Category Archives: Clean energy

Until California curbs its oil refineries, it won’t meet its climate goals (Benicia & others are heroes)

Repost from the Los Angeles Times
[Editor: Significant quote, Benicia in final paragraph – “In the absence of action at the state level, it has fallen to localities to prevent refineries from at least increasing crude oil imports to their facilities. Over the last decade elected officials in half-a-dozen communities from Benicia to San Luis Obispo County have blocked refinery infrastructure projects that would allow more crude oil imports. They’re the real heroes of California’s climate saga — too bad they won’t be the ones in the spotlight at the summit.”  – RS]

Until California curbs its oil refineries, it won’t meet its climate goals

By Jacques Leslie, Sep 11, 2018 | 4:15 AM
Until California curbs its oil refineries, it won't meet its climate goals
The Phillips 66 refinery in the Wilmington neighborhood of Los Angeles. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

While Gov. Jerry Brown and other California leaders bask under an international spotlight at this week’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, there is one highly relevant topic they’re not likely to bring up: oil refineries.

That’s because refineries are crucially absent from California’s climate change strategy. The state has justifiably gotten credit for addressing climate change issues that the nation won’t — promoting renewable energy, cap-and-trade greenhouse gas emission limits, and electric vehicles — but it has backed off from challenging refineries, the centerpieces of California’s oil supply infrastructure.

Concentrated in Los Angeles’ South Bay and the San Francisco Bay Area, the state’s 17 refineries comprise the largest oil processing center in western North America. Unless emissions from those refineries are curbed, the state has no chance of meeting its long-range climate change goals.

Greg Karras, a senior scientist at Huntington Park-based Communities for a Better Environment, calculates that without restraints on refineries, even if emission reductions from all other sources hit their targets, oil sector pollution through 2050 would cause the state to exceed its overall climate goals by roughly 40%.

“Refineries have been largely exempted from the state’s cap and trade program, which charges fees for emissions.”

That’s primarily because refineries have been largely exempted from the state’s cap and trade program, which charges fees for emissions. Last year, the legislature extended the program for another decade, from 2020 to 2030, but only after bowing to the oil industry’s wishes. To win a needed two-thirds majority, cap and trade supporters exempted the industry from fees for all but a tenth of refinery emissions through 2030. The legislation also prohibited regional air districts from imposing their own limits on refinery carbon dioxide emissions, a severe blow to communities suffering from pollution from nearby operations. Instead of curbing refineries, these provisions gave them a decade-long free pass.

To make matters worse, the oil that is being processed is bound to get dirtier, resulting in a higher rate of greenhouse gas emissions throughout the fuel-production chain. Oil used by the state’s refineries already contains the highest intensity of greenhouse gas pollutants of any refining region in the country. As drillers pump the dregs from the state’s nearly spent fields, that intensity is increasing.

With California oil extraction in decline, its refineries will want to import more crude oil from other states and nations. That could include tapping the Canadian tar sands, notorious for its off-the-charts, climate-busting pollutants. Completion of the stalled Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in Canada would facilitate what Greenpeace calls a “tanker superhighway” from Vancouver to California ports. California refineries have tried to win approval for rail terminals and ports that would receive tar sands oil but have so far been blocked by local governments.

The refineries’ contributions to greenhouse gas emissions don’t end with their own production, of course. When the fuel they produce is used, it’s one of the primary contributors to climate change. As California shifts to renewable energy and electric vehicles, less refined fuel will be consumed here and more will be exported to other states and nations.

As a result, the state could become, in Karras’ words, “the gas station of the Pacific Rim.” And as exports grow to countries like India with lax environmental standards, refineries won’t even need to meet California’s more stringent regulations on fuel composition; instead, they will export more pollution.

The main reason state leaders have done little to limit oil supply is obvious: The oil industry remains a formidable adversary, wielding its financial and lobbying might to head off restraints. For virtually all Republican state legislators and a substantial number of Democrats, oil supply is too hot a topic to touch, Karras told me.

Meanwhile, state policy calls for greenhouse gas emissions to drop by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. Given the oil industry’s cap and trade refinery exemptions in place through 2030, the only way to achieve that level is to place drastic limits on refineries as soon as those exemptions expire, which is unlikely to happen. A more realistic approach would remove the oil industry’s exemptions and impose cuts of 5% a year on refinery emissions immediately — an urgent task that state leaders have shown no interest in carrying out.

