SACRAMENTO — The California Legislature passed two bills Wednesday that extend the state’s ambitious goals to reduce the impact of greenhouse gases and provide additional oversight on the agency charged with carrying out climate-change policies.
Gov. Jerry Brown praised lawmakers for passing SB32 and AB197, saying passage was an important milestone after similar efforts failed last year amid intense lobbying by the oil industry. Brown said he plans to sign the bills when they reach his desk.
“Legislation is not like Twitter,” Brown said. “You don’t do it in 140 characters or in a few seconds. It takes months and sometimes years. It takes trying, failing, amending and trying again; negotiation. There are 120 members in the Legislature, and not everyone sees things the same way.”
SB32 calls for the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The bill expands on AB32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which requires the state to reduce greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020. The state is expected to reach that target.
“We have discovered, with these policies, our economy continues to go up, but our emissions are going down,” said termed-out state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills (Los Angeles County). “It’s not a choice between a healthy environment and sound economy. In California, we can do it both ways.”
AB197 directs the California Air Resources Board to prioritize disadvantaged communities in its climate-change regulations, and to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the measures it considers. The bill also allows the Legislature to appoint two lawmakers as nonvoting members of the board, a move supporters said will provide more transparency and oversight on the agency.
Lawmakers have criticized the lack of diversity on the board, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount (Los Angeles County) said the board has a credibility problem.
“Any exercise of authority has to be reviewed,” Brown said when asked about the criticism of the board that is largely appointed by him. “Any time you have the power to say no or reduce your high-carbon fuel, reduce your pollutants, change the way a carbonized society works, it will be felt with some sting. That’s the reality, but we want to make sure we are doing it in a way that advances our goals of equity and inclusion.”
Brown unsuccessfully lobbied to have the cap-and-trade program included in SB32, but lawmakers balked because the bill already faced an uncertain future in the Assembly. On Tuesday, the Assembly narrowly passed the bill with one vote to spare, although several Democratic lawmakers changed their votes to approve of the legislation after it passed.
The Senate passed SB32 on Wednesday in a 25-13 vote.
The future of cap-and-trade remains uncertain due to a legal challenge from the California Chamber of Commerce. That uncertainty, along with some fearing SB32 would not be signed into law, contributed to poor auction results this year.
EDITORIAL On Senate Bill 32
Step ahead on climate
California is doubling down in the fight against climate change. After teetering on defeat, a state bill that expands efforts to curb heat-trapping emissions is in the final stages of approval.
The measure, SB32, builds on the state’s plan in 2006 to cut greenhouse gases by 30 percent by 2020, a goal that’s already within reach. With both the Senate and now the Assembly in support, the bill pushes the state to trim climate-altering emissions by 40 percent by 2030.
An accompanying bill would give the state Air Resources Board more power to regulate industrial and refinery emissions in a bow to lawmakers from low-income areas who want more out of climate change ideas. That bill, AB197, is hanging, a target for business lobbyists who want to sink the overall effort. Passing this second measure is essential to complete a comprehensive effort.
Still, the success so far is worth notice. California isn’t budging from its course. White House aides and Gov. Jerry Brown called wavering moderate Democrats for their votes, which the same lawmakers had withheld last year. With the nation stalled on climate change steps, California has a chance to move forward and demonstrate the effects, costs and benefits of its aggressive steps. The ability to add pollution controls to a roaring economy is making the state a globally watched experiment.
The rules need attention. One key mechanism is the cap and trade exchange that obliges polluting industries to purchase credits from cleaner operations. The sales aren’t netting the expected amounts with less than $10 million spent in the latest auction. The money is due to go to pollution-limiting programs such as transit and the struggling high speed rail project.
Defenders of the cap and trade plan say that uncertainty over the legislative outcome is to blame for the weak revenue. Now that the state’s direction is emphatically decided, the value of pollution credits should stabilize, they argue. That’s a claim that needs testing.
On balance, Brown has been a good advocate for climate action, though he does have one notable blind spot: his continued silence on a plan to ship major quantities of coal through a new Oakland port facility for overseas combustion. That project just happens to belong to Phil Tagami, a buddy and political donor to the governor. May we remind the governor of his own words from last year: “It doesn’t make sense to be shutting down coal plants (in the U.S.) and then export it for somebody else to burn in a more dirty way,” he said.
Let the record be clear: Brown’s climate commitment is incomplete until he takes a stand, one way or another, on that Oakland coal train.
Legislature needs to pass California’s climate bills now
San Francisco Chronicle Editorial, September 8, 2015 4:54pm
This was never going to be easy.
