lac-Megantic, Canada in July 2013, when an oil train derailment caused a fiery explosion that killed 47 people and obliterated several city blocks.

At the start of the hearing, Phillips 66 announced that it had downsized its proposal from 5 oil trains per week to 3 trains per week.  Phillips conceded that this new proposal would have many of the same “significant and unavoidable impacts” to human health and the environment as the original proposal, particularly along the rail line.  But the company espoused an opportunistic (and flimsy) argument that federal regulation of railroads means the commissioners can only consider impacts at the refinery site — not the risks posed to hundreds of communities that the unsafe oil trains would rumble through on their way from Canada to the Santa Maria refinery. 

On the first day of the hearing, the Planning Commission heard from 83 members of the public.  Every single speaker opposed the project.

The speakers included elected officials such as San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx, Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, and staffers speaking on behalf of State Senators Bill Monning and Hannah-Beth Jackson, State Assemblymember Das Williams, and officials from nearby towns including Oxnard and Goleta.  From the Bay Area, where oil trains would pass through on their way to the Phillips 66 refinery, staffers spoke against the project on behalf of elected officials from Santa Clara County, San Jose, and Berkeley.

Santa Barbara mayor Helene Schneider addresses the crowd at the rally

Santa Barbara mayor Helene Schneider addresses the crowd at the rally

A lunchtime rally further highlighted the overwhelming public opposition to Phillips 66′s project.  More than 500 people gathered in the plaza across the street from the hearing, many wearing t-shirts and waving signs bearing the message “Stop Oil Trains Now.”  As they alternated between listening to speakers and cheering, the rally participants lived up to the directive on one attendee’s sign to “Stand Up to Big Oil.”  Among the rally speakers were Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider and Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal.

This trend of overwhelming opposition to the project continued on the second day of the hearing.  Although a handful of people spoke in support (primarily Phillips 66 employees), they were far outnumbered by people urging the Planning Commission to deny the project.  This imbalance is nothing new.  Of the approximately 24,500 comment letters received on the project during the environmental review process, only about 150 were in support.  The county has also received dozens of comments from state and local governmental officials, counties, cities, schools and fire protection districts opposing the plan to transport crude by rail through their communities.

At the hearing, the citizens who urged the Planning Commission to deny the project included residents of San Luis Obispo and Nipomo Mesa (where the refinery is located), nurses and physicians, a retired firefighter, students and teachers, San Jose and Davis residents who would be affected by the oil trains rolling through their communities, a retired chemical engineering professor, a zookeeper, parents and grandparents (and even a great-grandparent), a retired CFO, and representatives of groups including the Sierra Club, ForestEthics, Center for Biological Diversity, Surfrider Foundation, Mesa Refinery Watch Group, Santa Barbara Channelkeepers, the League of Women Voters, and the California Nurses Association.

Rally participants listen to a speaker, across the street from overflow seating in the Fremont Theater

Rally participants listen to a speaker, across the street from overflow seating in the Fremont Theater

Attorneys from the Sierra Club, Communities for a Better Environment, and Environmental Defense Center also spoke, addressing deficiencies in the final environmental impact report and the project’s inconsistency with the Local Coastal Plan and General Plan, as well as refuting Phillips 66′s argument that the preemption doctrine precludes the Commission from considering impacts on “up-rail” communities.  (Notably, the company has also said it believes that preemption prevents the county from regulating rail terminals or unloading facilities — which signals that if allowed to build the oil train terminal under the 3 train per week proposal, Phillips 66 would later argue that the county is prohibited from limiting the number of trains.)

At the hearing, many of the speakers urged the Planning Commission to follow the recommendation of its own staff, which recently issued a report recommending denial of the project.  The staff report noted the significant local, regional, and statewide concern regarding toxic air emissions, risk of derailment and explosion, and inadequate emergency response services along the rail line.  The staff report also pointed out that the environmental impact report for the project concluded that there would be “significant and unavoidable” impacts from diesel particulate matter and toxic air emissions at the refinery (including an unacceptable cancer risk for the population near the project), as well as ten ”significant and unavoidable” impacts along the rail line (including impacts to agricultural resources, air quality, biological resources, cultural resources, hazards, public services, and water resources).

Andrew Christie, Chapter Director of the Sierra Club's Santa Lucia Chapter, speaking to the Planning Commission

Andrew Christie, Chapter Director of the Sierra Club’s Santa Lucia Chapter, speaking to the Planning Commission

The Sierra Club and our allies have played a critical role in the environmental review process for the project, helping to ensure that the project’s impacts are thoroughly analyzed.  We submitted comments on the draft environmental impact report in January 2014, which led the county to do another round of environmental review, which we also commented on.  In addition, represented by Environmental Defense Center, we submitted comments highlighting the project’s inconsistency with critical Local Coastal Program policies.

