Tag Archives: Climate change

Important policies that cities can adopt NOW to help fight climate change

[Editor: Here’s a challenge for cities large and small.  Check out the climate change policies proposed by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.  Especially interesting: the link to How Building Performance Standards Are Addressing Climate Change.  – R.S.] 
Traffic during rush hour along I-5 in Seattle. CREDIT: KUOW PHOTO/MEGAN FARMER

Seattle mayor proposes new climate measures to tackle pollution from traffic and buildings

KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio, By John Ryan, November 2, 2021

At the global climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced policies she says will take a big bite out of Seattle’s climate-harming emissions from buildings and cars.

“We are really working toward urgent action on climate change,” Durkan said.

She proposes requiring large buildings to clean up their carbon acts, starting in five years.

Her executive order seeks to make existing commercial and multifamily buildings convert to clean electric power and eliminate the use of fossil fuels no later than 2050. Initial emission reductions would begin by 2026.

Seattle has mandated climate-friendliness in new construction but to date has done much less to tackle the bigger problem: the impacts of existing buildings.

The proposed policy would cut building-based emissions in the city 39% by 2030 and eliminate them by 2050, according to Durkan.

caption: Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan speaks from the global climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 1, 2021.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan speaks from the global climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 1, 2021. CREDIT: SCREENSHOT FROM NOV. 1 CITY OF SEATTLE PRESS CONFERENCE

Monday’s executive order directs city staff to engage with community groups and draft legislation for performance standards for large buildings by next July, six months after Durkan’s term has ended. Then the Seattle City Council would have its say.

Of course, public process is often where proposals go to die in Seattle, like one Durkan touted in 2018 for downtown tolling, which she dropped in 2020.

Other proposals announced by Durkan Monday include:

  • Creation of an urban pedestrian-only zone by summer 2022.
  • A $1 million pilot to replace diesel trucks with electric ones in the heavily polluted Duwamish Valley. City officials say the $1 million pilot is expected to subsidize the purchase of 15-20 electric trucks.
  • A ban on fossil fuel use in city-owned buildings by 2035.
  • A new design of the Burke-Gilman Trail’s 1.4-mile “missing link,” which has been stalled by opposition from some Ballard businesses for decades.
  • Free transit for Seattle middle schoolers. High schoolers got free transit in 2020. “We know that kids, when they ride transit, become transit users for the rest of their life,” Durkan said.

“This provides safe, reliable, and affordable trips for families,” Alex Hudson with the Transportation Choice Coalition said at the mayor’s press conference. “Transportation is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions as well as the air pollutants that affect public health and increased rates of asthma and other public health emergencies.”

“The city of Seattle is leading America in all of our efforts,” Durkan said, echoing a claim Seattle mayors have made for nearly 20 years.

Following similar bans in Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, and other California cities in 2019 and 2020, Seattle banned most natural gas use in new construction of large buildings in February 2021.

State law prohibits Washington cities from banning fossil fuel use or imposing tighter energy codes on residential buildings less than four stories tall.

“Three cities (Washington D.C., New York, and St. Louis) and Washington state have already passed legislation creating building performance standards,” trade publication FacilitiesNet.com reports.

Seattle’s Green New Deal law requires the city to aim for zero climate pollution by 2030, not 2050, as Durkan’s policies do.

“I thank [the Seattle City] Council for what they passed in terms of some of the targets they want to meet, but targets mean nothing unless we have a cohesive plan,” Durkan said.

“Zero emissions by 2030 is the proper goal, and what the City committed to in 2019,” climate activist Jess Wallach with 350 Seattle said in an email.

“Actually leading the nation would look like doing more than taking four years to make an underwhelming promise with no real targets or accountability,” Wallach said.

Durkan’s proposed 2022 city budget devotes much less money to curbing fossil fuels than activists have called for. It includes $1.7 million to convert 125 low-income households from oil heat to electric heat pumps. The “solidarity budget” pushed by progressive activist groups calls for $85 million annually over three years, enough to convert all oil-heated low-income homes in the city to clean energy.

