Tag Archives: Gov. Jerry Brown

Mr. Governor, kill the oil ‘watchdog’ – Tom Hayden on California’s pathetic fracking regulator

Repost from The San Francisco Chronicle

Watchdog or lapdog of Big Oil?

By Tom Hayden, April 24, 2015 4:32pm
LOST HILLS, CA - MARCH 24:  The sun rises over an oil field over the Monterey Shale formation where gas and oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is on the verge of a boom on March 24, 2014 near Lost Hills, California. Critics of fracking in California cite concerns over water usage and possible chemical pollution of ground water sources as California farmers are forced to leave unprecedented expanses of fields fallow in one of the worst droughts in California history. Concerns also include the possibility of earthquakes triggered by the fracking process which injects water, sand and various chemicals under high pressure into the ground to break the rock to release oil and gas for extraction though a well. The 800-mile-long San Andreas Fault runs north and south on the western side of the Monterey Formation in the Central Valley and is thought to be the most dangerous fault in the nation. Proponents of the fracking boom saying that the expansion of petroleum extraction is good for the economy and security by developing more domestic energy sources and increasing gas and oil exports.   (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images) Photo: David McNew, Getty Images
LOST HILLS, CA – MARCH 24: The sun rises over an oil field over the Monterey Shale formation where gas and oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is on the verge of a boom on March 24, 2014 near Lost Hills, California. Critics of fracking in California cite concerns over water usage and possible chemical pollution of ground water sources as California farmers are forced to leave unprecedented expanses of fields fallow in one of the worst droughts in California history. Concerns also include the possibility of earthquakes triggered by the fracking process which injects water, sand and various chemicals under high pressure into the ground to break the rock to release oil and gas for extraction though a well. The 800-mile-long San Andreas Fault runs north and south on the western side of the Monterey Formation in the Central Valley and is thought to be the most dangerous fault in the nation. Proponents of the fracking boom saying that the expansion of petroleum extraction is good for the economy and security by developing more domestic energy sources and increasing gas and oil exports. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Jerry Brown perhaps should put his DOGGR to sleep. Not his family dog, Sutter, but DOGGR — the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources — the 100-year-old agency that’s been handing out permits for drilling in the Central Valley without records, oversight or enforcement of 21st century environmental laws.

The agency was created prior to Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel, “Oil!,” on which Daniel Day-Lewis’ 2007 film, “There Will Be Blood,” was based. Oil was to California what cotton was to Mississippi, a booming industry based on subsistence labor, migration, racism, vigilantism, and government officials looking the other way.

Oil wells in the Midway-Sunset oil field in Fellows (Kern County). Monterey Shale, largely untouched territory near Midway-Sunset, could represent the future of California's oil industry and a potential arena for conflict between drillers and the state’s powerful environmental interests. Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times
Oil wells in the Midway-Sunset oil field in Fellows (Kern County). Monterey Shale, largely untouched territory near Midway-Sunset, could represent the future of California’s oil industry and a potential arena for conflict between drillers and the state’s powerful environmental interests. Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

Times change but slowly. Current Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, who says Kern ought to be a county in Arizona, opposes President Obama’s immigrant-rights policy. There are an estimated 66,000 undocumented immigrants in Kern County, whose population is majority Latino. More than 22 percent of its people live below the poverty line, 69 percent of them within one mile of an oil well.

The barren place is a bit like Mississippi in the ’60s, powerful enough to defy progressive norms or laws on the national level. The federal government in 1982 transferred its power to California to monitor and regulate the 42,000 injection wells that dump toxic waste fluids into groundwater. That monitoring didn’t happen, a lapse that the feds say is shocking. The human carcinogen benzene has been detected in fracking wastewater at levels 700 times over federal safety standards. Health impact studies are inadequate, but Kern community hospital managers say the county has one of the highest cancer rates in the country, which is expected to double in 10 years.

How did it happen that the Obama Environmental Protection Agency is pushing the Jerry Brown EPA to comply with modern environmental law? The same Gov. Jerry Brown signed that 1982 agreement, giving Big Oil an opportunity to oversee itself. Those were the days when President Ronald Reagan’s Anne Gorsuch ran the federal EPA, perhaps convincing California that it could do a better job.

As a result of the 1982 transfer, the feds say California has failed at oversight and record-keeping. With the feds watching, the state has two years to implement a meaningful monitoring plan.