As the second day of the hearing drew to a close, many people who had signed up to speak had not yet had a chance to do so.  The Planning Commission continued the hearing to February 25 for additional public comment.  Once the public comment process is complete, there will be a staff response, an opportunity for questions from the Commission (including questions for agencies such as Cal Fire), deliberations, and finally a Planning Commission decision.  That decision can be appealed to the County Board of Supervisors, whose decision could then be appealed to the California Coastal Commission.  Notably, on February 3, Coastal Commission staff sent a letter to the Planning Commission stating that it “strongly agree[s] with and support[s]” the planning staff’s recommendation to deny the project.

The people have spoken, and their message to the Planning Commission is clear: put the public before oil industry profits, and deny this project.  As the editorial board of the San Luis Obispo Tribune wrote in a recent editorial: ”we cannot support a project that would increase rail shipments of crude oil through communities in San Luis Obispo County, or any other county. There are too many risks and too many unanswered questions.”  And as a Paso Robles High School student told the Planning Commission at the hearing: “oil trains are dinosaurs and dinosaurs belong in museums.”

Read more about the hearings:

– Elly Benson, Sierra Club attorney

All eligible Contra Costa cities vote to move ahead with Community Choice energy study

CTA-CA-335599On Tuesday, Brentwood became the 16th of 16 eligible Contra Costa cities to agree to release its PG&E electrical load to the county and participate in a countywide Community Choice Energy Technical (“Feasibility”) Study. The Brentwood City Council’s vote was unanimous, and much to the surprise of many, they pledged a maximum of $30,000 as a contribution to sharing the cost of the study. This is larger than any city so far when compared with $15,000 pledged by both Danville and Pleasant Hill, $20,000 pledged by Walnut Creek, and $25,000 by Concord. According to Jason Crapo, Deputy Director of the county’s Department of Conservation and Development, three other cities unofficially indicated a willingness to share the costs without discussing a specific dollar amount: Pinole, Orinda, and San Ramon.

A report of the survey of all 16 cities will be discussed at the county Board of Supervisors’ Internal Operations Committee (members John Gioia and Candace Andersen) led by Mr. Crapo in consultation with Seth Baruch and Tom Kelly of Lean Energy on Monday, February 29th, midday.

Several Contra Costa cities have also simultaneously applied to join Marin Clean Energy (MCE), whose period of inclusion ends March 31st. MCE requires both a proposition and ordinance to have passed the first of two readings before that date. The cities exploring both Community Choice options include Pinole, Oakley, Brentwood, Walnut Creek, and Lafayette. On Monday night, Lafayette voted unanimously to approve a first reading of a proposition and ordinance to join MCE — the first Contra Costa city to do so since El Cerrito and San Pablo did so in 2014.

If a Contra Costa Community Choice energy program goes forward, it will likely benefit from the same very favorable energy market as is the case for San Francisco and San Mateo as they write their current energy contracts. Per San Mateo’s tech study, their predicted profit the first year will be 4%, more than enough to negate the recent PCIA fee increase. However, due to its older contracts made at a time when energy (both from fossil fuels and renewable sources) was more expensive, MCE customers are now paying more than they would for standard PG&E service, both for the Light Green and Deep Green service, if you include the increased cost of the PCIA (this would not be true if it weren’t for the increased cost of the PCIA).

Although many current MCE customers share the priority of the choice of clean energy and lowering greenhouse gases rather than saving money, this increased cost may be more of a concern for new customers.

The point being that Community Choice energy programs assembling contracts in the current energy market are at an advantage compared to the “old” program, MCE. This adds one more reason that a Contra Costa program is a better choice for its member cities. And it is an added reason that the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors should move forward without delay.

Read more in “Contra Costa cities push forward with Community Choice energy“.

– Carol Weed, MD, Contra Costa Clean Energy Alliance

Notes from Paris: a Sierra Club member reports back from the climate conference

Dervin at the 2015 United Nations Climate Conference in Paris.

Dervin at the 2015 United Nations Climate Conference in Paris.

