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GRANT COOKE: CBR permit denied and new Green Inudstrial Revolution developments impact Benicia

Repost from the Benicia Herald

Grant Cooke: CBR permit denied and new Green Inudstrial Revolution developments impact Benicia

By Grant Cooke, September 22, 2016
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Grant Cooke

History, or at least precedence, was made Tuesday evening when the Benicia City Council denied Valero a land use permit to bring in volatile Bakken and Tar Sands crude oil from North Dakota and Canada by train.

In what appeared to observers to be a stunning change of heart, the council unanimously agreed with the Planning Commission’s earlier recommendation to reject Valero’s project permit.

With other Northern California cities —and San Luis Obispo—watching carefully, the council’s action set a precedent and reaffirmed a city’s right to regulate local land use and protect the health and safety of its citizens.

The decision may have marked the first significant rejection by a California small town of a fossil fuel company’s proposed major business expansion, and probably notes the diminishing power of the industry in local and state politics.

Interestingly enough, the most prominent rejection by a small town of an oil company’s intended expansion occurred in Denton, Texas. Denton, a quiet and prosperous suburb of Dallas, in the middle of America’s oil patch, banned fracking (a method of shale gas extraction that uses large amounts of water pumped at high pressure into channels drilled into rock to release gas) within the city limits in 2014.

Benicia council’s decision has signaled the city’s first steps away from its past dependence on the fossil fuel industry and its Company Town identity, and marks a tentative step toward a new reality. While local, the decision was significant and reflects the growing momentum of the megatrend known as the Green Industrial Revolution, which is replacing carbon dependent economies with those powered by renewable energy.

Despite the decision, and for years to come Benicia’s tax revenue will still be highly dependent on fossil fuel, and so the developments of the Green Industrial Revolution with its twin drivers of carbon emission reduction and non-carbon energy expansion will have enormous consequences. As the Green Industrial Revolution expands, it will lead to the decline of the fossil fuel industries and correspondingly to the reduction of Benicia’s tax base and carbon-dependent economy.

Here are some other recent events furthering this expansion, and while not local, all have a bearing on Benicia’s future.

The first event happened at the recent G20 meeting in Hangzhou, China. The G20 meeting, which occurs annually, brought together the world’s 20 major economies to discuss international problems and potential policies and solutions. Leaders from the U.S., the European Union, China, Japan and Russia among others, came together for the two-day summit. Next year’s meeting is in Germany.

Woodrow Clark, my writing/business partner, is a member of the B20, a G20 subgroup that focuses on international business and economic issues. As a member of the group that delivered a policy report at the Hangzhou meeting, Woody had a front row view of the historic G20 meeting. Among the policy discussions that the meeting generated, there were some remarkable initiatives. One was that Russia agreed to join the US and China, along with the EU in addressing climate change. I imagine that India will also commit to GHG reductions next year at the G20 meeting in Germany.

This is an expansion of the initial US/China agreement from December’s UN Climate Conference in Paris. It increases the pressure on the fossil fuel industry, which is already beset by plunging oil prices, corrupt and chaotic politics, and furthers the rapid development of non-carbon renewable energy. Its impact on Benicia is indirect, unlike a report from Japan’s Eneco Holdings, LTD, which was part of the G20 Executive Talk Series. (Here’s the link to the vertical edition http://g20executivetalkseries.com )

A second development was also part of the G20 meeting and featured the showcasing of a remarkable chemical breakthrough by Eneco Holdings, LTD, from Japan. The company has the potential to be one of Asia’s largest energy companies with their development of a nano-emulsion technology. It appears that the company has succeeded in making a “complete fusion” between water and oil through the ultra-miniaturization of components at the molecular level. In simple terms, they have succeeded, where all others have failed, in mixing water and oil into a combustible fuel. The result is a mixture that is 70 percent water and stable enough to be a used in internal combustion engines. Further, it is safe and environmentally friendly, emitting about half the carbon, nitrous oxide, and sulfur dioxide released in traditional internal combustion gasoline and diesel combustions. Additionally, when produced in large quantities it will be significantly cheaper than conventional gasoline and diesel.