Both candidates for Seattle mayor, Lorena González and Bruce Harrell, one of whom will replace Durkan in January, have signed a climate pledge to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions 58% by 2030 and eliminate them by 2050.

End of big oil and its revenue impact on Benicia

Benicia is a “mini-petrostate” — What’s Next?

(Chris Riley/Times-Herald)
The city of Benicia was given a shelter in place alert and areas south of the Valero Refinery were evacuated after a power outage caused a flare up sending plumes of black smoke across Interstate 680.
By Grant Cooke, Benicia Resident and President Ag Tech Blends, September 24, 2020
Grant Cooke

I recently warned that Benicia faces a self-induced calamity. If the town doesn’t come to grips with the reality that it’s game over for the oil industry and that the tax revenue from Valero will end, the town’s future will be grim.

I suggested that by mid-century most, of it not, all Bay Area refineries—Valero included—would be shut. It may be sooner, as recently, Governor Gavin Newsom announced an executive order that would phase out gasoline-powered cars and pickups by 2035.

Most likely the big oil companies will do their best to delay this, but the direction is clear, California is turning away from fossil-powered vehicular transportation. Electric and hydrogen powered vehicles will be the norm sooner, instead of later.

The impact on Benicia and the other towns—Martinez, Rodeo, Richmond—will be significant. Unless those towns plan ahead—a troublesome chore for municipal governments—services will be drastically cut.

Secondly, if the refineries lock the gates and walk away, the cities will be stuck with the bill for cleaning up the hazardous waste that has accumulated for decades on the refinery property.

A couple of other points to consider. The first is the horrendous conflagrations that are besetting our state. Anyone who lives in California and doesn’t accept that climate change is real and life-threatening needs to talk to some of the state’s farmers who live that reality daily. Farmers know the weather and they know the ravages they are facing as the climate changes.

Climate change is not complex. It is caused by excess greenhouse gases caused by excess fossil fuel use. School kids can explain it.

The second is further from Benicia, but relevant. Over the last few weeks, a peace accord has been struck between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Now Bahrain has joined and eventually Saudi Arabia and Iraq will also.

This is something I never dreamed I would see—peace in the Middle East. After all the trillions of dollars spent, the tragic deaths and wounded US soldiers, the horrific dismemberments by ISIS, and the millions of civilians who lost their homes, villages or lives; the wars are ending.

The stated reason for the accord is that the moderate nations are sick and tired of the Sunni and Shia extremists and decided that working with Israel with its military might and US backing is the lesser of two evils. These guys are ever pragmatists.

On the other hand, the unstated, but probably more significant reason, is the moderate nations, particularly UAE and Bahrain, have leaders who understand that they have to move away from oil-dependent economies. With a growing population of well-educated, underemployed and potentially restless citizens, change has to happen. The Middle East needs economic diversification with renewable energy, science, modern Western technology, risk capital and innovative thinkers, or the moderate nations are doomed.

This too is Benicia’s dilemma. Basically, the city is a mini petrostate with 45 percent of its tax revenue coming from Valero or related businesses. The city’s problem of dependency on oil tax revenue is the same as the Middle East nations, or Louisiana, or any other municipality that fails to plan for a non-carbon world. At least UAE and Bahrain have come to that realization.

If UAE and Bahrain can think this through, maybe Benicia can. The first step is to resist Valero’s and the union’s PAC to take over the city government in the November election. If the town’s oil interests and supporters control the city, planning for a diversified tax base won’t happen.

Vote for Steve Young and anyone else who is willing to refuse campaign contributions from Valero and the union PAC. That’s a simple step.

The next steps are going to be harder. The first is to bring the problem out in open. Ask Valero for their plans as the oil refinery winds down. What will be the decline in tax revenue? How much have they put aside for environmental cleanup? How many of their folks live in Benicia and what will be the job losses?

Supposedly, Valero says that it will be the “last man standing” or the final oil refinery left in the Bay Area. I doubt it. My bet is that Chevron in Richmond will hold out the longest because their corporate headquarters are in the Bay Area. Valero is a Texas company, which probably means they will be one of the first to shut.