Brown has tried to fix the problem, which undercuts his claim that drilling and controversial fracking can be addressed by beefed up regulations instead of a moratorium on fracking that most environmentalists want. He has added more professional staff to DOGGR and installed a new director, Steve Bohlen, who promises to clean up the place. Since last summer, the agency has shut down 23 injection wells out of 2,500.

The preference of one experienced state official is to peel back DOGGR, move it to Cal EPA and turning it into a real regulatory agency instead of a lapdog for the oil industry. But Brown officials prefer the uphill task of reforming DOGGR from within, and have signaled they will veto any bill that brings the agency under state EPA jurisdiction. The Legislature is going along with his incremental approach, so far.

The task will be daunting. The DOGGR mandate has been to drill, baby, drill, says state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara. DOGGR’s legal mandate calls for “increasing the ultimate recovery of underground hydrocarbons,” not determining whether drilling or fracking are sustainable and safe for aquifers or human health. Her SB545 is still a work in progress, however. It stops the archaic custom of drilling permits being obtained and accepted without any written approvals or findings, which upsets the feds and shuts out the public. Until recently, an oil company simply gave notice of its intent to drill and was entitled to proceed unless the agency said no in writing within 10 days. Under Jackson’s bill, an application to drill will require written approval, and the paperwork will be posted on the DOGGR website. In addition, the bill will limit the Kern custom of keeping records about chemicals and water impacts confidential, even when a well has gone into production.

However, the bill’s language makes oversight optional by saying that DOGGR “may” require an operator to implement a monitoring plan. Decision-making power is devolved to the division district deputy in Kern, which is like expecting a Mississippi sheriff to carry out federal law in 1964 — or the present Kern sheriff to enforce immigration law today. Nor does the bill give the state EPA or health experts any shared authority in the permitting process.

Well derricks crowd the Kern River oil field in Bakersfield in 1912. Photo: Chevron, SFC
Well derricks crowd the Kern River oil field in Bakersfield in 1912. Photo: Chevron, SFC

At the heart of the scandal is the historic power of Big Oil against the emergence of California’s clean-energy economy with its priorities of renewable resources and efficiency. The Democratic majority in Sacramento is hobbled by a pro-drilling contingent, led by Republicans with a number of Central Valley Democrats. The oil lobby spent $9 million in 2014 in a failed attempt to exempt themselves from the state’s cap-and-trade law. The effort was led by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, along with 16 Democratic legislators. In a more striking example, state Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, left his seat in 2013 to begin lobbying for Chevron, one of the major firms along with Occidental Petroleum operating in Kern’s oil fields. The oil lobby is spending large sums to cultivate friendly Democratic candidates and underwrite advertising campaigns warning of a “hidden gas tax” if their privileges are threatened.

Many Sacramento insiders believe that Brown has made concessions to Big Oil in order to protect his considerable progress toward clean-energy goals while not confronting the industry the way he took on the nuclear lobby in the ’70s. That’s understandable, if it works. Now, however, his regulatory reputation needs rebuilding. What if his DOGGR won’t hunt? What if it’s beyond reform? What will the governor and Legislature do if facing open defiance from the powers that be in Kern on a range of issues from clean air and water to the protection of children’s health to environmental justice? With the drought on everyone’s mind, can he allow the state’s aquifers to be threatened by the carcinogenic wastewater of oil production?

The DOGGR scandal drills deeply into the foundations on which state politics are built.

Tom Hayden writes, speaks and consults on climate politics and serves on the editorial board of the Nation. His latest book is “Listen Yankee!: Why Cuba Matters.” (Seven Stories Press, 2015).
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    Ontario confirms it will join Quebec, California in carbon market

    Repost from San Francisco Chronicle, SFGate

    Ontario backs California’s carbon market

    By David R. Baker, April 13, 2015 3:59 pm

    Ontario plans to join California’s cap-and-trade market for reining in greenhouse gases and fighting climate change, the Canadian province’s premier, Kathleen Wynne, said Monday.

    If the country’s most populous province follows through, it would greatly expand the size of the market, which California launched on its own in 2012. Quebec joined last year.

    “Climate change needs to be fought around the globe, and it needs to be fought here in Canada and Ontario,” Wynne said.

    Cap and trade puts a price on the greenhouse gas emissions that the vast majority of climate scientists agree are raising temperatures worldwide.

    Companies in participating states and provinces must buy permits, called allowances, to pump carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the air. The number of permits available shrinks over time, reducing emissions. Companies that make deep cuts in their emissions can sell spare allowances to other businesses.        California officials always wanted other states and provinces to join the market. In 2008, six other states and four Canadian provinces (including Ontario and Quebec) agreed in principle to create a carbon market, one that could possibly expand to cover all of North America.