Originally produced for the Japanese market, Eneco’s Plasma Fusion fuel is being tested and used in China and other parts of Asia. With clean emissions levels, it is ideal for the heavily polluted Asian megacities, and should rapidly grow into a viable alternative to conventional gasoline and diesel. Just imagine how healthy West Oakland’s port area would be without its diesel contaminates? Regardless, this emulsion fuel will be a transitional fuel to hydrogen powered vehicles.

The third development that will have a significant impact on the fossil fuel industries is the continual plunge in the price of solar panels. Last week at a meeting, a solar developer told me that panel prices are now the lowest they have ever been in California, plus they are functioning at their highest levels of efficiency.

Driven by the economic principle of Zero Cost Margins—once the equipment is paid for, the rest of the energy is free—solar and renewable energy are expanding at the rate of Moore’s Law, or doubling about every 18 months. Developing and developed nations are rapidly adopting renewable energy, mostly wind and solar, as a replacement for fossil fuels. In about 20 areas in the world, particularly in Asia, solar and renewable energy are less expensive than fossil fuel. Even Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are developing large solar power generation sites.

Because of Russian aggression and threats of shutting off the natural gas supply, Europe has accelerated its transition from fossil fuel and atomic energy to wind and solar. Germany is a major user of solar energy despite the northern climate, and the United Kingdom is building the world’s biggest offshore wind farm called Hornsea off the Yorkshire coast. Hornsea will be the world’s first offshore wind farm to exceed 1 GW in capacity and will produce enough energy to power well over 1 million homes.

Closer to home, the United States’ Pacific coastline has enough wind and tidal resources to power most of the nation’s needs, and by adding solar to the mix, the U.S. could easily generate enough electricity for centuries to come. Roughly speaking, wind power costs about 2 to 4 cents per kilowatt hour and solar about 5 to 6 cents. PG&E charges around 22 to 24 cents per kilowatt hour, so it’s just a matter of time before on-site or distributive energy overtakes traditional energy delivery.

Further, the carbon industries and the large central utilities have flawed business models that are dependent on ever increasing growth and they cannot adapt to the lower prices available from renewable energy, or the increasing efficiency of vehicles and buildings. This is why Clark and I have written extensively on energy cost deflation and the shrinkage and decline of the carbon industries and the large central utilities.

Finally, we come to Sept. 8’s monumental signing by Gov. Jerry Brown of Senate Bill 32, the legislation that has catapulted California into a leadership role of the international efforts to slow global warming. SB 32 will force the state’s trillion-dollar economy, one of the biggest in the world, into a much smaller carbon footprint. In fact, the legislation requires the state to slash greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, a much more ambitious target than the previous goal of hitting 1990 levels by 2020. Cutting emissions will affect nearly all aspects of our lives, accelerating the growth of renewable energy, prodding people into buying electric autos, and pushing developers into building denser communities connected to mass transit. (Details: http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-jerry-brown-signs-climate-laws-20160908-snap-story.html ).

One other key element to California’s pursuit of clean air and reduced greenhouse gases is the state’s cap-and-trade program. The program requires the state’s heavy polluters to buy carbon offsets, or credits, to release emissions into the atmosphere, creating an additional operating cost for the oil and utility industries.

SB 32 and the expansion of cap-and-trade will have dramatic impacts on the state’s fossil fuel industries. Likely many of us are driving our last conventional gasoline powered vehicle, with the next one probably powered by electricity or hydrogen. It’s not hard to predict that since the Bay Area’s refineries are the heaviest of the area’s polluters, that the combination of reduced revenue from shrinking demand and increased costs of production and operation will eventually lead to refinery closings.