In the absence of action at the state level, it has fallen to localities to prevent refineries from at least increasing crude oil imports to their facilities. Over the last decade elected officials in half-a-dozen communities from Benicia to San Luis Obispo County have blocked refinery infrastructure projects that would allow more crude oil imports. They’re the real heroes of California’s climate saga — too bad they won’t be the ones in the spotlight at the summit.

Jacques Leslie is contributing writer to Opinion.

    SB100 – California Assembly Passes Historic 100% Carbon-Free Electricity Bill

    Repost from the Sacramento Bee
    [From GreenTechMedia.com: “The world’s 5th largest economy will have to eliminate carbon emissions from electricity by 2045.”]

    Plan to power California with all renewable energy clears major hurdle

    By Taryn Luna, August 28, 2018 05:29 PM

    The California Legislature is poised to send a bill to the governor that would require all retail electricity to be generated from solar, wind and other renewable energy sources by 2045.

    Despite objections from utilities and oil companies, the Assembly voted 43-32 to eliminate fossil fuels in the state’s energy sector on Tuesday. Senate Bill 100, introduced by Sen. Kevin de León, must return to the Senate, and is all but guaranteed to reach the Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk before the legislative session ends this week.

    “When it comes to fighting climate change and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, California won’t back down, ” de León said. “We have taken another great stride toward a 100% clean energy future.”

    Climate activists and environmental groups have hailed the plan as a critical step forward in the battle against climate change. The bill’s passage in California will serve as a symbolic strike against the Trump administration, which has steadily attempted to erode environmental protections, roll back fuel economy standards and weaken existing rules meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fire plants.

    Opponents have long argued that California’s efforts to combat climate change are futile and fail to make a substantial difference as the planet continues to warm. Some Assembly members warned the bill would hurt workers in the fossil fuel industry and raise prices for utility customers.

    “We pass all these goals for renewables, but at the same time our families back home will pay the cost with an increase in the electric bills every year as we try to achieve this,” said Assemblyman Devon Mathis, is, R-Visalia.

    The bill is opposed by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, San Diego Gas And Electric Company, Western States Petroleum Association, Agricultural Council of California and more than two dozen others.

    The proposal toughens regulations in a state seen as a global leader on climate change.

    State lawmakers set a goal two years ago of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders last year extended the state’s cap-and-trade program, a market-based system that allows polluters to buy permits for the greenhouse gases they emit, through 2030. Lawmakers described the cap-and-trade program as the state’s best tool to encourage companies to reduce their carbon footprint and allow the state to reach its greenhouse gas goals.

    De León initially introduced SB 100 in 2017 and the Assembly held the bill, effectively killing it for the year. In addition to setting the no-carbon standard, the bill would revise interim goals along the way. The bill bumps up an existing target by four years to hit 50 percent renewable energy in 2027 and sets the state on track to meet the 60 percent threshold by the end of 2030.

    Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Vice President Al Gore wrote separate letters of support for SB 100. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom pledges to issue a directive on his first day of office, if elected, to put California on target to achieve 100 percent renewable energy. He has not publicly endorsed SB 100.

    Gov. Jerry Brown, who is hosting a global climate summit in San Francisco next month, has also remained silent on the proposal.

      Grant Cooke: Benicia’s future is with Patterson, Young and the new economy

      Repost from the Benicia Herald

      Grant Cooke: Benicia’s future is with Patterson, Young and the new economy

      By Grant Cooke, August 17, 2016
      Grant Cooke
      Grant Cooke

      If Valero’s crude-by-rail, or CBR, project goes through, it will do irreparable damage to Benicia. If the three councilmembers—Mark Hughes, Christina Strawbridge and Alan Schwartzman— continue their support for the project, they will do an extraordinary disservice to the city.

      I respect those who work on behalf of local government; however, in this case, the legacies of three pro-Valero councilmembers will be that when Benicia needed them, they stood down. They just didn’t have the vision or the ability to do what is right and best for the city.

