July 6, 2015

Richmond takes bold stand on coal and petcoke pollution

Sierra Club and partners at Richmond City Hall to advocate for the passage of resolutions designed to protect the community from coal and petcoke pollution.

Sierra Club and partners at Richmond City Hall to advocate for the passage of resolutions designed to protect the community from coal and petcoke pollution.

On May 18th, the Richmond City Council passed two important resolutions intended to protect local communities and the environment from the harmful impacts of coal and petroleum coke (petcoke) pollution.

The first resolution opposes the mining, export, and burning of coal, as well as the transport of coal and petcoke along waterways and through densely populated areas. That resolution includes a clause that would prohibit exports of coal and petcoke from ports on City land.

A second resolution calls on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to require all piles of coal and petcoke to be stored in enclosed facilities.

Coal is currently being exported through the private Levin-Richmond Terminal on Richmond’s bay shore. The coal is extracted from mines owned by Bowie Resources and travels hundreds of miles to Richmond from either Colorado or Utah in uncovered rail cars. Each open-top rail car can lose up to 600 pounds of coal dust on the journey from the mine to the port; this translates to 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter entering our air and water for every trip made by a coal train.

According to the Energy Information Administration, between 2013 and 2014 coal exports through the Bay Area rose from 1.3 million tons to over 3 million tons — a 126% increase in one year. Eyewitness reports place long, uncovered coal trains parked right alongside Richmond’s BART tracks at least twice a week.

Coal dust contains arsenic, lead, mercury, chromium, nickel, selenium, and other toxic heavy metals. Prolonged, direct exposure to coal dust is linked to chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function, emphysema, and cancer. Residents living near the rail lines and export terminal are at greatest risk of these health issues and tend to be lower income communities and communities of color.

Ratha Lai, community organizer with the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Chapter, said, “The Sierra Club applauds the City of Richmond for formally recognizing the harmful impacts of coal and petroleum coke. Their actions today will protect the community, workers, and the environment. The Levin-Richmond Terminal Company has been profiting by shipping coal and petcoke overseas while the Richmond community suffers the harmful impacts. It is time to stop exporting dirty fuels through our ports and start protecting the community from the toxic pollution in coal and petcoke. Today’s City Council resolutions are landmark decisions in transitioning our community away from dirty fossil fuels to a clean and renewable energy future.”

WhatYouCanDo

We’re working hard to support a grassroots movement in Richmond and other communities across the Bay Area that suffer disproportionately from environmental degradation and corporate pollution. As always, one of our key strengths is the energy, thoughtfulness, and experience of our members. We will be canvassing and advocating in the coming months and your help would be greatly appreciated! To join the campaign, email Ratha Lai at ratha.lai@sierraclub.org or call (510)848-0800 ext. 328.

 

Sierra Club, nurses collect Richmond community health data as a weapon against coal

Sierra Club and nurses canvassing to collect community health data in Richmond's Parchester Village.

Sierra Club and nurses canvassing to collect community health data in Richmond’s Parchester Village.

“You can’t run if you can’t afford to leave,” says a middle-aged man with long, graying dreads. He’s standing in the driveway of his home in Richmond, California. “But I do think they’re trying to get rid of us, either by making us move, or by—”

His unfinished sentence hangs in the air, as he fills out a community health survey on the impact of the coal trains that are running through his neighborhood, their uncovered cars spewing toxic dust into the air.

Where is the dust coming from? Big corporations in Utah and Colorado use the rail lines to transport coal to East Bay Area shipping ports, where it can be exported to other countries.

While moving toxic fuels means profit for corporate interests, local residents may be paying the price with their health. In addition to the trains, they also live adjacent to the Chevron refinery, which has been repeatedly cited for environmental violations. That’s why the Bay Chapter has partnered with nurses from the California Nurses Association (CNA) to canvas Richmond’s Parchester Village and other impacted neighborhoods. We’re surveying residents of the predominantly African American and Latino neighborhoods for information on any health impacts they may have experienced as a result of environmental toxins.