When California passed AB32 in 2006, state leaders were feted all over the world for their strong leadership and their willingness to do the hard work in the fight against climate change.
But now the party’s over. The state Legislature is embroiled in a tough fight around SB350 and SB32, two critical bills that represent California’s next steps toward achieving our climate change goals.
This year’s legislative deadline is Friday, so legislators must act now.
The most controversial bill is SB350, by state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles.
The petroleum industry has its guns aimed on the bill, which would require the state Air Resources Board to decide how the state should reduce petroleum use by 50 percent over the next 15 years and require utilities to increase their renewable energy portfolios to 50 percent by 2030. It would also require improved energy efficiency in buildings.
Those are tough goals, but they’re achievable. California can get there without resorting to the scare tactics that the oil industry is suggesting in its disingenuous ad campaigns (a ban on minivans and SUVs, Soviet-style gas rationing, and other over-the-top threats).
The state Assembly’s own analysis points out that California’s existing regulations have already set the stage for a decline in statewide petroleum consumption by 31 to 41 percent by 2030.
SB350 represents one more push, not a paradigm shift.
Still, there are a few waverers among the moderate Democrats in the state Assembly. (SB350 has already passed the state Senate.)
De León is still seeking to compromise with them (he’s offered amendments to beef up oversight of the state Air Resources Board and is open to giving the state Legislature a chance to modify whatever regulations the board winds up proposing), which is positive. Increasing oversight of the board would be an especially good idea.
But there should be no compromise on the centerpiece guidelines of the bill. After all, the climate isn’t willing to compromise with California.
SB32, authored by state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills (Los Angeles County), has gotten less attention — but it doesn’t deserve to get lost in the end-of-the-year fray.
SB32 requires California to further slash greenhouse gas emissions, first to 40 percent below 1990 levels (by 2030), and eventually to 80 percent below 1990 levels (by 2050).
These are ambitious goals, and the state Legislature will have to refine them as technology and conditions change. But there’s no reason to believe that California can’t adapt to high standards.
Since we passed AB32, California’s economy has grown — not cratered. We’ve added jobs all over the economy, from manufacturing to clean technology.
Have there been financial costs? Yes. But Californians also value public health and the future of the planet, and that’s why the state Legislature needs to stop dithering and pass SB32 and SB350.
As new study shows, we don’t know how dangerous fracking might be
San Francisco Chronicle, July 12, 2015
A long-anticipated scientific report about hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, explains just how much we don’t know about the potential effects of chemicals used in the controversial oil extraction technique. The Legislature and California’s regulatory agencies need to heed the report’s warnings and insist on more data from oil companies about their activities.
“The environmental characteristics of many chemicals remain unknown,” write the authors of the report, which was conducted by the California Council on Science and Technology and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
“We lack information to determine if these chemicals would present a threat to human health or the environment if released to groundwater or other environmental media.”
The report concludes that we don’t know the risks and hazards associated with some two-thirds of the additives used in fracking, and the toxicity of more than half of the chemicals used in it.
That’s completely unacceptable, which is why the report’s authors suggest limiting the use of chemicals with “unknown environmental profiles.”
Considering the fact that there’s the potential for contamination (of both food and water sources) linked to fracking, the suggestion isn’t much of a stretch.
The report also suggests the need for a stronger regulatory response to current practices. Even the researchers, for example, were surprised to learn that recycled wastewater from the oil fields is being used on crops.
State Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, has authored a bill, SB248, that requires a new inspections and data recording process for well operations. Last week, Pavley said she intends to amend her bill to include some of the report’s recommendations.
“The scientists are emphatic that state regulators must protect underground sources of drinkable water from being contaminated by fracking in shallow wells and other potentially unsafe practices,” Pavley said in a statement. We agree with that conclusion, and we urge the Legislature to take action to protect consumers and the environment.
Repost from The Benicia Herald [Editor: A year ago, almost to the day, I wrote an Op-Ed for The Benicia Herald titled, “Valero crude-by-rail: ‘Down-wind’ and ‘up-rail’.” A few months later, I was contacted by Milton Kalish and Lynne Nittler of Davis, and we’ve stayed in touch. They – and their wonderful group of activist friends in Cool Davis, Yolano Climate Action and 350 Sacramento – have continued their CBR organizing efforts with great energy and creativity. This open letter by Lynne serves as a detailed primer of all the reasons why CBR must be stopped. A must-read. – RS]
Open letter to Benicia: Stop crude by rail
July 10, 2014 by Lynne Nittler
IN RESPONSE TO JIM LESSENGER’S OPED OF JULY 4, “Open letter to the City Council: Support CBR,” I write today urging Benicia to deny the proposed Valero Refinery Crude-by-Rail Project until all safety measures listed below are in place.
