Category Archives: Fossil fuels

BENICIA LOOKING TO THE FUTURE: A victory in Philadelphia

By Roger Straw, Thanksgiving, 2016

What’s next now that oil trains have been stopped here in Benicia? Check out the good news from Philadelphia, and dream about Benicia’s port in the future…  Community, environmental, and labor groups working together for green infrastructure improvements and new green union jobs?  Sounds good, yes!  - RS

greenjusticephilly_logoFor Immediate Release: November 22, 2016
CONTACT: Sam Rubin, srubin@fwwatch.org, 401-439-3203
Tracy Carluccio, tracy@delawareriverkeeper.org 215.369.1188 ext. 104 (rings to cell)
Matt Walker, mwalker@cleanair.org, 215-567-4004 ext. 121

Gov. Wolf’s New Port Plan Rejects Fossil Fuels

After Months-long Campaign, Green Justice Philly Celebrates Decision as Protecting Community Health, Growing Family-Supporting Jobs

Philadelphia, PA – The Green Justice Philly coalition applauds the announcement that Governor Tom Wolf and the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority (PRPA) will dedicate $300 million to developing shipping capacity at the Port of Philadelphia and making green improvements to existing infrastructure at Southport, which represents a firm rejection of fossil fuel projects at the site.

Sheree Arnold, a community leader from Southwest Philadelphia said, “Today I told the PRPA about how toxic pollution affects communities of color in Philadelphia. Literally an hour after taking action today, the PRPA rejected fossil fuel expansion at Southport. This proves that when we stand up together and fight, we win.”

“Community, environmental, and labor groups have been urging PRPA to move our city towards a future that is sustainable and stable,” said Sam Rubin, Eastern Pennsylvania Organizer with Food & Water Watch. “This announcement is a clear rejection of fossil fuels, and will embolden groups to continue campaigning against fossil fuel infrastructure and for well-paying, green jobs in Philadelphia. We remain committed to the working families of the port and making sure that any future development of the port emphasizes family supporting, unionized jobs.”

Green Justice Philly–a coalition of over 25 environmental, community, and labor organizations– has been pushing for the rejection of oil and gas development at Southport for over a year now. The coalition effectively advocated for its position by building strong alliances with labor groups, winning the support of nearly two dozen city and state elected officials, and holding rallies at monthly PRPA board meetings. Earlier today, over 75 community members rallied, calling for PRPA to “open the door to a green jobs future.” The groups are cautiously optimistic about the direction that the PRPA is taking, knowing that the devil is in the details of this implementation.

“The people of Philadelphia, led by Green Justice Philly in alliance with labor, spoke loud and clear to the Philadelphia Port Authority and Governor Wolf that we do not want and cannot tolerate fossil fuel expansion at Southport. Our voices were heard and the outcome will benefit the City, its residents and its workforce by providing jobs that support a green economy rather than dirty fossil fuel development and the harm it inflicts on our community’s health and the environment. We will be watching the process closely to assure the public continues to be involved in the port’s future, but one thing is certain – the river and the City are better protected today because there will be no fossil fuel expansion at Southport and the current port facilities will be improved with green infrastructure such as replacing diesel equipment with electric power,” said Tracy Carluccio, Green Justice Philly Steering Committee and Deputy Director of Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

“Governor Wolf and the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority sided with clean air, public health, and jobs today when they decided against proposed permanent fossil fuel projects at the Southport site of the Port of Philadelphia,” said Matt Walker, Community Outreach Director with Clean Air Council. “They also decided in favor of positive environmental improvements and initiatives at the Port as well as long-term jobs. This decision demonstrates that Philadelphia will continue to be a leader in promoting a healthier and more livable future for its residents.”

“Protecting the health of our residents, providing good jobs and working to mitigate climate change are moral issues that transcend politics.  We are grateful that we were able to build a broad multi-racial, multi-faith, coalition that could unite around the values of justice, sustainability and the well being of all people. In doing so we were able to stop the largest private equity firm in the world,”, said Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, steering committee of Green Justice Philly, representing the Philadelphia chapter of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light.

Green Justice Philly is a diverse and growing coalition committed to building a healthy, sustainable and economically just Philadelphia region. We work together to oppose the dirty fossil fuel industry that puts our neighborhoods at risk and makes our citizens sick, and cannot contribute to our long-term prosperity.

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In the wake of devastating flooding in Louisiana, groups urge Obama Admin to end fossil fuel auctions

[Editor: See three articles below on Climate advocates' call to end fossil fuel auctions...  - RS]

Amid Flooding, Groups Call for End to ‘Unconscionable’ Fossil Fuel Auctions

“Allowing next week’s fossil fuel auction to move forward is rubbing salt in the wounds of a region already in a state of emergency”

By Nadia Prupis, 8/19/16 Common Dreams

A coalition of climate and advocacy groups on Friday called on the Obama administration to cancel an upcoming fossil fuel auction as Louisiana reels from the unprecedented floods that have ravaged the state—and which rescue groups have described as the worst U.S. disaster since Superstorm Sandy.

The organizations, including 350.org, CREDO, and Greenpeace… [continued]


Climate activists want fossil-fuel lease auction canceled in flood-stricken Louisiana

By Sue Sturgis, 8/19/16,  Facing South

The historic flooding that has left at least 13 people dead and damaged some 40,000 homes in southwestern and central Louisiana this week was caused by record heavy rain, with as much as 31 inches falling in some places over the course of several days.

While scientists are cautious about saying climate change is the cause of any single weather event, they point out that five other states…  [continued]


In the Wake of Devastating Flooding in Louisiana, Groups Urge Obama Administration to Cancel Upcoming Gulf Drilling Lease Sale

For Immediate Release, 8/19/16, 350.org

350.org, CREDO, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, MoveOn.org Civic Action, Oil Change International, Endangered Species Coalition, Bold Alliance, Friends of the Earth, Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace, Earthworks, and the No New Leases Coalition tell President Obama: The Gulf Coast is not for sale

BATON ROUGE, La. – In the wake of unprecedented flooding in central and southwestern Louisiana, leading national environmental organizations are calling on the Obama administration to cancel an upcoming fossil fuel auction in the Gulf.

The devastating flooding is among the most severe weather disasters since Hurricane Sandy. Across the region, tens of thousands of people have been evacuated, thousands of homes damaged, and at least eleven people killed.

Next Wednesday, on August 24th, the Obama administration is planning to sell off an area the size of Virginia…  [continued]

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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.
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