“Uncovered coal trains come in 125-car trains, twice a week, and they are polluting our community. That’s why we are doing this community health survey,” says Ratha Lai, Bay Chapter conservation coordinator and Richmond resident. “Through this, we are going to build some concrete, raw data that our elected official partners can take and advocate at the state level.”

On a recent Monday night, three CNA-registered nurses joined in the canvassing: Mary Roth, a Kaiser Vallejo advice nurse and 29-year Richmond resident; Johanna Lavorando, a Kaiser Richmond Medical/Surgical nurse and former Richmond resident of 8 years; and Maria Sahagun, a 10-year Richmond resident and former registered nurse at the recently-closed Doctors Medical Center (DMC).

“I came out here tonight because healthcare and environmental discussion go hand in hand,” says Sahagun, who wonders how residents will be treated for the symptoms they may experience as a result of the toxic trains, when the closure of DMC left a hole in access to healthcare. “West County is surrounded by these coal trains and a toxin-emitting corporation, and you removed the hospital? It’s a blatant act of discrimination.”

DMC closed on April 21, and now the more than 40,000 people—many of them low-income Medicare and Medi-Cal patients—who used the DMC emergency room each year are without a nearby hospital. As Sahagun points out, these residents are now experiencing a reduction in care while living in Chevron’s backyard and adjacent to coal trains.

“Poor communities have to suffer such an assault on their health because of the way heavy industries are placed near them. And when we don’t even have a healthcare system to help them deal with that stuff, it’s really disturbing,” agrees Roth, who explains that nurses wind up treating patients for asthma, heart disease, and other illnesses that can be triggered by environmental toxins.

“I think it’s important, from a public health point of view, for nurses to participate in community events,” Lavorando adds. “With these coal trains, it’s critical that we gather as much information as we can, and give it to officials who can try to change regulations.”

Lavorando explains that at one stop during the evening’s canvassing, a young father shared a lengthy list of symptoms, including vision and breathing problems. Yet, he wasn’t sure if pollutants were a factor.

“He said the doctor checked him out and told him he was okay, but he was telling us, ‘I know I’m not okay,’ because his chest was hurting and his throat was closing up,” Lavorando says. “And his story wound up being the same story that a neighbor shared.  So again, that’s why it’s important as nurses to take part in these events and gather this information—to get people thinking about what kind of symptoms can be triggered by the environment.”

At the end of the evening, Lai gathers the anonymous surveys to bring back to Sierra Club’s Berkeley offices, where they will be compiled with data gathered on future canvassing events, to eventually turn over to local and state representatives. Will the data spur change? For the RNs and the Sierra Club, a healthier community and a cleaner environment is worth the work of standing up to corporate interests.

“I’m glad someone cares. We tend to disappear,” says the man filling out the form in his driveway. “I think you guys have a big fight. But it’s good someone is ready to fight.”

Sierra Club and partners at Richmond City Hall to advocate for the passage of resolutions designed to protect the community from coal and petcoke pollution.

Sierra Club and partners at Richmond City Hall to advocate for the passage of resolutions designed to protect the community from coal and petcoke pollution.

Hope for Richmond

The Sierra Club worked with the City of Richmond on two important resolutions intended to protect local communities and the environment from the harmful impacts of coal and petcoke pollution; the first opposes the mining, export, and burning of coal as well as the transport of coal and petcoke along waterways and through densely populated areas. That resolution includes a clause that would prohibit exports of coal and petcoke from ports on City-owned land. A second resolution calls on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to require all piles of coal and petcoke to be stored in enclosed facilities.

Both resolutions were passed by the Richmond City Council on May 19th.

WhatYouCanDo

If you live in Richmond, take the quick community health survey.

We’re working hard to support a grassroots movement in Richmond and other communities across the Bay Area that suffer disproportionately from environmental degradation and corporate pollution. As always, one of our key strengths is the energy, thoughtfulness, and experience of our members. We will be canvassing and advocating in the coming months and your help would be greatly appreciated! To join the campaign, email Ratha Lai at ratha.lai@sierraclub.org or call (510)848-0800 ext. 328.