I have been carefully following the proposed Benicia project, reading articles from a wide variety of sources including many reports and, most recently, the Draft Environmental Impact Report.
I follow a number of environmental topics closely, particularly those related to climate change. I am on the board of Cool Davis, a nonprofit organization that helps the city of Davis implement its Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.
I have an “uprail” perspective that is important to add to the conversation on the Valero proposal, as the impact of the daily trains would be significant in my community.
I have six reasons Benicia should deny the CBR project. They are as follows:
1. The project is far from contained within Benicia’s 3,000-acre Industrial Park.
Benicia is fortunate to have a buffer area of industries and vacant land around Valero Benicia Refinery. Valero has even promised that the oil trains will not cross city streets during Benicia’s rush hours (though neither Valero nor the city of Benicia can enforce that promise).
Davis and other uprail communities are not so fortunate. The trains will pass through downtown Davis, including residential neighborhoods, the center of downtown, university housing and the entire Mondavi Performing Arts Complex and Conference Center.
Train travel through Davis is made more dangerous because there is a curve with a 10-mph left-handed cross-over between the main tracks several hundred feet east of the Amtrak station, right downtown. All other crossovers on the line are rated for 45 mph. This 10-mph spot in particular is an accident waiting to happen.
While the trains would hopefully avoid rush hour in Benicia, that will surely not be the case for all uprail communities.
2. Valero owns the property but should not be allowed to set profits ahead of public health and safety.
No corporation operates in a vacuum. Valero’s decision to import North American crude has profound effects beyond its own improvement that cannot be ignored.
Valero’s change to crude by rail from crude by ship would allow it to import both Canadian tar sands and Bakken crude, and would add additional dangerous trains to the tracks all the way back to their points of origin, most likely in North Dakota or Alberta, Canada. That means the trains endanger and disrupt towns and cities across our country on their way to Benicia. These tracks are already impacted by oil trains taking precedence over trains transporting grain and other local crops and commuter trains. More importantly, people are endangered by the highly volatile Bakken crude — there have been 12 significant derailments since May 2013, with six explosions — and our precious marshes and waterways are threatened by the possibility of toxic spills of tar sands bitumen, which quickly sinks to the bottom and cannot be removed. The Kalamazoo River, Mich. cleanup of 1 million gallons of leaked tar sands dilbit is still unsuccessful after four years and $1 billion.
In California, the trains would come over the Sierra Nevada Mountains or wind through the Feather River Canyon (rated as a “rail high-hazard area” by the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services), or possibly even come from Oregon down through Redding and Dunsmuir, site of a 1991 derailment of a fertilizer tank car that killed fish for 40 miles. In any of these routes, major rivers would be crossed where an accident could contaminate much-needed drinking and irrigation water.
3. The project will clearly affect the environment.
A wider view of “environment” raises serious concerns. California considers the cradle-to-grave lifecycle of products. Extracting, refining and burning heavy, sour crude is a nasty job, start to finish. That’s why tar sands is called a “dirty” fossil fuel, noted for its energy-intensive carbon footprint. This deserves a full discussion which is beyond the scope of this letter. The recently completed Valero Improvement Project was intended to allow the refinery to handle refining the heavy, sour crude as efficiently as possible, which is laudable, but that is not to say it is a clean process. Setting aside the forests destroyed and the unlined toxic tailing ponds leaking into the waterways in Canada at the point of extraction, we must note that processing tar sands bitumen will produce more of the byproduct petcoke that is so polluting it cannot be burned in the U.S. (It can be sold abroad and burned for energy there. Ironically, when it is burned in China, some of the smog blows back across the ocean to Southern California.)
The heavy crude is high in sulfur and toxic metals, which corrode refinery pipes. The Richmond refinery fire in 2010 was traced partly to corrosion from refining tar sands. Emissions must be carefully monitored to ensure toxic fumes do not escape to neighborhoods or endanger workers.
The 2003 “improvement” project enabling Valero to refine heavy crude opened the door for California to refine more of the world’s dirtiest bitumen, running contrary to our state goals under AB 32 to conserve energy and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by moving to renewable energy sources. In fact, according to California Energy Commission figures, California reduced its total consumption of oil from 700 million to 600 million barrels in the last year, primarily through conservation — i.e., adopting lower-emissions vehicles and Energy Star appliances, changing transportation habits to walk-bike-public transport, and making our buildings more energy efficient. We are moving away from our dependence on oil by reducing our consumption of it.
4. The project will be safer, but not safe.
The outgoing chair of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has some strong words for the rail industry and the way certain hazardous liquid is transported.