    But one by one, California’s potential partners dropped out, and congressional efforts to create a national cap-and-trade system collapsed in 2010. California officials decided to go it alone.

    Wynne gave few details Monday about Ontario’s effort. Instead, she signed an agreement with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard to   collaborate on crafting Ontario’s cap-and-trade regulations. For Ontario to join the market, officials with the California Air Resources Board would need to certify that the province’s cap-and-trade rules mesh with California’s. Gov. Jerry Brown would also have to approve.

    Brown on Monday welcomed Wynne’s announcement.

    “This is a bold move from the province of Ontario — and the challenge we face demands further action from other states and provinces around the world,” Brown said. “There’s a human cost to the billions of tons of carbon spewing into our atmosphere, and there must be a price on it.”

    Much like California, Ontario has a significant clean-tech industry, estimated   to employ about 65,000 people.

    While Quebec and now Ontario have pursued cap and trade, British Columbia chose another route to pricing greenhouse gas emissions. The province in 2008 established a carbon tax on fuels, using the revenue to cut other taxes.

    Alberta, home to Canada’s controversial oil sands, also has a carbon   tax on large emitters, although critics consider it too limited and low to be effective. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee last year proposed a carbon tax on heavy emitters, only to meet with resistance from both political parties.

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      Solar industry heating up in California

      Repost from The Sacramento Bee
      [Editor: I still burn fossil fuel in my car, but my home and my electric bicycle are powered by the sun.  In Benicia, call or email Dave Hampton of Diablo Solar – Dave and the crew did a great job on my home.  – RS]

      Solar industry is heating up again after stumbling during recession

      Northern California companies are part of the energy surge
      By Mark Glover, 11/08/2014
      Birds fly over a solar power array, owned by the Sutter Basin Growers Cooperative, that provides Northern California farmers with a renewable energy source to power key equipment and save on energy costs in Knights Landing.
      Birds fly over a solar power array, owned by the Sutter Basin Growers Cooperative, that provides Northern California farmers with a renewable energy source to power key equipment and save on energy costs in Knights Landing. | Paul Kitagaki Jr./Sacramento Bee file

      The solar power industry, viewed more than a decade ago as a game-changing, jobs-producing juggernaut in California, took its lumps during the recession.

      But now it’s coming back with a vengeance, both here and globally.

      Some California solar system installers say they have work backlogs. New deals to build new solar power-generating arrays are being announced regularly. And the nation’s No. 1 solar installer, San Mateo-based SolarCity Corp., recently created ripples industrywide, announcing a loan program that lets homeowners finance and buy their rooftop solar systems. It also announced an offering of what it calls the nation’s first solar bonds.

      “Inch by inch and now leap by leap, solar is growing and creeping further into the mainstream … and California is a center point for what we’re seeing now,” said Alfred Abernathy, a Bay Area energy analyst.

      That growth is fueled partly by a sunnier economy, falling manufacturing costs, federal tax incentives and increasing consumer and corporate enthusiasm for renewable energy. Solar also has boomed far beyond California’s borders, spreading in China, Japan and Europe.

      For perspective, the U.S. Department of Energy shows that the United States currently has about 16 gigawatts of installed solar power, or enough to power more than 3 million average American homes. Through June this year, California accounted for nearly half – 7 gigawatts – of the national total. A gigawatt is a unit of power equal to 1 billion watts.

      By contrast, China’s solar power supply is more than 23 gigawatts, and it has set a goal of 35 gigawatts in 2015. Japan surpassed 14 gigawatts early this year and is working toward a goal of doubling that by 2020.

      Sacramento’s solar hotspots

      The industry’s hot streak has rippled throughout the Sacramento area.

      SolarCity, which employs more than 500 locally, plans to move its rapidly growing sales staff into 60,000 square feet of space at 1000 Enterprise Way in Roseville’s Vineyard Pointe Business Park next month.

      SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive noted that if his company’s Sacramento-area operations alone were considered a single company, it would be among the largest solar firms in the United States.

      Last month, Folsom-based 8minutenergy Renewables LLC received approval to build three solar projects of up to 135 megawatts in Kern County. Collectively called the Redwood Solar Farms, it will be developed on 640 acres of farmland. Construction of the first phase is set to begin in December, with energy production expected to begin in mid-2015.

      Roseville’s SPI Solar, which warned in an early 2013 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that there was “substantial doubt as to the company’s ability to continue as a going concern,” has found new life since closely aligning operations with LDK Solar Co., its China-based parent company. In recent weeks, SPI has signed a blizzard of solar development agreements in China (regarded as the world’s No. 1 solar market), Japan and Europe.