This article was adapted from a blog post by the California Nurses Association.

Time to put the “Public” back in the California Public Utilities Commission

In the coming months, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will be making critical decisions that will have a big impact on how much electricity our state consumes and where that energy comes from. Your energy bill and the environment hang in the balance.

California has been a leader in developing policies to prevent and combat catastrophic climate change. However, turning vision, executive orders, and legislation into action requires effective implementation. The CPUC is the regulatory body responsible for making decisions about the way many of California’s energy policies are implemented. The decisions currently on their plate include how residential electricity rates should be structured, how power generated by local rooftop-solar installations should be paid for, and whether California utilities should contract for new fossil-fuel-based electricity generating capacity.

Because of their intense financial interest to the utilities, CPUC proceedings are well attended by utility lawyers and technical staff. Unfortunately, what’s in the best immediate financial interest of the utilities is often counter to the best interest of the public and the environment. And because the issues are technical and complex, the public is not as engaged or present as one might hope. Yet we, the ratepayers, pay the price when energy policy threatens California’s environment, degrading our air, our water, our ecosystems, and our climate.

With critical decisions pending, this year is a key time for public engagement and volunteer action. The CPUC is under intense scrutiny due to allegations of inappropriate, potentially illegal communications between the investor-owned utilities and former CPUC president Michael Peevey. Commissioner Michael Picker’s confirmation to the CPUC presidency is now pending; a confirmation hearing will be held in August. It is therefore a particularly important time to insist that the CPUC protect the public interest.

Members should be aware of the importance of the following issues, and can comment as concerned individual citizens and ratepayers.

San Diego’s chance to “go clean”

The CPUC is charged with overseeing utility plans for assuring adequate and reliable generating capacity to meet California’s needs. To meet power demands, the CPUC is required to first draw on “preferred resources”: energy efficiency, renewable resources, and programs that encourage smart, informed consumption to curb power use during peak periods (an approach known as “demand response”). The CPUC’s commitment to “preferred resources” is currently being tested as it considers how to replace the now-defunct San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Diego County.

The local utility, San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), has proposed purchasing partial replacement power from a $2-billion, 600-megawat (MW) gas-generating plant to be built in Carlsbad, California. The Carlsbad plant would represent a substantial cost to the ratepayers and would mean increased greenhouse-gas emissions over the 20-to-40-year life of the plant.

In March, an Administrative Law Judge issued a Proposed Decision denying SDG&E’s application to purchase power from the Carlsbad plant. In response, President Picker filed an Alternative Proposed Decision authorizing 500 MW of new gas-generating capacity. The Sierra Club has filed extensive technical comments making it clear that new gas-generating capacity is not needed, as the Request for Offers to replace the nuclear plant produced, in the words of the Administrative Law Judge, “a robust number of offers for preferred resources and energy storage.”

This is an opportunity for the CPUC to define whether they are regulating for California’s clean-energy future, or protecting fossil-fuel interests by authorizing new and unneeded dirty power. The CPUC will consider SDG&E’s application to purchase the gas-generated power at its May 21st meeting.

Rate restructuring to incentivize or punish conservation?

The CPUC is also working to implement California Assembly Bill 327, complex legislation that requires a reconsideration of California’s residential electricity rates. A proposal supported by the utilities would levy fixed charges of approximately $120 per year on ratepayers, irrespective of how much electricity they use or whether they have rooftop solar. The utility-sponsored model would also “flatten” the rate structure, effectively raising the rates for those using little electricity and lowering them for those using lots.

If the CPUC adopts this rate model, it would reduce economic incentives to conserve electricity, make energy-efficiency upgrades, or install solar panels. Economic models suggest that fixed charges and flattened rates will in fact lead to an increase in electricity usage. Fixed charges are an unfair burden on those who use little electricity, and may harm low-income ratepayers.