The fossil fuel industries won’t give up easily, there’s trillions of dollars at stake. Many of the industries leaders and the more prescient investment bankers know that the fossil fuel era has peaked and started to decline, which is why Russia overran the Crimea and is poised to take over Ukraine. Which is why the U.S. and Canada are being besieged by the fossil fuel interests to ignore or eliminate environmental and safety protections that hamper production.

Which is why Valero pushed so hard to transport volatile Bakken crude by rail cars through the densely populated Sacramento corridor and cram the trains into Benicia and a refinery that is not designed or equipped to deal with them. The industries, the refineries and all connected to the fossil fuel era, know that the incredibly lucrative period when oil was king and black gold flowed from the sand is coming to an end.

Bringing this back to Benicia, we see a city that is dependent on Valero for tax revenue and its governing process glimpsing a new reality. Small cities like Benicia that have been so dependent on the fossil fuel industries for so much and for so long, struggle to change. Other cities like those in the deindustrialized Midwest that have suffered sudden collapses of their major companies and tax bases have had to reinvent their economic drivers or just blow away. But it’s hard for a city like Benicia with its apparent prosperity and ease of living to understand that its fossil fuel base is in decline and that the future is elsewhere.

Grant Cooke is a longtime Benicia resident and CEO of Sustainable Energy Associates. He is also an author and has written several books on the Green Industrial Revolution. His newest is “Smart Green Cities” by Routledge.
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Federal spending deal falls short on environment

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

Spending deal falls short on environment

By Annie Notthoff, December 17, 2015  |  Annie Notthoff is director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s California advocacy program.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

The spending and tax policy agreement Congress and the White House have reached to keep the government funded and running includes important wins for health and the environment.

But there’s good news to report, only because of the Herculean efforts of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the White House, who worked tirelessly to block nearly all of the dozens and dozens of proposals Republican leaders were pushing.

Those proposals would have blocked action on climate, clean air, clean water, land preservation and wildlife protection and stripped key programs of needed resources. The Republican leaders’ proposals were the clearest expression yet of their “just say no” approach to environmental policy. They literally have no plan, except to block every movement forward on problems that threaten our health and our planet.

The worst aspect of the budget agreement is another clear indication of Republican leaders’ misplaced priorities — they exacted an end to the decades-long ban on sending U.S. crude oil overseas in this bill, in return for giving up on key elements of their antienvironment agenda.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made that give-away to the oil industry one of his top priorities. It will mean increased oil drilling in the U.S., with all the attendant dangers, with the benefits going to oil companies and overseas purchasers. That won’t help the American public, or the climate. It’s simply an undeserved gift to Big Oil.

In good news, the agreement extends tax credits for wind and solar energy for five years, which will give those industries long-sought certainty about their financing.

Wind and solar will continue to grow by leaps and bounds, helping domestic industry, reducing carbon pollution and making the U.S. less vulnerable to the ups and downs of fossil fuel prices.

Democratic leaders deserve all our thanks for what they were able to keep out of the budget deal. Gone are the vast majority of obstacles Republican leaders tried to throw in the way of environmental protection. Recall for a moment the 100 or more antienvironmental provisions Republican leaders tried to attach to these spending bills. Those included efforts to:

• Block the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which sets the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants — our best available tool to combat dangerous climate change.

• Roll back the Obama Administration’s Clean Water Rule, which would restore protections for the potential drinking water supplies of 1 in 3 Americans.

• Repeal the EPA’s newly issued health standards to protect us from smog.

• Bar the Interior Department from protecting our streams from the pollution generated by mountaintop removal during coal mining.

• Strip Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves, the greater sage grouse, elephants, the Sonoran Desert tortoise, and other threatened animals.

• Force approval of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, which President Obama already has rejected.

There’s more work ahead to protect the environment, starting with eliminating the threat of oil drilling in the Arctic and off the Atlantic Coast.