      While the same can be said for numerous elected officials in other American small towns, particularly those dominated by a fossil fuel company, it’s a painful thing to witness. What makes Benicia’s situation more painful, is that the city is gifted with a bright and forward thinking mayor and is nestled on the edge of the most innovative and financially robust center in the world.

      Yet, the pro-Valero majority on the council mirrors the city’s self-inflicted company town identity. This fossil fuel dependence holds the city back from partaking in the Bay Area’s knowledge-based economy and its prosperity.

      The company town malignancy is intensified by a remarkable and insulating geography that creates the city’s beauty. The town has an idyllic and picturesque quality that is enhanced by a touch of eccentricity and bohemian romanticism left over from the halcyon days of the Gold Rush.

      This combination allows for a complacency in the social milieu that is on the one hand charming, but on the other, remarkably short-sighted. In fact, it’s just plain dumb, since it allows for the tacit acceptance of the status quo and masks the reality that problems are coming and action needs to be taken.

      For a half-century, Benicia has allowed the refinery to prosper, hardly inhibiting its use of the atmosphere as a garbage can. For most of this time, the refinery has been the largest source of tax revenue, exercising dominant economic and political influence. Which is a pity, since the rest of the Bay Area embarked on a scientific, technological and economic renaissance that is unparalleled in human history.

      Now, the era of carbon generated wealth and dominance is in decline, particularly in densely populated areas where growing number of residents are pushing back, protective of their health and well-being. Carbon-generated wealth, usually from extraction industries, is being overtaken by knowledge-based wealth. High-tech workers are transforming the communities throughout the Bay Area. Cities like Richmond that were mired in the death grip of the fossil fuel industry, are now undergoing gentrification and renewal.

      So where does that leave Benicia? If the pro-Valero councilmembers have their way and Valero’s CBR project is approved, then the city will continue to be dependent on the refinery and the fossil fuel industry.It’s clear from the evidence that crude-by-rail transportation is unsafe, unhealthy, and disruptive, but it won’t matter if the project is approved and the 50-car trains take over the Industrial Park, cutting off access and exit for most of the existing businesses. Once the trains loaded with toxic and volatile Bakken crude start to roll, there will be no “do overs,” and the city’s future will languish.

      There is no doubt that the fossil fuel and oil industries are in decline. Oil prices are dropping as too much supply hits the market. Renewable energy is cheaper, more plentiful and when connected to smart grids far more flexible and cleaner. Vehicles are getting more efficient and transitioning to hybrid, electric, and hydrogen power. The fossil fuel era with its environmental destruction, social and political upheavals, and corrupt power politics is winding down.

      So by approving CBR, Benicia will be locked into a decline—all the while the rest of the Bay Area flourishes as the new knowledge-based economy expands.

      As an interesting aside, in the last three months, Valero, Inc. made $19.6 billion in gross revenue and $87.8 billion for all of 2015. As part of the company’s second-quarter earnings announcement, Joe Gorder, Valero’s CEO, said “We are also encouraged by ample supplies of medium and heavy sour crude oils in the market…”

      So, if there is plenty of supply, and the refinery’s current crude delivery process is creating substantial profits, why does the refinery still want to ship explosive Bakkan crude by trains through towns that oppose it? And why do they claim it’s necessary to bring it to a loading area with a potential blast zone that includes an elementary school?

      Admittedly, Valero’s CBR project is not simple. There are key issues at stake, including the tax revenues versus the city’s right and responsibility to protect the health and well-being of its residents. Many people are involved to various degrees in the decision. Unfortunately, the town’s residents can’t vote on the project, since the decision is solely in the hands of the city council.

      The pro-Valero CBR faction has tried to diminish the importance of the decision by claiming the opposition is simply a ruckus stirred up by passionate environmentalists opposed to Big Oil. The intent is to frame the local election, and opposition to the project, as simply a one issue ballot. But the reality is far different. It’s not merely a CBR issue, or whether the refinery is good or not for the city, but a clear and simple question of what is to be Benicia’s future? Will the city – pushed by the three pro-Valero councilmembers – be locked into fossil fuel’s decline, or will it have the wherewithal to step into the 21st century and join the Bay Area’s booming knowledge-based economy?

      If Benicia is going to survive as a chartered city, it has to go where the future beckons, which is to the new economy. If it dithers, the city will be passed over, as the new economy leapfrogs to Vallejo and other cities along the Interstate 80 corridor.