Later in 2015, the CPUC will consider proposals for how owners of residential rooftop-solar installations should be compensated for the power they feed back into the electrical grid. This is another contentious topic, with the utilities pushing to discontinue the current Net Energy Metering program.

WhatYouCanDo

As these issues come to a head in the next months, we will need your support! Go to sierraclub.org/sfbay/email and sign up for the “General” list and your local list to make sure you receive updates.

— Claire Broome

Regulatory action puts wood smoke pollution in the spotlight

fireplace_smokeAccording to the website of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (the Air District), the San Francisco Bay Area is home to an estimated 1.4 million fireplaces and wood stoves. Wood smoke from these devices is the top source of wintertime air pollution. Now, in an effort to protect public health and the environment, the Air District has proposed headline-generating changes to its regulations on wood burning.

The updated rule is currently being finalized after a round of public workshops. The goal is to reduce wood smoke, which accounts for 39% of hazardous particulate wintertime air pollution and is a major contributor of air toxics. To achieve this goal, it’s important to consider why wood-smoke pollution is such a significant problem and to choose the most effective solutions.

Scientific studies link wood smoke to a litany of health problems including asthma attacks, heart attacks, and strokes. Wood smoke is a toxic mix of particulate matter and substances such as benzene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins, and furans that are harmful and even carcinogenic.

Burning wood contributes to climate disruption

Burning wood releases almost twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas, and it additionally generates methane and soot (also called black carbon). Carbon dioxide and methane are widely recognized as greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Black carbon is considered by many scientists to be second only to carbon dioxide in terms of contribution to climate disruption. This finding prompted Al Gore to call on countries to burn less wood to reduce atmospheric black carbon levels.

It is a misconception that burning wood is carbon neutral. Some argue that the carbon dioxide released when a tree is burned is equal to that released during decomposition. However, this ignores the time scale: the carbon sequestered in a growing tree is released into the atmosphere in a matter of minutes when it burns. In contrast, it can take over a century to release that carbon if the tree is allowed to decay naturally. The difference in timescale is critical—to reduce greenhouse gases and slow climate disruption, greenhouse-gas levels must be curbed as quickly as possible.

EPA-certified wood stoves aren’t the answer

One possible solution is incentivizing change-outs of older wood-burning stoves and fireplaces for new EPA-certified wood stoves. Unfortunately, the real-world performance of EPA-certified wood stoves doesn’t match their laboratory performance because the testing procedure doesn’t mirror in-home conditions. For example, lab tests use kiln-dried lumber, not cord wood, and don’t count start-up emissions. In addition, EPA-certified wood stoves have not been shown to be effective in reducing emissions of toxics like dioxins and furans.

Pellet stoves perform far better in that in-home emissions are similar to their test values and even lower than those of EPA-certified wood stoves (although still far higher than natural-gas heaters).

The right alternatives

So what are the best replacements for wood?

In a home that uses a fireplace for ambience, a gas log set reduces air pollution with minimal energy use. In a home that uses a woodstove for heat, technological innovations have created a compelling alternative: electric ductless mini-split heat pumps. These are an ideal solution from both a public health and climate perspective. Ductless heat pumps are more energy efficient than heating with natural gas or other fuels. They produce no local emissions, and their low energy usage makes them ideal for running off of solar panels, allowing for net-zero-energy-use homes. And that’s the kind of house anyone could feel proud to call home.

The Sierra Club supports the efforts of the Air District to transition away from wood-burning devices that cause unhealthy and dangerous air pollution. The Sierra Club will be following this issue closely to ensure that the Air District provides resources and mitigates the cost impact of changing to cleaner devices.

— Tracey Gant

Alameda County action on oil and gas extraction delayed again

thisoneOnce again, action by Alameda County to ban new oil and gas operations, including fracking, has been postponed. While the delay is unfortunate, it does provide more time for people in Livermore (where active wells are located) and throughout all of Alameda County to make their concerns known to the supervisors.