But despite the efforts of Republican congressional leaders to hold the public hostage and bring us to the brink of another government shutdown, a budget deal has emerged that protects environmental progress.

 

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NRDC: Paris Climate Agreement Explained

Repost from the Natural Resources Defense Council

Paris Climate Agreement Explained

By Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, Director of Programs with Emily Cousins, December 12, 2015
Credit: Shun Kambe

How we’ll deliver on the promise of ambitious climate action.
The global community signed an historic agreement today at the Paris climate talks to tackle the threat of climate change and accelerate the shift to clean energy around the world. This is a momentous breakthrough. Nearly 200 countries have pledged to reduce their climate change pollution, strengthen their climate commitments every five years, protect people living on the front lines of climate impacts, and help developing nations expand their clean energy economies.

Most important, this agreement sets ambitious goals. It calls for holding global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, with a first step of keeping us at no more than 2 degrees of warming.

Reaching the 2-degree target is essential to prevent catastrophic climate impacts, but scientists say it still leaves us open to dangerous levels of rising seas, food insecurity, and extreme drought. It would make the Marshall Islands and other island nations uninhabitable and expose countless vulnerable communities to deadly harm. Keeping the temperature rise at no more than 1.5 degrees will sustain these communities and create a brighter, more stable future for our children and grandchildren.

This is an ambitious goal, but the past two weeks in Paris confirm it is achievable.

In Paris, an action agenda emerged out of a groundswell of climate action from cities, regions, businesses, investors, trade unions, and many others. Mayors and governors described what they are already doing to reduce carbon pollution and how they plan to do more. Multinational corporations said they are cutting carbon pollution across their operations. Financial institutions reported that renewable energy is a better investment than fossil fuels. Leaders from developing nations explained that clean energy is helping to generate economic growth and bring people out of poverty. And thousands of people from all over the world stood up for climate action. This groundswell has the backs of our national leaders in implementing ambitious climate policies. This is what climate leadership looks like.

The low-carbon transition is already underway. Now the Paris agreement calls on us to return home, pick up the pace, and go faster into the clean energy future. And it gives us the tools to hold our government leaders accountable.

In China, that means building on the country’s commitment to implement a cap-and-trade program and increase non-fossil-fuel energy sources to 20 percent of total energy by 2030. In India, that means leapfrogging over dirty fossil fuels and using clean, renewable, and efficient energy to power its growth. Meeting the country’s solar mission alone will create 1 million jobs. India has already vowed to increase renewable energy sixfold by 2020 and to set mandatory efficiency standards for buildings by 2017.

The United States can also build on existing progress. All 50 states are on track to implement the Clean Power Plan for limiting carbon pollution from power plants; they need to focus on doing this through energy efficiency and an increase in wind and solar. We can continue to improve fuel efficiency standards and move to a combination of electric vehicles and smarter growth in transportation. Next up, we’ll work on getting existing oil and gas facilities to reduce their methane emissions and on the phase-out of fossil fuel development on federal lands and in federal waters. And U.S. businesses should continue not only to improve their own energy efficiency but to band together to advocate for stronger clean energy and climate policies.

This work won’t be easy. The Paris agreement — and our obligation to future generations — demands that nations transform how we think about electricity, transportation, industry, methane from fracking, HFCs from air conditioning, agriculture, and other contributors to climate change. It also requires helping developing countries face the challenges of poverty alleviation, energy equity, and climate justice. And here in the United States, it entails going up against entrenched fossil fuel interests and those politicians who persist in denying climate change.

These are significant hurdles, but citizens, businesses, and political leaders around the globe have made it clear that we support strong climate action. This momentum will carry us forward. And the Paris climate agreement and action agenda will provide the road map.

Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO, said at an NRDC event last week, “When we speak about climate, we speak about humanity.” Our future is at stake here. For the human community to thrive, we need a stable climate. The Paris agreement and commitments will help ensure that our families, nations, and societies can flourish for generations to come.

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