Kathy Dervin, a Berkeley resident and active member of Sierra Club SF Bay Chapter and 350 Bay Area, spent ten days in Paris for COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference. She also attended COP20 in Lima in 2014. Dervin reflects  on key points, opportunities, and challenges within and beyond the UN Paris Agreement on Climate Change:

  • The Sierra Club had a delegation of about 80 people there: staff, national board members (including new President Aaron Meir), volunteers, their negotiation team, Sierra Student Coalition, and Director Michael Brune. I was extremely impressed by how the Sierra Club functioned there, they got a LOT press coverage, were all over the place, especially Beyond Coal and at the local mayor’s events, inside and outside the COP.  They did 3-4 briefings for any Sierra Club members who wanted to hear what was going on inside the negotiations. They put out a daily list of events which was really valuable since there were SO many different things happening all over Paris. My respect for the Sierra Club has grown through this experience seeing that they take their local members seriously. They are, after all, a membership organization.
  • The goal is to keep temperature increase “well below 2C with efforts to be undertaken to get to 1.5C.” The call for 1.5C goes back to COP16 (in Cancun in 2010), but was barely taken seriously last year in Lima, so this was a big shift. But how realistic is it and what will it take to get there? (Some scientists say it is not attainable without peaking world emissions by 2030 and then having negative emissions.)
  • All but 8 countries submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (aka INDCs, which outline post-2020 climate actions they intend to take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions), which makes the agreement almost universal. The combined commitments of the INDCs is still leading to between 2.7-4 degrees Celsius, so those are just words so far.
  • The whole world made a COMMITMENT (of sorts) to tackle climate change together. Ratcheting up those commitments frequently (every 5 years was agreed) is necessary to meet long-term goals (decarbonization by 2050?).
  • The Agreement’s preamble contains important “principles” language, but then those issues disappear in most of the text. For example, indigenous rights was removed from the text after the preamble.
  • Developed countries said they would help pay, but only so much, and with no substantial new money offered for the Green Climate Fund. Loss and Damage is in there but not well supported. Highly vulnerable countries and island nations are still very vulnerable, but some of them have formed a new group, Coalition of Vulnerable 20 (V-20), with the Philippines as the head, to fight for their rights and help one another.
  • Developing countries will be required to do more, but say they need more finance, technical assistance, access to clean energy, and help with adaptation. Where will that help come from? And what strings will be attached?
  • Cities, regions, states/provinces, and business were recognized more than ever before, and put on a lot of events to show what they are actually doing to bring their commitments into reality. Lots of energy there! (Literally, like Marin Clean Energy and LEAN Energy; Marin Carbon Reserve also did several events on waste/compost and soil.)
  • Civil society and political/rights organizers including indigenous people (IEN), many faith groups, CAN-International, transit, women, youth, LGBTQ, health, environmental, climate justice and climate action groups, labor, foundations, and regional groups put on hundreds of side events, teach-ins, organizing sessions, forums, concerts, to meet, exchange strategies, and build the movements across the many cross-issues that climate change touches. This makes us stronger in many ways.
  • The calls for keeping fossil fuels in the ground, divesting, ending fossil fuel subsidies, ending fossil fuel hegemony — especially around COAL, but also oil and natural gas —were loud and frequent.
  • We all got more prepared for the road after Paris. Despite severe restrictions imposed by French authorities, people DID meet, gather, march, and protest, but in much reduced numbers than had been planned for.
  • We were reminded that “free trade” deals from the WTO, NAFTA to TPP and TTIP seriously undermine our efforts to protect workers rights, health, non-GMOs, promote clean energy, and to take action on climate change. WTO is being used by corporate interests even to stop local clean energy initiatives and the UN climate agreement could be challenged under these trade agreements. Fighting the adoption of TPP/TTIP is still very important.
  • The battle over climate change action in the US is at home for us. Just look at what the House and Senate are trying to do, let alone the erstwhile Republican presidential candidates. It’s scary. We are not alone. Look at how much Canada has changed in one short month with the election of Justin Trudeau!
  • What happens in California on climate matters — a lot of people look to the state as an example of what can be done. Senator Kevin de León spoke at a number of events, and so did others from the state delegation. We need to keep pushing to transition our state’s own extensive fossil fuel infrastructure, work with and protect frontline communities from harm they are experiencing NOW, fight to protect local access to rooftop solar and local clean energy alliances (Community Choice Energy/Aggregation), and a just transition for communities, workers, and future generations.
  • Where and how does system change intersect with climate change prevention (same root causes for pollution, injustice/inequity, and climate change) and how can the broader connections be made when the US seems more polarized than ever?
  • 2016 will be a very busy year, so stay tuned and find a way to get involved that works for you. We need you!

– Kathy Dervin

New rules will reduce refinery emissions 14%, but don’t go far enough to protect public health, environment

tesoro refineryRight before the holidays, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District unanimously adopted three new rules designed to limit air pollution from the Bay Area’s five oil refineries. This action was the first tangible progress toward fulfilling the Air District’s October 2014 resolution to reduce refinery emissions 20% by 2020. Together, the three new rules are supposed to reduce emissions by 14%.