Proposed planning and zoning changes are now scheduled to go before the Planning Commission on September 8th. In the meantime, to get involved in our work to stop fracking locally and at the state level, contact our working group, Alameda County Against Fracking, at dontfrackcal@gmail.com.

Bay Area air regulators failing to curb refinery emissions for the public interest

Smoke from the 2012 Chevron Richmond refinery fire.

Smoke from the 2012 Chevron Richmond refinery fire.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is supposedly in charge of protecting local air quality, yet under the leadership of executive officer Jack Broadbent, it has continued to issue permits that allow oil refineries to emit more toxic pollutants without public notice or approval.

For the past several years, the Bay Chapter has been working in coalition with other local non-profit organizations and community groups to confront the Air District about their mistakes and encourage them to prioritize air quality over corporate profits. Last fall, we were successful in pushing for the unanimous passage of a resolution to require refineries to track their emissions and make real emissions reductions by adopting best-available technologies.

This March, the Air District held several town halls in the Bay Area’s refinery corridor to get feedback from front-line community members. Hundreds of local residents participated in the town halls, using them as an opportunity to voice their anger, frustration, and concern over the regulatory body’s failure to stand up for the public interest.

Yet the very week of the town halls, Air District executive officer Jack Broadbent allowed his staff to approve a permit for a controversial project by Phillips 66 to bring Canadian tar sands oil into the Bay Area. This is the same public employee who granted a permit for Kinder Morgan to bring “bomb trains” of highly-flammable Bakken crude into Richmond — the same person that has neglected to force the covering up of huge open-air piles of coal and petroleum coke (petcoke), which Southern California’s Air District has done since 2008.

Mounting community pressure has triggered Big Oil to send lobbyists to pressure Air District board members. We cannot allow the oil industry to influence the Air District and promote practices that choke our communities with toxic pollutants. Now more than ever we need sustained community support to bring to light the failings of the Air District under the leadership of Jack Broadbent.

Community members have played a key role in our advocacy successes. When you show up and speak out for clean air, the elected officials listen. Your presence can help us address the Bay Area’s horrible refinery pollution; make significant cuts to our region’s greenhouse-gas emissions; cover open piles of coal and petcoke; revoke Kinder Morgan’s permit to bring in bomb trains; and stop the Phillips 66 tar sands project.

If you are interested in joining this movement, please contact Bay Chapter conservation organizer Ratha Lai at ratha.lai@sierraclub.org or (510)848-0800 ext. 328. We will be lobbying Air District board members, speaking at public hearings, and engaging in other grassroots activity to ensure that this is the year we pass real rules to protect our air.

Time to put the public back in the California Public Utility Commission

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons, via John Hritz.

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons, via John Hritz.

In the coming months, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will be making critical decisions that will have a big impact on how much electricity our state consumes and where that energy comes from. Your energy bill and the environment hang in the balance.

California has been a leader in developing policies to prevent and combat catastrophic climate change. However, turning vision, executive orders, and legislation into action requires effective implementation. The CPUC is the regulatory body responsible for making decisions about the way many of California’s energy policies are implemented. The decisions currently on their plate include how residential electricity rates should be structured, how power generated by local rooftop-solar installations should be paid for, and whether California utilities should contract for new fossil-fuel-based electricity generating capacity.

Because of their intense financial interest to the utilities, CPUC proceedings are well attended by utility lawyers and technical staff. Unfortunately, what’s in the best immediate financial interest of the utilities is often counter to the best interest of the public and the environment. And because the issues are technical and complex, the public is not as engaged or present as one might hope. Yet we, the ratepayers, pay the price when energy policy threatens California’s environment, degrading our air, our water, our ecosystems, and our climate.

With critical decisions pending, this year is a key time for public engagement and volunteer action. The CPUC is under intense scrutiny due to allegations of inappropriate, potentially illegal communications between the investor-owned utilities and former CPUC president Michael Peevey. Commissioner Michael Picker’s confirmation to the CPUC presidency is now pending; a confirmation hearing will be held in August. It is therefore a particularly important time to insist that the CPUC protect the public’s interest — the purpose for which it was created.

