Category Archives: Communities For A Better Environment (CBE)

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.

    Local and Ecuador leaders protest at Chevron in Richmond

    Press Release from AmazonWatch

    Bay Area environmental and indigenous organizations join protest to call attention to Chevron’s key role in causing destruction to people and planet

    MAY 17, 2018, FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    Tell Amazon.com to Protect the Real Amazon!
    AMAZON WATCH

    Richmond, CA – Indigenous leaders from the Ecuadorian Amazon joined Bay Area allies at Chevron’s Richmond Refinery on Thursday morning to call on California’s political leadership to phase out oil and gas production and processing in the state, including its importation of crude oil drilled in the Amazon rainforest.


    For more information contact:
    Moira Birss 1.510.394.2041 moira@amazonwatch.org
    Zoë Cina-Sklar 1.510.671.1878 zoe@amazonwatch.org
    Interviews, photos, and more information available upon request


    Gloria Ushigua and Manari Ushigua, leaders of the Sapara people, called attention to the impacts that the fossil fuel economy – including Chevron’s key role in causing destruction to people and planet. In addition to Chevron’s toxic legacy in Ecuador, the Sapara leaders and allies from Communities for a Better Environment, Green Action, and Bay Area indigenous-led organization Idle No More SF Bay outlined how California’s oil and gas extraction and processing is harming communities from the Ecuadorian Amazon to Richmond, California.

    The Sapara Nation of the Ecuadorian Amazon is recognized by UNESCO as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” because their language and culture are in danger of disappearing. There are about 500 Sapara people still living in their ancestral home, a large territory that is a critical part of the Amazonian ecosystem. However, Sapara territory – and the Sapara themselves – are in serious danger from oil drilling planned for two oil blocks that overlap with approximately 500,000 acres of their ancestral territory.

    Chevron refineries throughout California are the largest purchasers and processors of crude oil imported from the Amazon rainforest, as well as one of the state’s biggest overall polluters. A 2017 Amazon Watch report demonstrated that half of crude oil exports from the Western Amazon come to California, adding to the toxic impact of the California’s fossil fuel production and refining industry.

    Manari Ushigua Santi, Sapara Nation, said: “The possibility of oil drilling in our territory – something the Ecuadorian government is pushing – could be the end of the Sapara people, and certainly an end to our strong connection with the forest. After all, there are few of us, and we have seen the deforestation and cultural destruction already caused by oil drilling in other parts of the Amazon. Now that we know about the link between oil from the Amazon and California refineries, we know that the state government’s continued support of the oil industry also puts us and other peoples of the Amazon in danger.

    Gloria Ushigua Santi, Sapara Nation, said: “We are all fighting for our survival, to protect our little pieces of land. I have seen how destructive the fossil fuel industry is for California’s own communities. I don’t want our land to become polluted, like this land by the refinery. We call on California’s leadership to move quickly from an unsustainable reliance on a fossil fuel economy to a sustainable one based on renewable energy. Anything less puts the Sapara, the Amazon and other Amazonian indigenous peoples, California communities, and our entire global climate in danger.”

    Isabella Zizi, Idle No More SF Bay, said: “It’s important to be here today because it shows that the very resistance starts in our own backyards. It makes a direct connection to what is happening down in the Ecuadorian Amazon with our indigenous brothers and sisters and our relatives down there who are facing the same destruction and harms to their own people and that we can come together and unite and make change together and stand up to Big Oil.”

    Andrés Soto, Communities for a Better Environment, said: “I’m here today representing Communities for a Better Environment with our ongoing solidarity with Amazon Watch and the advocacy that connects the extractive activities in Ecuador directly to the refining activities in Richmond and the commonalities of not only health impacts but also political corruption. We need to link our resistance because we’re dealing with transnational corporations and so we also need to have a transnational resistance.”

    Leila Salazar-López, Amazon Watch Executive Director, said: “Continued oil and gas extraction in California – both on land and offshore – and its imports of Amazon crude is a significant obstacle to doing what science says must be done to prevent the worst outcomes from climate change: keeping fossil fuels in the ground.”

      Sorting Out Air Quality Regulations After Cap-And-Trade’s Renewal

      Repost from Bay Area Monitor – Bay Area League of Women Voters

      Sorting Out Air Quality Regulations After Cap-And-Trade’s Renewal

      By Leslie Stewart, October-November edition
      Communities for a Better Environment’s Andrés Soto (in red shirt) speaks at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s board of directors meeting on September 20. A large number of stakeholders attended to participate in a lively discussion about emissions regulation. | Photo by Alec MacDonald.

      Now that the dust is settling from the legislative tumult surrounding renewal of California’s cap-and-trade program, participants are taking stock of the changed landscape for air quality regulation, both statewide and regionally. Legislation passed this summer sets a more ambitious goal for greenhouse gas reductions through cap-and-trade, while also shifting some duties for regional air districts. Under the new laws, these local agencies will see a reduced role in greenhouse gas regulation, but an added responsibility for implementing a statewide community-focused air quality monitoring and enforcement program.

      The cap-and-trade program is a complicated balancing act between protecting the environment — specifically by reducing greenhouse gas emissions — and retaining industries that contribute to the state’s economic base. As the limit on permitted greenhouse gas emissions decreases (the “cap”), businesses which exceed the limit must obtain allowances (the “trade”), either through state auctions or from other businesses which are under the cap and therefore have extra allowances. The state opted to give some allowances away for free, initially to ease adoption by industries and utilities, and now to reduce the financial burden on companies which may otherwise decide to relocate.