The new rules, which go into effect in 2017, will require finding and fixing equipment leaks and clean-up of refinery equipment (cooling towers and catalytic crackers). These rules are the low-hanging fruit for emissions controls; indeed, similar controls on catalytic crackers have been in place in Southern California for years. Focusing on “source-by-source” regulations of individual equipment ignores the overall picture of what’s spewing into nearby communities and the atmosphere.

These rules also fail to protect our communities and planet from increased refinery emissions from dirtier crude oil like tar sands. Club members and supporters, environmentalists, professionals, nurses, doctors, teachers, families, and more flooded the Air District’s December meeting to protest the “staff’s proposal” and demand numeric caps in the first quarter of 2016. The Air District staff proposal included exemptions for greenhouse gases and loopholes for the industry. Fortunately, it was rescinded thanks to thousands of online comments and over 100 in-person public comments. Air District Board member and Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia firmly requested that the staff study and write the refinery caps rule we have been asking for by a May 2016 deadline. We are pushing for the Air District to fulfill its public mandate and go after toxic air contaminants — like Ultrafine Particulate Matter and the 20+ other pollutants co-released in the combustion of greenhouse gases — that contribute to the air quality disparities in Contra Costa County and the Bay Area.

So long as there are no caps in place, Air District staff can approve refinery expansion permits that will allow refineries to bring in and refine more highly polluting grades of extreme crude oil. This dire situation is highlighted by the current crude-by-rail projects being pursued by Valero Benicia and the two-part Phillips 66 San Francisco Refinery. These projects would bring explosive, fracked Bakken crude and toxic tar sands, respectively (see page 13 for updates on both). That’s why we’re on calling on Air District board members to freeze permitting for new refinery projects until numeric, refinery-wide emissions caps are in place.

Refineries are pushing to trade public health and the environment for profits. Stay tuned for opportunities in the new year to push back.

– Ratha Lai, conservation organizer

Contra Costa cities push forward with Community Choice energy

rtaImageRight now, Contra Costa County is officially exploring whether to adopt Community Choice, the innovative energy model that is sweeping through the Bay Area. Community Choice empowers California’s municipalities to take control of their energy futures by creating local power agencies. By ditching the dirty power of the for-profit utility monopoly, we can choose clean, renewable (and affordable!) energy — drastically reducing our communities’ carbon footprint.

On top of the environmental benefits, Community Choice creates family-sustaining clean-energy jobs, spurs local economic development, and reinvests revenues back into the community. What’s not to love?

Today, Contra Costa County is dominated by oil refineries that pollute the air, endanger public health, and threaten global climate. Community Choice will set Contra Costa on a different and better course: its numerous industrial brownfields will take on new life as sites of solar and wind generation; thousands of county residents will find new work in energy efficiency, construction, and other green job fields; and consumers will be freed from unstable and steadily-increasing costs of electricity generated from fossil fuels.

In January, a number of city councils in Contra Costa County are taking important votes on whether to participate in the County’s study on Community Choice energy. As of the date of printing, 14 cities have agreed to join the study; no city has declined. When cities agree to participate, they authorize the release of their PG&E load data — the key to calculating the amount of energy that would need to be purchased and what rates would need to be set to make the Community Choice program profitable. City support adds to the momentum behind this game-changing energy model.

Marin, Sonoma, Alameda, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara Counties, as well as unincorporated Napa County and the cities of Benicia, El Cerrito, Richmond, and San Pablo are all served by Community Choice energy programs or are actively moving toward that goal. Let’s make sure Contra Costa isn’t left behind!

WhatYouCanDo

This is a critical moment to speak out if you want to help Contra Costa take control of its energy future; if you live in Contra Costa (except anyone in Benicia, El Cerrito, Richmond, or San Pablo, which are in Marin Clean Energy’s service area) write to your city council members today and help Contra Costa join the rest of the Bay Area in reaping the benefits of Community Choice. Send your message online here.

Save the Date: On Monday, February 29th, the results of the survey of cities’ interest in Community Choice will be presented to the open meeting of the Board of Supervisors’ Internal Operations Committee. Save the date and stay tuned for more information on our turn-out efforts for that meeting.

With power supply contracts signed, nothing stands between SF and clean, local energy

Applauding the signing of the first power supply agreement contracts at the SFPUC.

Applauding the signing of the first power supply agreement contracts at the SFPUC.

