Category Archives: Keep it in the ground

Orcem/VMT Letter: Environmental Misdirection

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald, Letters

Environmental misdirection

By Jeff Carlson, March 12, 2019 at 6:00 am

The corporate interests desperate to salvage an ill-conceived waterfront slag cement mill application, now staggering on its last legs under appeal, will attempt to pull off a sly last minute magic trick. Like most magic tricks, it relies on misdirection to draw the observer’s attention away from what they should really be looking at. Instead of talking about community values and our aspirations for the future character of our city for decades to come, the applicants want us to focus on the arcane intricacies of a technical environmental review process.

It’s a cynical calculated strategy designed to take a process intended to inform decision-makers and the public and turn it into an inaccessible debate among “experts” — impossible for the general public to follow or critically evaluate. Just check out the EIR analysis of traffic impacts from all the heavy diesel truck and crosstown freight train trips the project would generate at various intersections. See if you can make heads or tails of how they arrive at their numbers. Likewise for the modeling of the impacts to air quality from all the various pollutants the project would release. One more version of an environmental report and re-hash of emissions thresholds and mitigations adds nothing useful to the discussion, but the applicants are determined to create the illusion that the decision should hinge on nothing else.

The city staff who worked on this project application for years recommended that the permits be denied, not because the project crossed this or that threshold of significance in the environmental review, but because a heavy industry project in that location is fundamentally incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood land uses. The city commission primarily responsible for making rational decisions about land use compatibility and planning overwhelmingly agreed, and voted to deny the permits. The city’s general plan update process conducted at a cost of millions of dollars with broad public participation over a period of years resulted in a very different vision for a walkable connected waterfront, in line with the Bay Commission’s public access guidelines.

Why should we pay any attention to one more round of technical environmental analysis? If a deep-pockets corporation can pay experts-for-hire to come up with greatly improved numbers at this late date, it only goes to show what those numbers are really worth. It’s particularly galling after years of trying to avoid and game the environmental review process that the applicant’s would now so desperately cling to it as their last hope.

Former City officials and some members of the lead agency repeatedly demonstrated impermissible pre-approval of the project over a period of years prior to environmental review, beginning with the resurrection and transfer of a lease for public trust land with amendments that anticipate major impactful development. A one-vote majority of the Vallejo City Council colluded in secret with the applicants in a private planning initiative, and explicitly tied the goals of their ad hoc committee with approval of the project before even a first draft EIR was ready. CEQA requires that the public be allowed to evaluate and comment on an environmental analysis based on a stable project description. All the talk of trying to approve a final version of a radically altered project now without re-circulating a new draft EIR for public comment is not at all realistic and will never fly.

This decision is not about thresholds of significance or mitigation measures, it’s about what we value as a community and consider worth preserving and protecting. Residents in the proposed project impact zone already suffer some of the highest rates of pollution-related health effects in the state, including low birth weight babies and heart and lung diseases. No matter what a final EIR and the mercenary experts have to say, it won’t change the fact that instead of an accessible walkable waterfront, local residents would get heavy neighborhood truck traffic and another load of particulate and gas pollutants on top of the unfair burden they already carry.

Let’s ignore the magical misdirection and expert dog and pony shows masquerading as participatory public forums, and keep our attention focused where it belongs. The quality of economic development matters, and the old take-whatever-comes-along approach to city planning is completely irrational. The council is under no legal obligation to wait for another version of the EIR, and I’m sorry — the applicant’s fairness argument is laughable. This project was never worth anywhere near the resources and effort the city put into it, and the costs in terms of political division and acrimony continue to pile up. Time to pull the plug and turn out the lights on this magic show.

— Jeff Carlson/Vallejo
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    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.”

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      ALBANY NY: Break Free’ Protest Against Fracking, Bomb Trains

      Repost from DeSmogBlog
      [Editor:  See also Climate Activists Block Port Of Albany ‘Bomb Trains’ In New York, Popular Resistance.  – RS]

      “Whatever God May Bring”: Albany ‘Break Free’ Protest Against Fracking, Bomb Trains

      By Zach Roberts • Tuesday, May 17, 2016 – 11:39

      On May 14, thousands of people around the world joined together for marches, rallies and civil disobedience against dirty energy. While their specific causes may have ranged from stopping pipelines to preventing crude oil “bomb trains,” the unifying idea was to ‘break free’ from fossil fuels.

      According to organizers, 2,000 people attended the Break Free Albany rally that featured speeches from different groups, such as Iris Marie Bloom of Protecting Our Waters.