Several issues currently before the CPUC are important to the Sierra Club; Sierra Club attorneys represent the Club and participate actively as parties in the proceedings.  Members should be aware of the importance of these issues, and can comment as concerned individual citizens and ratepayers.

San Diego’s chance to “go clean”

The CPUC is charged with overseeing utility plans for assuring adequate and reliable generating capacity to meet California’s needs. To meet power demands, the CPUC is required to first draw on “preferred resources”: energy efficiency, renewable resources, and programs that encourage smart, informed consumption to curb power use during peak periods (an approach known as “demand response”). The CPUC’s commitment to “preferred resources” is currently being tested as it considers how to replace the now-defunct San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Diego County.

The local utility, San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), has proposed purchasing partial replacement power from a $2-billion, 600-megawat (MW) gas-generating plant to be built in Carlsbad, California. The Carlsbad plant would represent a substantial cost to the ratepayers and would mean increased greenhouse-gas emissions over the 20-to-40-year life of the plant.

In March, an Administrative Law Judge issued a Proposed Decision denying SDG&E’s application to purchase power from the Carlsbad plant. In response, President Picker filed an Alternative Proposed Decision authorizing 500 MW of new gas-generating capacity. The Sierra Club has filed extensive technical comments making it clear that new gas-generating capacity is not needed, as the Request for Offers to replace the nuclear plant produced, in the words of the Administrative Law Judge, “a robust number of offers for preferred resources and energy storage which could potentially meet some, if not all, of the 300 MW to 600 MW of SDG&E’s … need.”

This is an opportunity for the CPUC (and President Picker) to define whether they are regulating for California’s clean-energy future, or protecting fossil-fuel interests by authorizing new and unneeded dirty power. The CPUC considered SDG&E’s application to purchase the gas-generated power at its May 21st meeting, after this paper had gone to print.

Rate restructuring to incentivize or punish conservation?

The CPUC is also working to implement California Assembly Bill 327, complex legislation that requires a reconsideration of California’s residential electricity rates. A proposal supported by the utilities would levy fixed charges of approximately $120 per year on ratepayers, irrespective of how much electricity they use or whether they have rooftop solar. The utility-sponsored model would also “flatten” the rate structure, effectively raising the rates for those using little electricity and lowering them for those using lots.

If the CPUC adopts this model for the rate restructuring, it would reduce economic incentives to conserve electricity, make energy-efficiency upgrades, or install solar panels. Economic models suggest that fixed charges and flattened rates will in fact lead to an increase in electricity usage.  The proposed fixed charges are an unfair burden on those who use little electricity, and may harm low-income ratepayers.

Later in 2015, the CPUC will consider proposals for how owners of residential rooftop-solar installations should be compensated for the power they feed back into the electrical grid. This is another contentious topic, with the utilities pushing to discontinue the current Net Energy Metering program.

WhatYouCanDo

These CPUC proceedings are critically important for accelerating California’s progress in increasing the role of renewables in our energy economy, decreasing our consumption of fossil fuels, and promoting efficient use of energy. The Commission should represent the public in a science-based determination of what is needed for an environmentally-sound, reliable, and economically-responsible power system consistent with California’s stated commitment to decreasing greenhouse- gas emissions.

These issues will be coming to a head in the next months, and we will need your support! To receive updates and notifications on what you can do to make a difference, make sure you are on the Bay Chapter’s email list. Go to www.sierraclub.org/sfbay/email and sign up for the “General” list and your local list.

Want to know more? Read “State law AB 327 tells Public Utility Commission to make essential decisions for energy conservation“.