On January 12th, following the Commissioners’ unanimous approval, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission general manager Harlan Kelly signed the first power-purchase contract to officially launch CleanPowerSF. The city’s new default energy provider will have a cleaner energy mix and lower rates than those of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and begins service to customers on May 1st.

Both commercial and residential customers anywhere in San Francisco can now pre-enroll in CleanPowerSF at cleanpowersf.org. The SFPUC will automatically begin enrolling customers in phases, starting in the city’s Southeast, but there’s no need to wait for them to come to you — pre-enroll today to jump to the front of the line and start getting cleaner power as soon as the program launches!

If you enroll in CleanPowerSF’s basic “Green” program, 33-50% of your power will come from clean and renewable sources. If you want to do even more for the environment, for just a few dollars more each month, CleanPowerSF will lower your carbon footprint to ZERO when you choose “SuperGreen”: the 100% renewable energy option.

Not only is SuperGreen some of the cleanest electricity available in California, but since CleanPowerSF is not-for-profit, your ratepayer funds will be reinvested locally in energy efficiency programs and new, renewable-energy infrastructure. This is how we create jobs and build a sustainable community.

Already enrolled early for CleanPowerSF? Double-down on your commitment to clean energy by encouraging your friends and neighbors around the City to join, too. The faster we grow participation in CleanPowerSF, the sooner our community can move toward energy independence and curb our impact on climate change.

Two chances to block explosive oil trains — Public hearings on Phillips 66 and Valero Benicia crude-by-rail projects

47 people were killed in the 2013 crude-by-rail accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.

47 people were killed in the 2013 crude-by-rail accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.

We’re nearing decisive moments on two campaigns to stop dirty and dangerous extreme oil from coming through our communities by rail. Look to the “WhatYouCanDo” sections below to find out how you can help block these local crude-by-rail projects.

Many people remember the horrific 2013 crude-by-rail accident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in which 47 people were killed when a train hauling crude from North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation derailed and exploded. Unfortunately, Lac-Mégantic wasn’t an anomaly. With a 40-fold increase in the amount of oil being shipped by rail since 2008, derailments and spills have been on a steep rise. A Columbus Dispatch analysis of U.S. Department of Transportation data found that from 1995 to 2010, oil spilled from trains a total of 27 times; from 2011 to July 2015, oil spilled from trains 423 times. And a Bloomberg analysis of federal data found that 2015 was the costliest year for crude-oil-train derailments, with $29.7 million in damages — up from $7.5 million in 2014.

Courtesy www.wsj.com.

Courtesy www.wsj.com.

According to an investigation by the Wall Street Journal, Bakken shale oil is the most volatile and combustible oil compared to crudes from 86 other locations worldwide. Tar sands oil, meanwhile, is diluted with highly flammable solvents for transport. Our rail system was designed to connect population centers, not move hazardous crude oil. Emergency responders are not prepared for these heavy, dangerous trains and current safety standards will not protect the public.

If an oil train derails and its contents spill or explode, our lives and our natural resources are at risk. Over five million Californians live in the blast zone of an oil train. And the proposed rail routes for the Phillips 66 and Valero crude-by-rail projects would bring oil trains through the San Francisco Bay-Delta watershed and along California’s treasured central coast. Each oil train carries more than three million gallons of toxic crude oil. A train derailment near a river, stream, reservoir, or above a groundwater aquifer could contaminate drinking water for millions of Californians. For the sake of the climate, the environment, and public health and safety, we need to make sure that these extreme oils are left in the ground.

Stop the Phillips 66 tar sands expansion

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 Canadian tar sands oil. If the Phillips 66 rail terminal project is approved, millions of gallons of tar sands oil would pass over the delta, through Bay Area communities, and south along the coast to the Santa Maria refinery. After being partially refined there, tar sands products would be sent back north to Contra Costa County’s Rodeo refinery through a 200-mile pipeline.

Even Phillips 66 admits that the project will create “significant and unavoidable” levels of air pollution —including toxic sulfur dioxide and cancer-causing chemicals — for families living along the rail line and near the refinery. Volatile toxic chemicals leak out of tank cars into the air along rail routes. The problem is compounded for refinery-fenceline communities; the nonprofit environmental group ForestEthics reports that refineries that process tar sands spew more sulfur dioxide pollution per barrel produced than refineries that do not use tar sands. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “short-term exposure to elevated sulfur dioxide levels is associated with reduced lung function, chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath, respiratory illness, deterioration of the lung’s defense systems, and the aggravation of cardiovascular systems.”