      As one of the final speakers at the rally she spoke about the Pilgrim Pipeline but in general the cause for the action, “We are all here to protect our climate, because the oil bomb trains are bad for climate, Bakken oil extraction is bad for climate… From the beginning — the cradle, the Bakken Shale, the tar sands — to the grave, Philadelphia refineries, other refineries, and the end use… we got to stop it all!”

      Moving from Lincoln Park, the rally took to the streets in a planned march to the Port of Albany.

      The first stop along the way was a low-income housing development which shared a back yard with a defacto “bomb train” parking lot. According to activists speaking at the protest the oil cars sit and idle for hours within yards of children’s bedrooms. The road that the marchers were standing on and blocking was also an oil transportation route used regularly by trucks to get to and from the port.

      Carolyn McLaughlin, president of the Albany Common Council, demanded that people in Washington listen to the marchers:

      “We have to make sure the black wall of environmental injustice does not return down here to Ezra Prentice… the people of Ezra Prentice and all along these tracks deserve better, we demand better, we will not take no for an answer.”

      Moving parallel to the tracks, the march moved to its final destination, a road crossing that allowed the activists to set up a stage and prevent railroad cars from passing through. Music, dancing and speakers filled the small stage, along with an amplified audio set-up powered by a solar panel.

      Finishing out the evening’s speakers was actor and activist James Cromwell who spoke to DeSmog:

      “Even though we have a ban on fracking in New York, the governor and the legislators didn’t see fit to ban the use of fracked products. So now what we have is the build-out of hydrofracking infrastructure, pipelines, compressors, metering stations. This commits us for the next 30 to 40 years to fossil fuels. It cannot happen, we will not have a planet.”

      Actor James Cromwell is a long-time activist, but it wasn’t until he move to Upstate New York that he got involved in the fight against fracking. In an interview with DeSmog, he called for the Governor of New York to end fracking infrastructure that still runs throughout the state. © 2016 Zach Roberts

      To the march organizers’ surprise, the Albany police allowed the activists to stay long past their agreed upon permit — refusing to arrest anyone for occupying the tracks.

      So the Break Free organizers decided to try to build an encampment. Immediately they set to work getting rope, tarps and other necessities like cinder blocks to make large tents for people to stay under as the weather forecast called for heavy rain.

      The police allowed the now occupiers to build their tents with many warnings that any ‘structure’ would be taken down. 15-minute warnings expanded as organizers negotiated with police — but the police were standing firm.

      Joking with one of the cops, I asked: “You’re just waiting until the rain starts to take the tents down… aren’t you?” The officer responded with a smirk, “Whatever God may bring.”

      God brought torrential rain and wind.

      And then the police swooped in. With activists singing and locking arms, the police aggressively, but with care not to harm anyone, ripped the tarps from their place and hauled them off in vehicles so that they couldn’t be used again.

      Activists lock arms to protect the poles that hold up the tent from police. The Albany Police would go around this and just cut the ropes. © 2016 Zach Roberts

      Thankfully for the protesters, the rain slowed soon after, and conversation turned to figuring out next steps. After a time debating specifics, it was decided that they would stay and try to make it through the night without tents, laying on the railroad tracks with only cardboard and tarps to cover them from the weather.

      By the time I left at 11pm, they were still there, sending out parties to gather supplies of dry clothing, food and whatever else they might need to make it through the night.

      Photos from the Albany #BreakFree protest


      Within view of the Capitol, climate activists call for a clean energy future — ending fracking, stopping pipelines and much more. © 2016 Zach Roberts


      Activists write phone numbers on their arms so they can call for legal support if they are arrested. © 2016 Zach Roberts


      Local Albany activists and organizers joined in with the Break Free march, calling for cleaner air in their communities.  © 2016 Zach Roberts


      Clara Phillips, an Albany native, was marching for an end to the “bomb trains” that are causing air quality problems in her community. © 2016 Zach Roberts


      A banner drop along one of the main highways that run through Albany reads “Health and Safety Matter.” This was just one of several that took place around Albany. © 2016 Zach Roberts


      Founder and Director of AVillage, Willie White, speaks to the Break Free marchers in the Ezra Prentice neighborhood. © 2016 Zach Roberts


      Co-Founder of Upstate New York Black Lives Matter, Taina Asili, sang a moving song “And We Walk” to the crowd blocking the road in the Ezra Prentice neighborhood. © 2016 Zach Roberts


      Willie White leads the march along a road that runs parallel to the railroad tracks that oil train cars often run. © 2016 Zach Roberts


      Canada Pacific put up temporary fences to block the protesters from going any further along the tracks, so the protesters decided to use it as a gallery for their posters and banners. © 2016 Zach Roberts