      Passed in July, Assembly Bill 398 (E. Garcia) extended cap-and-trade to 2030 from the program’s original sunset year of 2020. This created more certainty for industry, which was increasingly reluctant to pay for allowances, fearing these might lose value if the program ended soon. The bill also raised the bar for the state’s Air Resources Board. The agency’s goal for 2020 has been to decrease greenhouse gas emissions down to 1990 levels; AB 398 adds a target for 2030, requiring a 40 percent reduction below 1990 levels. Stanley Young, ARB’s director of communications, noted that “the cap has decreased by two to three percent over the previous years of the program, and will drop by four percent by 2020, but then will need to drop exponentially to achieve this goal.”

      Additionally, it is now up to ARB, rather than regional air districts, to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide from any source covered by cap-and-trade, whether in industry, agriculture, or elsewhere. Many environmental groups and agencies that were generally supportive of cap-and-trade renewal, including the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, opposed this aspect of AB 398. Following its passage, the Air District announced it expected to shelve a proposed regional cap on refinery emissions, Rule 12-16, which environmental groups had been working toward for five years.

      “Victory snatched away at the last minute,” was Andrés Soto’s description of the regional air district restrictions in AB 398. Soto is a community organizer with Communities for a Better Environment, a strong proponent of Rule 12-16. However, his organization is refocusing. Soto noted that “local air districts can’t touch CO₂ reductions, but methane and other gases can still be regulated regionally.” CBE is planning a new campaign to pressure the Air District to cap non-CO₂ refinery emissions at current levels before permitting any new refinery infrastructure projects.

      Meanwhile, Tom Addison of the Air District’s Legislative Affairs division commented, “Given passage of AB 398 and its restrictions on local air districts, we are considering how best to coordinate with ARB on actions on greenhouse gases moving forward. Our climate problems are so large and pressing that it makes sense for everyone to work together to address them.”

      Greenhouse gases are not the only emissions from industry, and often the attempts to curb them get intertwined with grassroots efforts to limit the local impact of other categories of air pollution. However, not everyone agrees with this approach, since greenhouse gases harm the environment on a global level, not a local one. As ARB’s Young asserted, “We have an equally ambitious goal to address toxic air contaminants and criteria air pollutants, but the system works better when you do that separately [from greenhouse gases].”

      That separation was the rationale for AB 398’s companion bill, AB 617 (C. Garcia). The bill requires the state to set up a uniform databank, where data gathered from emission monitoring throughout California will be publicly available. The databank will inform a new ARB strategy to reduce toxic air contaminants and criteria air pollutants, including identifying the most environmentally-burdened communities and locations where additional monitoring is needed.

      When the state identifies those sites, local air districts will be required to set up new monitoring there, and also create community-specific pollution reduction plans. Districts may also require individual facilities to set up monitoring at their fencelines. As Young pointed out, “there has been a technical revolution in air monitoring, so that viable, accurate, and consistent monitoring can be done at the community level.”

      Under AB 617, ARB will coordinate all these efforts through the newly formed Community Air Protection Program. Its director, Karen Magliano, sees the new program as “fundamentally transforming community-based planning, by bringing in the communities themselves at all levels.” She explained that “we want to look at the problem at a granular level — implementation will be a shared responsibility.”

      According to Addison, the Air District is concerned about some aspects of that shared responsibility, especially the financial ones. “We are very supportive of the general philosophy behind AB 617, and some pieces we’re enthusiastic about,” he noted. “For example, AB 617 increases the penalties for strict liability violations. However, there is no additional funding [for districts], and a host of new requirements.” Air District staff subsequently noted that a budget trailer bill signed into law on September 17 contains some AB 617 implementation funding, yet it is unclear whether that funding will be adequate.

      Not all of the responsibilities in AB 617 are brand-new to the Air District. Some fenceline and community monitors — measures which will be required by AB 617 in any state-identified communities — are already in place around several Bay Area facilities, because of industry-community agreements or as compliance with the Air District’s Rule 12-15, passed in 2015. Addison observed that better coordination of data reporting on emissions sources is already happening as well. “More data is always helpful, but we want to have that without being forced to divert resources from other programs,” he explained.

      Designing community emission reduction plans will be a new task for the Air District, and Addison is concerned that the tool is limited. However, he was quick to add, “We are committed to trying to improve public health and working to implement the bill. Cutting emissions for disproportionately impacted communities is something we have long aimed at.”

      Bill Magavern, policy director for the Coalition for Clean Air, is also focused on making the community plans work. “The community action plans rely a lot on implementation by air districts — it’s important that they yield strong measures to help the communities in the areas most impacted by pollution,” he observed. “The concern is not only identifying the problem, but moving quickly to implement solutions.”

      Magavern added another area which may require community watchdogs. AB 617 mandates that regional air districts require facilities to use Best Available Retrofit Technology, starting with those which have gone longest since being permitted. “We need to be sure that districts are actually requiring that equipment be updated, and not just letting them use credits,” Magavern warned. Overall, however, he is “cautiously optimistic that AB 617 will yield significant improvements in air quality — but we need to be actively involved to be sure that actually happens.”

      Leslie Stewart covers air quality and energy for the Monitor.