      Three decades in, the scientific and technological Renaissance is just getting started, powered by a steamroller of venture capital. Silicon Valley is awash with cash and opportunity, and the Bay Area’s great universities and national laboratories are brimming with patents just waiting for implementation. High-tech and green tech startups and businesses are growing exponentially each year. Chinese and other foreign buyers are trolling Northern California for the newest inventions and technology.

      The Green Industrial Revolution will continue to grow, pushing out along the region’s main transportation corridors. Eventually it will extent from Palo Alto to Sacramento. Just as Apple overcame Exxon, the new economy will push out the fossil fuel industry in the Bay Area. Within a couple of decades, the Bay Area refineries will lock their gates, unable to withstand the shifts in the energy markets and the expenses of offsetting carbon emissions.

      What the fossil fuel industries in the Bay Area—and by extension those cities that have cast their lot with them—are not realizing is that there is a generational and workforce shift taking place. The older work force who had a high tolerance for the fossil fuel and heavy industrial manufacturing industries are being overtaken by a tsunami of high tech workers. These young folks are sophisticated, intelligent and extremely sensitive to health and recreation. (Just visit San Francisco’s marina green on the weekend). Their lifestyles are far different than the established group. High-tech workers live in denser neighborhoods, drive efficient autos and take public transportation. (Visit Emeryville, or the area around Pleasant Hill’s BART station.)

      Above all, tech workers have enormous amounts of money that is rapidly changing the real estate market and the Bay Area’s lifestyle. As these workers mature, they will pressure politicians for the things they value, which is certainly not carbon emissions or refineries.

      Rarely in life does time and circumstance allow us to decide our fate. The future is often veiled and clouded, and usually clarity only comes with necessity, too often calamity. This is true for individuals as well as cities. Cities, especially small company towns, rarely have the visionary leadership and the ability to break loose from the status quo, until like Stockton or Vallejo they implode.

      Benicia’s fate is remarkably unambiguous; stick with the old fossil fuel industry and go down with its decline, or join the Bay Area’s Renaissance and prosper. Throughout the world, other cities have faced much harsher realities and have been successful in transitioning to a new economy. Melbourne, Copenhagen, Berlin and Bristol leap to mind. In each, change was driven by strong visionaries who understood that change was the best option and who had the leadership skills to pull the cities and their residents forward.

      Does Benicia have similar visionary leadership? That is clearly central to November’s local election. There are two councilmembers up for re-election—Tom Campbell and Christina Strawbridge. Mayor Elizabeth Patterson is being challenged by Vice Mayor Mark Hughes. Three councilmembers – Strawbridge, Hughes and Alan Schwartzman who is not up for re-election – favor Valero and its CBR project.

      Mayor Patterson has shown time and again that she understands the dilemma the city faces and why its future lies with the new economy. She clearly has the vision, talent and leadership required to move the city forward, and should be re-elected. Councilmember Campbell also understands that Benicia’s future prosperity can’t be dependent on Valero’s CRB project and he should continue.

      Steve Young, a new challenger for a council position possess exceptional talent and leadership skills, and clearly understands that the city’s best interests are to reject Valero’s CBR. As a member of Benicia’s Planning Commission, he spent countless hours on the issue, painstakingly doing the research and leading the commission through the pros and cons as each member came to agree that the CBR project was not the town’s best option.

      Patterson and Campbell were outvoted by the three other councilmembers, and the council failed to accept the Planning Commission’s recommendation, instead giving Valero the opportunity to reopen the issue with the Surface Transportation Board. Cluttering the decision was some questionable recommendations from the city staff, goofy advice from a consulting attorney, and bullying from Valero’s high-powered lawyer. In short, the whole process reeked of the misinformation and strong-armed tactics so common when an oil company puts pressure on small town politics.

      Given his remarkable dedication to Benicia and the work required to bring the whole CBR permitting process into the public light, Steve Young has clearly shown that he has the intelligence, talent and leadership skills needed to help the city transition away from the past and embrace the future.

      For Benicia, come the November election, Mayor Patterson and Tom Campbell should be re-elected. Steve Young should be the newly elected councilmember.

      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.