      David Hochschild, one of five commissioners on the California Energy Commission and an expert in renewable energy, acknowledged that solar energy was once regarded as a relatively exotic technology that was outside the mainstream for most consumers. But that perception is changing, and he envisions solar’s growth path similar to what the mobile phone industry experienced nearly a generation ago.

      “I think the future is very bright, and I think that we will eventually reach the point where solar panels are as ubiquitous as cellphones,” he said.

      Driving the growth

      A combination of factors is propelling solar forward in California.

      For one, an improving economy has helped. Sales and installations of residential and commercial solar systems nosedived during the housing meltdown but are on the upswing now.

      Mark Frederick, president and CEO of CitiGreen Solar in Auburn, says his company is backlogged with orders from commercial clients. “My experience with businesses is that they are willing to invest (in solar) when they have had three good years in a row, and we have been seeing that.”

      Hochschild cites another major factor: “In the past, the barrier has been cost, but it’s no longer a barrier.”

      Improved methods of solar panel production have dramatically reduced manufacturing expenses, said Hochschild. In 1980, solar panels cost around $35 per watt to produce, he said. That fell to around $5 a watt in 2000 and currently stands at around 70 cents a watt.

      Low cost was not always considered a plus in the solar industry. China’s overproduction of solar panels was cited by some energy experts as one of the factors producing a soft market in 2012. But the international playing field has shifted.

      Subsidization of solar projects in China and Japan helped turbocharge the industry in those nations, to the point where Hochschild says the United States is the world’s No. 3 solar market, behind China and Japan, respectively. In China’s case, it went from being a relatively small builder of solar installations to a major builder in just several years.

      That has benefited Roseville’s SPI Solar, which is now finding substantial work overseas due to its relationship with Chinese parent LDK. Xiaofeng Peng, SPI’s chairman, says SPI is now “one of the largest photovoltaic development companies in (China’s) market.”

      Hochschild said California’s solar market also has benefited from Gov. Jerry Brown’s push for a third of California’s energy supply to come from renewable sources by 2020. Also helping the solar industry are federal tax credits of 30 percent for homeowners and businesses that install solar panels by Dec. 31, 2016.

      Tax credits also played a role in SolarCity’s recently announced solar financing plan, which analyst Abernathy called a “game-changer.” “On one level, it’s a variation of the old-fashioned car loan.” Under the company’s MyPower plan, consumers take out a 30-year loan to purchase their rooftop solar system, rather than leasing it, which is the norm. The benefit of buying the system is that the homeowner gets the 30 percent federal tax credit, instead of the solar company.

      Some red flags

      For all of solar’s promise, energy analysts warn that the industry’s history is laced with periods of boom and bust, dating back to the 1954 invention of the world’s first practical solar cell by scientists at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey.

      Already, there are some red flags.

      In Japan, where subsidies and a favorable tariff policy created a solar boom following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, energy analysts are now citing a glut of renewable-energy businesses and applications for solar facilities. Some fear that the industry could collapse under its own weight. Japan solar investors who were betting on relatively high renewable-energy rates over the long term are now voicing concerns.

      In Europe, Germany was the embodiment of solar power expansion from 2010-12, installing a whopping 22.5 gigawatts of capacity. However, solar power installations have declined for two years, accompanied by significant job losses in the industry. Renewable-energy advocates have blamed the German government for enacting policies that restricted tariff benefits and put unreasonable restrictions on utility-scale installations.

      SolarCity’s Rive dismissed concerns about the solar industry and its past history, stating that the recessionary dip in California occurred in manufacturing, not in the growth of solar companies.

      As further evidence of the increasingly mainstream interest in solar technologies, a handful of major U.S. companies are now offering their workers substantial discounts on solar installations for their homes, making it another employee benefit like health care. The discounts will be available to 100,000 employees of four companies – Cisco Systems, 3M, Kimberly-Clark and National Geographic – part of a program announced last month by the World Wildlife Fund.

      To insiders like Rive, that’s yet another sign of the solar industry’s momentum: “Now, more people are educated on it. More people are getting it.”