      Break Free organizers and protesters begin planning for their night stay on the railroad tracks. © 2016 Zach Roberts


      Volunteers risk injury setting up ropes that run across the tracks to lay tarps over to form a tent. © 2016 Zach Roberts


      The tents are up – but not for long. High winds later caused the activists to double up some cinderblocks for weights. © 2016 Zach Roberts


      Albany Police take the remnants of the tents back to their cars, so that they can’t be used again. © 2016 Zach Roberts


      Break Free organizers and activists form a circle in the rain making plans for the rest of the night.  © 2016 Zach Roberts


      Albany Police give the activists space as they settle in for a cold wet night. © 2016 Zach Roberts

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        Would Saving A Livable Climate Destroy Buffett’s Fossil Fuel Empire?

        Repost from Think Progress – Climate Progress

        Would Saving A Livable Climate Destroy Buffett’s Fossil Fuel Empire?

        By Joe Romm, March 11, 2016 8:00 AM
        BNSF oil train derailment in 2013. CREDIT: BRUCE CRUMMY, AP

        Billionaire Warren Buffett has bet the future of his company Berkshire Hathaway on dirty energy. In recent years he has been building a vertically-integrated fossil fuel empire — one that develops, delivers, processes, and burns the most climate-destroying fuels.

        The final part of this series on Buffett looks at how BNSF Railways is the engine of his carbon-intensive conglomerate, creating a massive risk for shareholders in this increasingly carbon-constrained world — a risk the “Oracle of Omaha” needs to be far more upfront about.

        Is Warren Buffett “The Profiteer” of “Climate Killers”?

        When Rolling Stone named Warren Buffett one of its 17 “Climate Killers” in 2010, they called him “The Profiteer.” They zeroed in on his recent purchase of “Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad for $26 billion — the largest acquisition of Buffett’s sto­ried career.”

        Why? BNSF is “the nation’s top haul­er of coal, shipping some 300 million tons a year.” That is especially convenient for Buffett because, as noted in Part 2, Berkshire Hathaway Energy has four major utilities that still rely on coal for over half their electricity generation.

        CoalValueImage
        CREDIT: BNSF

        But BNSF is so much more than just the top hauler of coal. As their website proudly attests “BNSF is the largest transporter of crude oil in North America” — and we all know how well the whole crude-by-rail thing has been going.

        2015 “has already been the costliest by far for crude train explosions,” BloombergBusiness reported in December. A “BNSF train that derailed and exploded in Illinois” last March “carrying highly explosive crude from North Dakota” created some $5.5 million in damage.

        From 2010 through mid-2014, oil shipped by rail in the United States increased from about one million barrels of oil every month to 25 million! At the same time, Canadian imports increased 50-fold, as we’ve reported. BNSF was a driving force behind that explosion.

        oil-overtime
        CREDIT: EIA DATA

        Also, last October we learned about “what is believed to be the largest frac sand unit train to date in North America.” You guessed it: “The 150-car unit train, operated by BNSF, carried 16,500 tons of frac sand used in hydraulic fracturing.”

        Warren Buffett Bets Big On The Tar Sands

        But wait, there’s more. You may recall from Part 1 that last year, the billionaire spent $240 million buying another chunk of Canadian tar sands giant Suncor, upping his overall bet on the climate-destroying liquid fuel to $1.1 billion — a fact Buffett does not share with shareholders in his list of Berkshire Hathaway’s climate risks.

        On top of that, as BNSF’s website also proudly attests, the railroad “is positioned to act as a gateway to the Canadian oil sands.” Seriously.

        Indeed several years ago, a BNSF employee magazine explained how invested the railway was in all aspects of tar sands (aka bitumen) development. The key point is that “Before bitumen can move through a pipeline to its destination, it must be blended with diluents (diluting agents),” lighter weight hydrocarbons like natural gasoline or butane:

        BNSF has been moving single carloads of diluents from U.S. refineries to the Canadian border…. The inbounds are then interchanged with Canadian railroads, then moved to Edmonton, with the final move to the oil sands’ processing center via pipeline.

        Last year, BNSF moved about 9,000 carloads of diluents for the project, with the majority of loads originating from the Gulf Coast, California, and Kansas. This year, about 12,000 carloads are anticipated to move.

        There’s more: Beyond shipping diluents, “BNSF has also transported turbines, other large machinery and pipes for use at the drilling sites.”