On top of refinery emissions, the diesel locomotives emit large amounts of exhaust and particulate matter that is very dangerous to public health, especially the young and elderly. Each oil train emits the equivalent particulate matter of 4,500 diesel automobiles, meaning the Phillips 66 project would add the pollution of 2 million cars per year.

By getting tar sands to market, the impacts of the Phillips 66 project would be felt around the world. At every stage of the mining, transportation, and refining process, Canadian tar sands are more carbon intensive than other sources of oil. 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.

WhatYouCanDo

Tens of thousands of citizens, 26 cities and counties, and 16 school boards from along the rail route have written letters urging San Luis Obispo County to reject the project. Now we need to make sure the decision-makers in San Luis Obispo truly hear us.

The San Luis Obispo Planning Commission will hold public hearings on February 4th and 5th to inform their decision on the project. This is our chance to show County decision-makers that the whole state is watching and demand they stop these oil trains from putting Californian’s health and safety at risk.

What: San Luis Obispo Planning Commission Public Hearing on Phillips 66 Oil Train Project
When: February 4, hearing starts at 9 am
Where: San Luis Obispo County Building, 1055 Monterey St, San Luis Obispo
RSVP at stopoiltrains.nationbuilder.com/sloplanningcomrspv

There will be carpools from the Bay Area. Please contact Ratha Lai at ratha.lai@sierraclub.org or 510-848-0800 for more information.

Keep explosive fracked oil off our tracks and out of Benicia

In early January, the City of Benicia released the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the proposed Valero Benicia crude-by-rail project. The Valero refinery seeks to build a rail terminal that would allow it to receive two daily train deliveries of up to 70,000 barrels of fracked Bakken crude oil. The good news is the FEIR has identified the “No Project Alternative” as the most environmentally sound alternative. But if we want to stop a project that would put dangerously explosive oil trains on tracks that run through hundreds of communities, we need lots of public input at the February 8th public hearing.

This threat to Benicia — and to the vulnerable communities and natural resources all along the rail route — has been met by a strong opposition. Local residents formed Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community (BSHC) to fight the project. The group organized a series of community forums and mobilized residents and allies up and down the rail lines; they collected over 1,500 signatures at the weekly Benicia farmers market; and they distributed more than 500 yard signs around town.

Meanwhile, Forest Ethics, the Center for Biological Diversity, and CREDO created online petitions, and the Sierra Club, Communities for a Better Environment, and the Sunflower Alliance helped mobilize people to attend hearings and comment against the project. This coalition pushed for and achieved a full CEQA review process for the project. We also generated thousand of comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report and the Revised Environmental Impact Report, and helped secure comments opposing the project from entities as diverse as the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, the City of Davis, and California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

BSHC steering committee member Andrés Soto says, “Benicia needs to have as many people from the community, the region, and around the state to stand together with us to oppose this dangerous and unnecessary project. Global climate, regional air quality, and the safety of the local community are at stake.” Will you help?

WhatYouCanDo

The Benicia Planning Commission Public Hearing has been set for Monday, February 8, with a possible continuation on the 9th and 10th if necessary to receive all comments.

What: Testify against Valero Benicia crude-by-rail project
When: Monday, February 8, 6:30 pm
Where: City Council Chambers, Benicia City Hall, 250 East L Street, Benicia
RSVP to info@safebenicia.org

Join us!

Future of rooftop solar looking bright — for now

Photo courtesy Edmund Tse on Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo courtesy Edmund Tse on Flickr Creative Commons.

In “California’s utilities take aim at rooftop solar,” we outlined the efforts of the state’s investor-owned utilities to disincentivize new rooftop solar for their customers. The California Public Utilites Commission (CPUC) is currently engaged in a process to create a successor to the present “net energy metering” system, which credits solar-energy-system owners for the electricity they add to the grid. The utilities have proposed measures including reducing the credit customers would receive for energy they export to the grid and imposing a demand charge.

Good news! In its December 15th Proposed Decision, the CPUC rejected the punitive fees proposed by the utilities and instead retains the current net metering structure (including a full credit for exports at the retail rate), with a transition to time-of-use rates in 2018. The Proposed Decision also provides for additional bill credit for low-income customers in multi-family dwellings under recently enacted State Assembly Bill 693.

Evan Gillespie, director of the Sierra Club’s My Generation campaign, responded to the proposed decision in this statement:

“A strong rooftop-solar policy is essential to California’s efforts to address climate change and create an increasingly resilient and distributed grid. The decision’s move toward time-of-use electricity rates is an important element of a clean energy future here in California, and is critical to unlocking the value of new clean-energy tools like storage plus solar or other smart-grid technologies. By charging more for electricity when demand is highest and less when demand is low, time-of-use rates create an economic incentive to reduce peak electricity use, invest in storage, and better align solar generation with grid needs. A thoughtful, gradual transition to time-of-use rates for solar customers will enable the market to continue growing rapidly, while incentivizing Californians to use their home-generated power in a way that provides maximum value to our increasingly renewables-dominated grid.”