Deborah Hersman’s strong remarks are tied to older-model rail tank cars known as DOT-111s, which carry crude oil and ethanol through cities across the U.S. and Canada. Hersman told an audience that DOT-111 tank cars are not safe enough to carry hazardous liquids — in fact, she said her agency issued recommendations several years ago. “We said they either need to remove or retrofit these cars if they’re going to continue to carry hazardous liquids,” Hersman said on April 22, 2014.
Right now, four California legislators are urging the Department of Transportation to take action on critical safety measures. After a hearing of the joint houses of the Legislature on June 19 chaired by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, Congressmembers John Garamendi, D-Davis, Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, Mike Thompson, D-Napa, and George Miller, D-Martinez, sent a letter to Anthony Foxx, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, stating that “we cannot allow communities to be in danger when viable solutions are available.”
The summary of their requests, dated July 1, 2014, is as follows:
• Provide a report on the level of compliance by the railroad and petroleum industry to the May 7 Emergency Order.
• Issue rulemaking that requires stripping out the most volatile elements from Bakken crude before it is loaded onto rail cars.
• Expedite the issuance of a final rulemaking to require the full implementation of the Positive Train Control (PTC) technology for all railroads transporting lighter crude, and provide a status report on the progress of PTC implementation to date.
• Expedite the issuance of rulemaking that requires phasing out old rail cars for newer, retrofitted cars.
The Benicia decision comes at a critical moment. Benicia’s approval of the Valero proposal before DOT takes action would undercut what our legislators are trying to do to protect not just Benicia citizens, but all uprail citizens all across the U.S. Regulating that the volatility of crude be reduced will force the industry to build small processing towers — aptly called stabilizers — that remove natural gas liquids (a product that can be saved and sold) from the crude before it is loaded, as they do in other parts of the country (Eagle Ford shale reserves in Texas, for example).
Obviously, creating this necessary infrastructure will increase the cost of Bakken crude. The industry will no doubt balk at the additional expense, as will the refineries. On the other hand, it’s immoral to expose many millions to explosive trains of Bakken crude when there is a remedy! One Lac-Mégantic tragedy is enough.
The trains rumbling into Benicia are the first trains to pass daily through our region to the Bay Area, but others will follow. The approval of this project cannot be viewed in isolation. This fall the DEIR will be available for review for the Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery Rail Spur Project that would bring another daily train through my community in Davis, through yours in Benicia, across the aging Benicia rail bridge, along the beautiful Carquinez Strait, through the East Bay and on down the Capitol Corridor to San Luis Obispo County. Based on California Energy Commission data, the Sacramento Bee says we can expect five to six trains daily in the next few years as California receives 25 percent of its crude by rail.
We put ourselves at grave risk to proceed with any rail projects now until we firmly lock in place the safety measures requested by our U.S. congressmembers. In this country, protection for the public must come first.
5. The CBR proposal makes no economic sense for Benicia and for the nation.
We live in a WORLD economy. Rather than destined for domestic purposes, the refined oil from all five Bay Area refineries is sold on the world market for greatest profit. That’s why gasoline rates at the pumps have not decreased during this oil boom.
Considered from the perspective of the weather of our planet, which will become a pivotal concern in the coming years, it makes no sense, financial or otherwise, to extract another drop of fossil fuel from the Earth. We need to put all our attention on renewables and conservation, and cut back drastically on our oil consumption. Realistically, this means refineries will need to produce far fewer products, and the oil extraction frenzy will die down.
6. The Valero refinery cannot befriend Benicia and then turn around and foul the air, risking the health and safety of our children.
Valero may mean well when it makes charitable contributions, but its intentions mean little if it then creates unsafe conditions for those who are in receipt of its generosity. It is not surprising that salaried employees, wage earners and grant recipients would stand up in favor of most anything proposed by the “friendly giant.” But it is incumbent on us all to look at the big picture — and a big picture that contains oil trains is not a pretty one.
In summary, I recommend a “no” vote on the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project until all safety measures requested by our four local congressmembers in Washington are firmly in place, and enough new tank cars are designed and produced to safely convey the crude oil from its source to Benicia, ensuring that no communities or waterways are in danger.
This “no” vote would send a strong message to DOT that their work is urgent, and that the regulations they make will be closely monitored. A “yes” vote, however, would undercut the important work our legislators are doing on our behalf.
Lynne Nittler lives uprail from Benicia in Davis. She devotes much of her time to Cool Davis, a nonprofit that focuses on helping Davis reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to a changing climate and improve the quality of life for all. She has followed the oil train issue closely since last September.