The second step is that Benicia has to do what Bahrain is doing, namely diversify the tax revenue by moving from a fossil fuel to a knowledge-based economy. The world is full of examples of cities—Bristol, Vancouver, Melbourne, Singapore, come to mind—that have remade their economies.

There are several examples in the Bay Area—San Francisco, Walnut Creek, Livermore and Pleasanton.

The third step is probably the hardest still. The move to a robust knowledge-based economy with science, technology and innovation to produce wealth should be sub-regional—along the Straits. Benicia is going to have to cooperate with Vallejo.

Wealth is being generated all along 680 and both cities have to adapt quickly, or they will be left behind as Fairfield and Vacaville prosper by growing their knowledge and service-based economies.

Unfortunately, Benicia and Vallejo have flaws and neither has the ability to generate significant change. They do, however, have exceptional geography with beautiful waterfronts and spectacular views. They have more potential than other underdeveloped Bay Area cities, except maybe Richmond.

But neither can develop a robust new economy by themselves. They don’t have the resources or the willingness to overcome the differences that serious change requires.

There are no easy answers for remaking a city’s economy. It takes vision, hard work and a united citizenry with common goals and a willingness to change. Cities are like alcoholics; they usually don’t change their behavior until they reach rock bottom, or their livers give out.

The cities I mentioned that were able to remake their economies had remarkable good luck when a new company suddenly boomed—like Pleasanton with People Soft—or a brilliant and powerful leader like Willie Brown in San Francisco, who could wrench the existing power structure into action.

It is particularly hard for a small town like Benicia that has prospered along with a single industry and has a city council with decent folks but split agendas. Heaven knows there are small company towns—like Benicia—throughout the Rust Belt that are dead or dying because they waited until the gates were locked and the pink slips issued. Look what happened to Detroit.

The Bay Area is maybe the world’s center for science, technology, innovation and risk capital. It is an unparalleled combination that is being copied in China and on a smaller scale in Boston and Copenhagen. The mixture creates wealth like mountain snow creates mighty rivers. Despite the trillion-dollar successes of Apple, Google, Facebook and Sales Force, this era of magnificent knowledge-based companies is just starting. There are untold new wonders to be developed and decades to run.

It would be a pity if Benicia fails to participate.

####

Grant Cooke is a Benicia resident and co-author of two books:
By Woodrow Clark II and Grant Cooke, published by Elsevier and available at Amazon:
Grant Cooke
President, AgTech Blends
https://agtechblends.com

Game Over for the Oil Industry, What Will Benicia Do?

Emergency flaring at Valero Benicia Refinery, May 5, 2017. (Chris Riley/Times-Herald)
By Grant Cooke, Benicia resident and President, AgTech Blends, September 14, 2020
Grant Cooke

During the 2016 resistance to Valero’s horrendous attempt to bring crude oil by rail into Benicia, I urged the city council to rethink its dependence on Valero for the bulk of its tax support. I suggested then that we move away from being a “company town” to one that embraced a more knowledge-based economic model with a diversified tax base.

I pointed out that as the world’s industrial nations shift from carbon-driven economies that threatened severe climate disruption and environmental catastrophe to a clean energy driven model, those mega-trend shifts would have significant impact on our little town.

I noted that the era of the Bay Area’s refineries was drawing to a close and that most—including Valero—would be closed before mid-century.

It was not a popular observation, even though at the time there was a rumor that all five Bay Area refineries were for sale, but title couldn’t change hands because the environmental cleanup was prohibitive. Besides, the oil industry’s business model of ever-increasing demand was suspect.

Well, then the nation’s leadership banked a hard right, the Environmental Protection Agency was gutted, the heavy oil interests broke free, and the carbon boys rode tall as the U.S. became a net exporter and one of the world’s major oil producers.

2019 saw the highpoint. Production was up 11 percent to new historic U.S. highs of over 12 million barrels per day. In 2018 Brent Crude’s price was over $70 per barrel. It slipped to $65 per barrel in 2019, but production was at a fever pitch.

And then it all collapsed. The Saudis and the Russians did a circular firing squad, OPEC stumbled, supply burgeoned, the novel coronavirus hit, and the U.S. economy tanked. At this spring’s lows, Brent Crude dropped to about $34 per barrel.

