Category Archives: Wind energy

IN MEMORIAM: Benicia’s Joel Fallon: Is Crude by Rail really do or die?

Is this really adios?

[Re-posting today in memory of Joel Fallon, who died on August 11, 2016 (obituary). Joel was Benicia’s first and most beloved Poet Laureate, an inspiration to all who knew him and a thoughtful, visionary activist. Originally reposted from The Benicia Herald and here on the Benicia Independent.]

April 25, 2014 by Joel Fallon

WHAT AM I MISSING HERE? Are Benicians just kittens in a burlap sack, down by the riverside, resigned to the inevitable?

Let’s see if I’ve got this right.

(a) We’re in earthquake country (see evidence of the Green Valley fault in terrain on the way to Cordelia);

(b) We’re next to fragile wetlands (for spectacular views, click Google Maps/Benicia, hybrid setting, find rail line and follow to Sacramento);

(c) We’re contiguous with an important commercial waterway;

(d) We host an outfit whose headquarters has fought attempts to safeguard our environment (see Valero Energy Corporation’s position and funding regarding Proposition 23);

(e) A local outfit, under direction from its far-off headquarters, plans to process a dangerous, toxic product;

(f) The outfit is served by a rail system with a recent history of tank car derailment;

(g) Parts of this railroad system (built by Central Pacific RR in 1877), running through marshland to the Carquinez Strait, repeatedly sank into unstable marshy terrain, requiring hundreds of thousands of tons of rock, gravel and other materials to stabilize it;

(h) Other parts of the antique rail infrastructure seem poorly maintained and may be unsafe, e.g., the Benicia-Martinez rail bridge, built between 1928 and 1930 for Southern Pacific RR to replace the train ferry to Port Costa;

(i) Old tank cars are a problem — an area newspaper reports that BNSF railway officials told federal regulators in March of concerns that older, less robust tank cars will end up transporting crude oil because of Canadian rail pricing policies;

(j) Emergency responders are unprepared to handle spills or fires in the event of derailment of cars headed to any of five Bay Area refineries. State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, after listening to testimony from emergency responders, said, “There is a potential for very serious problems and very disastrous problems.” Chief of the Contra Costa Fire District is quoted saying, “… with the sheer volume that will be coming in, we are going to see more accidents.” The 2007-08 Solano County Grand Jury, after investigating the county’s fire districts, reports a general need for more funding, heavy dependence on dedicated volunteers and the preponderance of old fire trucks, while noting the high cost of HAZMAT suits and problems with communications caused by incompatible equipment and radio frequencies.     

And yet, despite this unbelievably horrific backdrop, certain elements in town warn us to hush lest Valero be forced out of the competitive (i.e., tar sands crude) market, destroying its “desire to remain in Benicia.”

Clearly, Valero Benicia Refinery cannot be faulted for all of the foregoing. Good workers deserve good jobs; they should be able to tell their grandkids they helped, rather than harmed, the environment. Valero Benicia is just one of many links in a chain of factors that could lead to the disaster so many in this community fear.

Am I “agenda driven” as charged? Bet your raggedy backside I am. My agenda involves doing homework to find threats to my home, my town, my state and my nation, and advising others of my findings (just in case they might care). If you detect it, yell “GAS” to alert the rest of the platoon; then put on your mask, while you can still breathe.

For a glimmer of the scope of Big Oil’s operations from sea to shining sea and beyond, see the astounding number of outfits similar to Valero Energy Corp. in the U.S and Canada. Find ’em in Wikipedia (“independent oil companies — Americas”). Select a company to see its history of oil spills. Wonder why the Keystone XL pipeline is planned to extend to Texas? Check out which corporations own the pipeline and the benefits associated with Foreign Trade Zones (32 FTZ in Texas compared to 17 in California, and 15 in New York).

If folks look around a bit they may discover that Big Oil, like Big Coal and other corporate behemoths, extends powerful influence throughout the land of the free and the home of the brave. Many were hoodwinked by Operation Iraqi Liberation, in which Big Oil colluded with Big Government to achieve absolute power of life and death over us and our enemy — the one with phantom WMDs and a vast, very real amount of oil.

Is this really adios, Pilgrim? — or just “I double-dog dare you”? I don’t believe it’s Valero’s style to leave town. It’s not in the corporation’s best interests and shouldn’t be its preferred option.