Not surprisingly, the utilities are pushing back against the Proposed Decision. In private meetings with commissioners and their staff, executives have argued that the Proposed Decision saddles non-participating customers with costs that should be borne by those using net metering. They want the Commission to allow reduced credit for exports. They ignore the benefits created by customer exports to the grid, such as:

  • reducing the amount of power which the utility must buy or produce for customers,
  • reducing load and power loss on the transmission system and related maintenance costs, and
  • benefits to society including cleaner air and reduction in global warming.

We expect the Commission to vote on the Proposed Decision at their January 28th meeting. An Alternate Decision incorporating the utilities’ asks may be presented at the same time.

WhatYouCanDo

  • Write letters to the CPUC at public.advisor@cpuc.ca.gov or CPUC Public Advisor, 505 Van Ness Avenue, Room 2103, San Francisco, CA 94102. Tell the CPUC to stand by its proposed decision to protect solar rights for California utility customers. Sample letter here.
  • Make oral comments at the Commission’s January 28th business meeting in the CPUC auditorium (address above). Email Dave McCoard at dmccoard@hotmail.com if you can attend.

David McCoard, chair, Energy and Climate Committee

Pittsburg defeats WesPac: biggest California crude oil project stopped in its tracks

WesPac-is-Gone-Kids-e1449606037647In the final days of 2015 the victories for the climate justice movement came fast and furious — fracking bans to pipeline wins to breakthrough climate policies. In early December, 2015, after years of a hard-fought community-led campaign, we learned that the oil services company WesPac withdrew its permit applications to build the biggest oil terminal on the West Coast in Pittsburg, CA!

That means 242,000 barrels a day of toxic and explosive extreme crude oil from the tar sands and the Bakken will stay in the ground, and off the tankers, oil trains, and pipelines WesPac would have built to bring this dangerous crude to Bay Area refineries.

This is an extraordinary victory, and one that demonstrates that grassroots organizing can overcome the power of big oil. I remember two years ago hearing that “no one can organize in this town,” because for so long Pittsburg had been dominated by heavy industry after heavy industry, from petrochemical plants and waste dumps to power stations and oil facilities.

The campaign started out small, led by two courageous neighbors Kalli Graham and Lyana Monterrey, who started knocking on doors and enrolling more and more community members to the fight. I remember my first day canvassing outside the Pittsburg seafood festival in August 2013, thinking to myself, how the hell are we ever going to win this thing?

But as these brilliant and resilient grassroots leaders kept organizing, and it started working. Within months our volunteer base jumped from a handful to dozens, and then to hundreds. Petition signatures jumped from dozens to hundreds to thousands. At nearly every door I knocked on I met another community member sick of Pittsburg’s reputation as an industrial wasteland, tired industry control. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere where opposition to industry was so strong. When WesPac brought a company man to town to host a three-hour informational meeting, community members showed up en masse and drove him out of town. Hundreds of citizens showed up at city council meetings, week-in and week-out. We hosted “toxic tours”, dozens of community meetings, and the biggest march Pittsburg has seen in many, many years. We turned the WesPac campaign into a regional and statewide issue, leveraging the power built in Pittsburg to inspire and support other campaigns fighting extreme oil infrastructure in the Bay Area and beyond.

In January 2014, WesPac agreed to take oil trains off the table. That was a big victory, but WesPac still wanted to build a crude oil tank farm, tanker berth, and pipelines, and we stood ready to continue the fight. But WesPac was not, and officially pulled its applications before a city council meeting on December 14.

Hats off to everyone who contributed to this extraordinary effort: especially the community leaders at the Pittsburg Defense Council and Pittsburg Ethics Council, and also Communities for a Better Environment, Sunflower Alliance, Sierra Club SF Bay Chapter, Natural Resources Defense Council, and 350 Bay Area, among others. This victory belongs to our movement, but most of all to the tireless, resilient, creative, and courageous people of Pittsburg.

Let WesPac’s demise serve as a warning to Valero, Phillips 66, and other oil giants that are trying to build oil train terminals in California right now: our movement will not stop until all oil trains projects are halted in their tracks, and extreme oil stays in the ground where it belongs.

This post was written by Ethan Buckner and originally appeared on the ForestEthics Root Word blog.