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        CA Fish & Wildlife wants new emergency regulations by September

        Repost from The Los Angeles Times, Business
        [Editor:  Significant quote: “Plans also call for safety drills and, possibly, the placement of safety equipment at potentially dangerous rail ‘pinch points.’  …These points include spots along rail routes through the Feather River Canyon and Donner Pass in Northern California, the Tehachapi Pass and San Luis Obispo in the central part of the state, and urban rail corridors in Southern California, officials said.”  Hmmm … how about urban rail corridors in Northern California??  – RS]

        State moves to improve safety in transporting oil by rail

        Marc Lifsher, July 7, 2014
        1889739_FI_0603_Crude_By_Rail_IK
        A year after rail tanker cars carrying crude oil in Canada exploded and killed 47 people, California is stepping up efforts to prevent a similar disaster on tracks crisscrossing the state. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

        A year after rail tanker cars carrying crude oil in Canada exploded and killed 47 people, California is stepping up efforts to prevent a similar disaster on tracks crisscrossing the state.

        In recent weeks, the state began pumping more money into a new rail safety program, the Legislature approved new fees on oil being carried by train, and the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department started planning how to better protect inland waterways from oil spills.

        “We have a clear and present risk to Californians right now from potential spills,” said Chuck Bonham, Fish and Wildlife director. “We’re moving fast per the Legislature to best prepare California for that risk.”

        There’s good reason for rushing, Bonham warned. Crude oil shipments to California last year rose to 6.3 million barrels, up 1.1 million barrels from the 2012 total. Imports could rise to 150 million 42 gallon barrels, a quarter of the state total, by 2016, the California Energy Commission estimates.

        The Fish and Wildlife Department, which oversees the state’s Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response, is set to hire 38 technicians to boost a current crew of 250 people, previously funded to deal mainly with coastal oil spills.

        Top Fish and Wildlife officials already are meeting with other federal, state and local government agencies to set priorities and schedule a series of emergency response drills at high-risk stretches of rail lines, such as in the mountains, marshlands and densely populated urban neighborhoods.

        The new hires and expanded responsibility will be paid for by a fee of 6.5 cents per barrel of crude oil transported through the state by rail or pipeline. The fees were approved by the Legislature in mid-June after a heated battle between California’s powerful oil industry, the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown and environmentalists.

        The governor basically got what he wanted: a dedicated source of money to help respond quickly to both maritime spills and potential and actual accidents involving pipelines and rail tanker cars bringing crude oil to refineries from in-state wells and fields in the Great Plains and Canada.

        But that’s just part of the state’s response to the threat posed by train wrecks involving crude oil cargoes. The state Public Utilities Commission is hiring seven additional track inspectors to work with federal government counterparts to keep oil trains with up to 100 tank cars rolling safely.

        And lawmakers still are considering even more measures to require railroads to provide greater information about oil trains passing through communities, establish round-the-clock emergency communications, and levy per-tank-car fees for emergency response activities.

        “The funding in the budget is an important step,” said Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), author of one of three tank-car-safety bills, “but more actions can be taken to help prevent and respond to accidents.”

        The Brown administration’s goal is to set up a comprehensive system for safeguarding an estimated 7,000 rail and 5,000 pipeline crossings over inland waters.

        With that in mind, Fish and Wildlife already has hosted a number of meetings with state and federal government agencies, including the State Fire Marshal and the U.S. Coast Guard, that also deal with oil spills. State officials are reaching out to railroad companies and tank car manufacturers, who are working on more crash-resistant rolling stock.

        “The folks who transport oil and store oil in appreciable volume need to develop contingency plans for how to protect sensitive sites,” said Thomas Cullen, a former Coast Guard captain, who runs the state’s prevention and response program.

        Plans also call for safety drills and, possibly, the placement of safety equipment at potentially dangerous rail “pinch points.”

        These points include spots along rail routes through the Feather River Canyon and Donner Pass in Northern California, the Tehachapi Pass and San Luis Obispo in the central part of the state, and urban rail corridors in Southern California, officials said.

        “We’ve got to go shoulder-to-shoulder working with industry,” Cullen said.

        One of the first steps, he said, will be issuing emergency regulations for rail and pipeline oil transportation, which he hopes can happen by September.

        Officials said permanent regulations should be ready about a year later, after Fish and Wildlife holds hearings to get input from railroads, oil companies, environmentalists, local government agencies and neighborhood groups.

        Oil companies, which had opposed some parts of the governor’s program, including the fee for inland shipments, say they want to cooperate with the state’s expanding safety efforts.

        “It’s going to add some additional expense to getting California energy to consumers,” said Tupper Hull, a spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Assn., a trade group.

        “Our primary concern,” he said, is to see that state money goes to first responders “to give them the equipment and training necessary so people can have confidence that this is a safe transportation mode.”

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