CleanPowerSF continues forward march; not-to-exceed rates approved

10363660_923641177688459_6776650116519568805_nToday, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission approved the not-to-exceed rates for CleanPowerSF, moving the City’s local renewable-energy program one step closer to launch. Voting to approve rates were Commissioners Anson Moran, Ike Kwon, and Vince Courtney, with Commission President Ann Moller Caen and Vice President Francesca Vietor not present, though both sent in statements of support for moving forward with the program.

The Commission’s approval establishes that CleanPowerSF rates will not exceed the standard power rates of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), which until CleanPowerSF launches early next year, is the sole monopoly provider of energy to San Francisco customers. Today’s SFPUC action sets the stage for CleanPowerSF to deliver greener power at lower rates to customers than is provided by PG&E. Currently PG&E provides 25% renewable energy to customers, while CleanPowerSF is expected to provide 33 – 50% renewable energy at launch, with the option for customers to pay a small premium and opt up to buy 100% renewable electricity.

“We’re thrilled to see such a diverse coalition of community groups, labor unions, and city leadership come together to support San Francisco’s clean energy future,” said Jess Dervin-Ackerman, conservation manager for the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter. “Moving past this hurdle with the support of so many makes us excited for what we can achieve through the launch of CleanPowerSF: a reduction of carbon pollution, reinvestment in our communities that need it most, good-paying union jobs, and a program that is for and by the community.”

Resurrecting SF’s clean-energy future

After languishing for over 11 years, today’s action by the SFPUC is the farthest the program has gotten along the path to launch. This January, after years of blocking progress on CleanPowerSF, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee dropped his opposition to the city’s Community Choice program, allowing it to finally move forward.

“This action by the SFPUC is a major step forward in spurring the clean energy transformation that San Francisco needs to aggressively reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and do its part to curb climate chaos,” said Jed Holtzman, Co-Coordinator of 350 San Francisco. “These competitive rates clearly show that the time is now for communities to transition to clean, renewable energy and away from fossil fuel energy that damages our communities and public health.”

Local and global benefits

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 will create over 9,000 local green jobs.

Al Weinrub, Coordinator of Local Clean Energy Alliance said, “Now that competitive rates are set for CleanPowerSF we can determine the amount of revenue that can be leveraged for the most important objective of the program; that of putting thousands of people to work as the City builds out hundreds of megawatts of local clean energy and efficiency installations on homes, businesses and government buildings. This is a big day for addressing both the climate crisis and the economic crisis in one decisive program.”

Broad community support

An April 28th rally for CleanPowerSF at City Hall, organized by the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter, showed the broad coalition that has come together to support the immediate launch of the clean-power program. Among the neighborhood associations, environmental organizations, labor groups, and public officials at that event were California Nurses Association, SEIU 1021, PODER, Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, 350 SF, Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council, Our City, SF Green Party, San Francisco League of Conservation Voters, San Francisco Women’s Political Caucus, Harvey Milk Democratic Club, Chinese Progressive Association, and Supervisors John Avalos, David Campos, Eric Mar, London Breed, Jane Kim, and Scott Weiner.

San Francisco playing “catch up”with other regional players

The City of San Francisco has long been at the vanguard of the environmental movement. But as progress on CleanPowerSF has stalled for over a decade, San Francisco has fallen behind neighboring cities and counties when it comes to transitioning away from electricity produced by dirty fossil fuels. The Community Choice energy model has surged across the region as more communities recognize the extensive benefits it 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.

California’s two existing community choice programs provide greener energy at lower rates to their customers. Marin Clean Energy (California’s first Community Choice energy program) now serves customers in Marin County, unincorporated Napa County, and the cities of Benicia, El Cerrito, Richmond, and San Pablo — with several other cities looking to jump on board in 2015. Sonoma Clean Power serves the cities of Cloverdale, Cotati, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Sonoma, and the Town of Windsor, as well as all of the unincorporated areas in the county. Meanwhile, Alameda County’s own Community Choice program is moving steadily forward, with an estimated launch date of early 2017. And there is a growing chorus of voices in Contra Costa County calling for an exploration of a countywide program there.

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 up to ten 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.