Your chance to block explosive oil trains — Hearings on Phillips 66 tar sands project Feb. 4 & 5

Update 1/26/16: Yesterday, San Luis Obispo County proposed to DENY Phillips 66 permits to deliver by train and refine tar sands oil. San Luis Obispo County’s brave stand comes just after its final EIR admits our communities were correct that this is a tar sands project (something Phillips 66 had sought to hide). The County’s stand protects the Bay Area from oil trains and “significant and unavoidable” emissions from the Rodeo refinery.

Officials at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District should publicly support San Luis Obispo County’s proposal to deny this project that threatens air quality, public safety, and climate.

Read the San Luis Obispo County “Santa Maria Refinery Rail Spur Project” staff report here.

Untitled1We’re nearing a decisive moment in the campaign to stop the dangerous Phillips 66 crude-by-rail project, and we need your help! The energy giant 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 Canadian tar sands oil.

If the Phillips 66 rail terminal project is approved, millions of gallons of tar sands oil would travel from Canada in mile-long trains, passing over the delta, through Bay Area communities, and southward along the coast to the Santa Maria refinery. After being partially refined there, tar sands products would be sent back north to Contra Costa County’s Rodeo refinery through a 200-mile pipeline.

The San Luis Obispo Planning Commission will hold public hearings on February 4th and 5th to inform their decision on the project. This is our chance to show County decision-makers that the whole state is watching and demand they stop these oil trains from putting Californian’s health and safety at risk.

WHAT: San Luis Obispo Planning Commission Public Hearing on Phillips 66 Oil Train Project
WHEN: February 4, hearing starts at 9 am
WHERE: San Luis Obispo County Building, 1055 Monterey St, San Luis Obispo, CA 93408
RSVP here

Tens of thousands of citizens, 26 cities and counties, and 16 school boards from along the rail route have written letters urging San Luis Obispo County to reject the project. Now we need to make sure the decision-makers in San Luis Obispo truly hear us.

There will be carpools from the Bay Area. Please contact Ratha Lai at ratha.lai@sierraclub.org or 510-848-0800 for more information.

Why we need your help

The project’s impacts on public health and safety and the global climate would be catastrophic: mile-long oil trains would roll through thousands of California communities nearly every day; already overburdened refinery fence-line communities would breathe more toxic pollution; and more of one of the most carbon-intensive fuels on the planet would be burned, accelerating global climate disruption. Here’s why we need your help to stop this dangerous project:

Stop the crude-by-rail expansion:

With a 40-fold increase in crude-by-rail since 2008, derailments and spills have been on a steep rise. In 2013 more crude oil was spilled from trains than in the previous four decades combined, and in 2014 there were more oil train accidents than in any other year on record. Over 5 million Californians live and more than one million students attend schools in the blast zone of an oil train.

Our rail system was designed to connect population centers, not move hazardous crude oil. Emergency responders are not prepared for these heavy, dangerous trains and current safety standards will not protect the public. 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.

Stop the toxic emissions:

Even Phillips 66 admits that the project will create “significant and unavoidable” levels of air pollution —including toxic sulfur dioxide and cancer-causing chemicals — for families living along the rail line and near the refinery. Volatile toxic chemicals leak out of tank cars into the air along rail routes. The problem is compounded for refinery fenceline communities: the nonprofit environmental group ForestEthics reports that refineries that process tar sands spew more sulfur dioxide pollution per barrel produced than refineries that do not use tar sands. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “short-term exposure to elevated sulfur dioxide levels is associated with reduced lung function, chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath, respiratory illness, deterioration of the lung’s defense systems, and the aggravation of cardiovascular systems.”

In addition, the diesel locomotives emit large amounts of exhaust and particulate matter that is very dangerous to public health, especially the young and elderly. Each oil train emits the equivalent particulate matter of 4,500 diesel automobiles, meaning the Phillips 66 project would add the pollution of 2 million cars per year.

Stop the climate catastrophe:

Phillips 66 wants to import the most toxic and carbon intensive crude oil on earth: Canadian tar sands. At every stage of the mining, transportation, and refining process, Canadian tar sands are more carbon intensive than other sources of oil. 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.

Stop the threat to our water:

The proposed rail route brings oil trains through the San Francisco Bay-Delta watershed and along California’s treasured central coast. Each oil train carries more than three million gallons of explosive, toxic crude oil. A train derailment near a river, stream, reservoir, or above a groundwater aquifer could contaminate drinking water for millions of Californians.

Join us in San Luis Obispo to rally and pack the public hearings with opposition from all across California. 

Read more about this dirty project in “Toxic tar sands at center of Phillips 66 plans for Bay Area.”