Now that the Saudis and Russians have given up their battle, Brent has budged a bit to $44 per barrel.

With the economic collapse so too has the demand for gasoline. Storage is full, demand is way down, supply is way up.

Valero as a refiner makes money when oil prices slide. As long as supply increases and oil prices drop but demand for gas is constant, money is made, profits are up, bonuses and dividends are paid.

Back in June 2018, Valero was in its glory, and the stock price was a couple of cents under $127 per share. The fall was ugly. By April 2020, it broke down to around $31. It has since rebounded a bit—what the financial folks colorfully describe as a Dead Cat bounce—to the mid-$50s. Most likely, it will turn down again and the dividend will be reduced.

What’s equally as devastating to Valero and the oil industry, is that Covid-19 and the subsequent economic collapse has pushed clean energy forward into the nation’s recovery plans. A huge national infrastructure plan is on the horizon, much of it encompassing renewable energy.

This is the TESLA tsunami with its market cap of $144 billion, and the growing consumer recognition that e-vehicles are better, faster, and cleaner than gas-powered cars. E-vehicles and hybrids are the growing segment of the auto market.

About 13 percent of California’s vehicles are e-vehicles or hybrids, and the percentage is growing with the state’s goal of 5 million zero emission vehicles on the road by 2030.

Pickups and commercial vehicles like trucks and forklifts are turning to electric motors for their increased power and torque. Even in the mining industry, electric, autonomous vehicles are being phased in to reduce costs and improve efficiency.

Eventually, there won’t be any more diesel trucks idling in Oakland’s port, and the incidence of asthma will drop significantly in nearby neighborhoods.

The oil industry needs to look no further for discouraging news than the recent announcement by General Motors, the largest U.S. automaker, that it is converting most of its fleet to electric power. Led by Cadillac, GM intends to have 20 electric nameplates by 2023, including an electric Hummer and a rumored Corvette that will hit 200 mph to compete with the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E.

Further, Southern California’s Hyperion just introduced the XP-1, a mind-blowing mega car powered by hydrogen with a top speed over 220 mph and a range of 1,000 miles on a tank of hydrogen. Europe already has hydrogen-powered buses, and hydrogen fuel cell technology will only hasten the development of carbon-free vehicles.

Finally, and what really should worry Valero and Benicia, is that Phillips 66 just announced that they are converting the Rodeo facility from refining crude oil to a renewable fuels plant using cooking oil and food wastes to produce motor fuels. The conversion should be finished in 2024.

The oil industry is not known for its vision and if Phillips sees that the carbon era is over, most likely it is.

As the world transitions away from carbon energy, the remaining crude-based Bay Area refineries will suffer, and some will lock their gates. The money isn’t there for the environmental cleanup, so the cities—Benicia, Martinez, Pinole, Richmond—will be left without tax revenue and worse, holding the bag for the hazardous waste.

The November election is critical for our nation, and equally important for our town. Some city council candidates are being funded by the oil industry, in a last-ditch effort to cement political power and influence, preserve profits, and probably re-introduce a Crude-by-Rail agenda.

The oil industry and union Political Action Committee, or PAC, has in fact set aside $250,000 this year to steer the 2020 election to their chosen candidates. It would be tragic for Benicia’s if they succeed.

The future for Benicia is not in clinging to the century-long carbon industry that is in decline. Benicia’s future is, or at least should be, in the knowledge-based economy. Science, technology and innovation are the drivers that create wealth and municipal security in the Bay Area. That is where the future is, not in the gas pumps.

Benicia is facing a severe challenge. The carbon-based tax structure that supported its amiable lifestyle with a full range of municipal services is ending.

Allowing a last gasp effort by the oil industry to control the city’s future is a terrible idea. That game is, and should be, over.

I’m voting for and supporting Steve Young for mayor. (And no, Steve has not approved this message.)


Grant Cooke is a Benicia resident and co-author of two books:
By Woodrow Clark II and Grant Cooke, published by Elsevier and available at Amazon:
Grant Cooke
President, AgTech Blends
https://agtechblends.com