Decommission California Refineries: Read the ReportSunflower Alliance, June 28, 2020
Finally, we celebrate the July 6th release by Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) of the long awaited report: “Decommissioning California Refineries: Climate and Health Paths in an Oil State.” A virtual press conference was held the morning of July 6th to announce its release.
As this report was being prepared, no one could have predicted the context in which we are releasing it. California is the center of oil refining in the western U.S., with nearly 50% of its refining capacity in the five closely spaced oil refineries of Contra Costa and Solano counties. As the U.S. attempts, under failed federal leadership, to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, the International Energy Agency reports that any economic recovery that fails to step up to the urgency of addressing climate change will make it impossible to prevent climate catastrophe.
“Starting [a phase-down] sooner allows state climate targets to be met by cutting oil use more gradually, which makes transitions that protect workers and communities possible and climate goals feasible,” said Greg Karras, who authored the report for CBE.
Here are the report’s major conclusions and calls for action:
- All paths to a livable climate involve refining much less oil.
- Steep reductions in petroleum are necessary to meet our health goals.
- Early action to decommission refining capacity is a critical component of the least-impact, most socially just, most feasible path to climate stabilization in California.
- A planned, gradual phase-down gives us the time to develop sustainable alternatives for workers and communities economically dependent on oil.
- Actions that limit refining in California can cut emissions across the petroleum fuel chain.
- We must pair gradual reduction of refinery output with aggressive measures to insure clean mobility for all people.
Facilities such as refineries are major local emission centers for toxic co-pollutants alongside greenhouse gases, especially fine-sized particulate matter or soot (PM2.5). “From Richmond to Wilmington black and brown communities are on the frontlines of a toxic relationship with oil. This is a blueprint for organizing just transitions out of it,” said Andrés Soto, Richmond Organizer at CBE.
A path of gradual reductions, approximately 4-7% of refining capacity per year, will not even immediately affect California oil consumption. Californians already use significantly less refined fuels than produced by the refineries; refinery exports have grown to nearly a third of capacity. “Refineries around here pollute our communities even more by refining more oil to sell even more of their polluting fuels somewhere else, like black lives are invisible” said LaDonna Williams, a community leader who lives in South Vallejo.
A critical component of the report is addressing the challenges of transitioning workers and communities that are financially dependent upon the fossil fuel industry. Steve Garey, a retired oil refinery worker, former United Steel Workers union official and leader in the Blue-Green Alliance, spoke passionately about bringing workers and communities together to build a new economy.