        There’s still more to this empire. In 2015, Buffett “nearly doubled Berkshire’s position in Phillips 66,” one of the country’s leading oil (and gas) refiners and processors. The company has 15 refineries which can refine a total of 2.2 million barrels of crude per day.

        In January of this year alone, Buffett spent a staggering $832 million to buy yet more Phillips 66 stock. At more than $5 billion, it is his sixth-largest holding. He now owns 14 percent of the “Number 7” company on the Fortune 500 list.

        Phillips 66 is a major co-owner of the Wood River Refinery in Illinois, which in recent years made investments “to expand the capacity to handle the bitumen from the Alberta oil sands by nearly 700%.” Also not coincidentally, for the last year, Phillips 66 has been trying to get California planning commissioners to let it build a 1.3-mile rail spur to its Santa Maria refinery. Why? As the Sierra Club explained last month, “The oil giant seeks to transport tar sands crude from Canada in mile-long trains — each laden with over 2 million gallons of dirty crude.”

        Both A Livable Climate And Buffett’s Empire Cannot Thrive

        Yes, the Oracle of Omaha has a thing for the Canadian tar sands. But more than that, over the last several years he has built a vertically-integrated fossil fuel empire — one that develops, delivers, processes, and even burns the most carbon-intensive fossil fuels. It would be a brilliant strategy except for two small details.

        First, climate science makes clear we have to leave most fossil fuels — and virtually all of the most carbon-intensive — in the ground to avoid global catastrophic warming. Second, over the past 18 months, the leading nations of the world unanimously agreed on a plan whose goal is to do just that, and the overwhelming majority of them made detailed pledges to slow or reverse carbon-intensive growth and replace it with carbon-free growth.

        The domestic and international coal market has already collapsed as a result of growing environmental concerns and low-cost alternatives including renewables. If the world follows through on its plans to keep total warming below 2°C — a big “if,” for sure — then coal is going to continue to be squeezed out of the market in the coming decades and oil will almost certainly follow the same fate, peaking in demand by 2030, as I discussed last month.

        Now whether or not you believe the world is going to achieve the plan it unanimously embraced in Paris in December, surely Buffett ought to at least mention to his shareholders the risks to Berkshire Hathaway if the world does. Yet, his latest annual letter to shareholders dismisses the risk of climate change.

        Here is all Buffett says about the coal risk: “To begin with an obvious threat, BNSF, along with other railroads, is certain to lose significant coal volume over the next decade.” But he quickly dismisses this as a problem that is not “crucial to Berkshire’s long-term well-being.”

        Last summer, BNSF executive chairman Matthew K. Rose noted the decline in U.S. coal transport and consumption. He said of his company’s major investment to upgrade its rail service to and from the coal-rich Powder River Basin, “That leaves us with millions of dollars in investment in what will eventually be stranded assets.”

        Certainly, from a short-term business perspective, investing in oil-by-rail and tar-sands-by-rail to replace coal-by-rail appears to make sense. But what are the risks those investments will eventually become stranded assets, too? Low oil prices aren’t good for crude-by-rail, as BloombergBusiness explained in December. And aggressive climate action, which could well give us peak demand within 15 years, is not bullish for oil prices.

        BNEFoilpeak1-16
        CREDIT: BLOOMBERG

        Rather than informing shareholders about any of these risks, Buffett asserts the reverse: “Both BHE [Berkshire Hathaway energy] and BNSF have been leaders in pursuing planet-friendly technology.” Seriously?

        I discussed in Part 2 how, despite BHE’s own investments in renewables, BHE is working to crush solar energy in Nevada and around the western United States. And it remains a huge user of coal. And as we’ve seen BNSF is a major deliverer of coal….

        But here is how Buffett defends the fairly ludicrous claim that BNSF is somehow one of the “leaders in pursuing planet-friendly technology”:

        BNSF, like other Class I railroads, uses only a single gallon of diesel fuel to move a ton of freight almost 500 miles. That makes the railroads four times as fuel-efficient as trucks!

        Yes, BNSF is a very fuel-efficient way of delivering vast amounts of climate-destroying fuels to market.

        Finally, is it only a coincidence that after outperforming the market for decades, the stock of Berkshire Hathaway has actually underperformed the S&P 500 over the last five years?

        Again, if serious global climate action ultimately keeps oil prices low and renders much of the tar sands uneconomic, then Buffett’s carefully constructed fossil fuel empire is going to keep suffering — and deservedly so. After all, leading climate activists have been urging major investors to disinvest in fossil fuels for years. Buffett is doing the exact reverse!

        BOTTOM LINE: Between Berkshire Hathaway and a livable climate, only one can thrive. That’s not a tough choice, is it?

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