What are those options? They include:

Option 1. Stay put, but back away from risky tar sands crude and focus on products involving minimum environmental risk. Backing away for good business reasons is not the same as “backing down.” CVS decided to stop selling cigarettes. The firm considered it “the right thing to do for the good of our customers and our company. The sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose — helping people on their path to better health.” Barrons online says, “We think that CVS — like anyone who quits smoking — is making a good long-term decision, even if it makes things rough short-term.” Others consider it a PR coup! CVS gained the respect of millions of customers for what is perceived as a moral and ethical decision. I shop CVS more often since they made that brilliant call; so do my friends.

Backing away from tar sands crude would take similar corporate guts; but the public would be pleased with the image of a moral, ethical, highly principled corporation — a Valero that gives a damn. Sales at Valero service stations might even increase.

Option 2. Continue to pursue tar sands crude; seeking high profitability despite increased environmental risk. The downside: prices at the pump are too high. Californians are already angry; they may avoid Valero service stations and products. I’ll urge my friends to do so. Word of mouth is powerful and spreads quickly. Contempt for an outfit that doesn’t respect its customers or our environment could lead to loss of sales in the country’s most populous state. Cesar Chavez showed us boycotts work. Most folks I know didn’t buy grapes.

Option 3. “Re-purpose” Valero’s operations in Benicia (and elsewhere) to enhance instead of degrade the environment while remaining profitable. Valero is an energy outfit. Turning to alternate sources of energy is ultimately inevitable. Valero should expand its vision and not limit itself to fossil fuels. Farmers in Ireland who grew only potatoes learned about diversification too late.

(a) Pursue wind farming if feasible and profitable. A recent Mother Earth News article about mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia cites a 2007 study that determined placing wind turbines on Coal River Mountain would provide power to 70,000 West Virginia homes while generating $1.7 million in local taxes each year. Better than ripping off the tops of mountains and dumping enormous amounts of debris into streams and rivers.

(b) Pursue solar energy if feasible and profitable. Produce solar products for sale and/or operate a solar power facility to resell power. See an article by Don Hofmann, president of RegenEn Solar LLC, looking at mountaintop removal mining and suggesting solar power instead. He recognizes there are challenges but is optimistic about lower-cost solar cells and technology in the future. He notes that the U.S. fossil fuel industry received $72 billion in subsidies from 2002 to 2006 and asks us to imagine that kind of money put into solar development.

(c) Pursue other approaches (geothermal, tidal, et al.) if appropriate and profitable.

Option 4. Determine feasibility of combining 3a, 3b and/or 3c. If appropriate and profitable, pursue the combination.

Option 1 would be the easiest and would be enthusiastically supported by most folks in Benicia, applauded by most Californians and recognized as a principled business decision.

Option 2 is the least desirable from an environmental standpoint. While profitability is high, it may incur the contempt and wrath of the public, possibly leading to damaging boycotts and a decline in profitability.

Option 3a thru 3c may seem starry-eyed, wild and outside the box. They would require imagination, foresight and courage. It can be done. CVS is showing the way and TESLA is succeeding with electrically powered cars. Examine pluses and minuses — Valero could take a quantum leap and be regarded as an industry trailblazer. Its reputation would be enhanced. Envious competitors might scoff and want Valero to take a pratfall but ultimately they would have to follow suit.

In conclusion the priority order of Valero’s options should be:

Option 1 — Most desirable (preferred)
Option 3/4 — Most “outside the box” (defer initially, but plan for the future)
Option 2 — Least desirable (avoid).

If Valero is really in the long-term energy game, it should choose Option 1 and start thinking seriously about Option 3. If, instead, its focus is on short term — high profits while risking irreparable harm to the environment — then Option 2 is their ticket.

If Valero wants to be recognized as rich, principled, brave and famous instead of rich, unscrupulous and infamous, then it should open door No. 3 as soon as possible.

Finally: I don’t believe it is “adios” for Valero Benicia Refinery. Unfortunately, I think Valero will not choose a clean path. They will probably press on with dirty tar sands crude. After that, “¿Quien sabe?”

I don’t intend to “go gentle into that good night.” Instead I prefer to “rage against the dying of the light.”

This whole thing could be like a colonoscopy, but a lot less fun.

Joel Fallon is a Benicia resident.


The Benicia Herald’s Poetry Corner was recently dedicated to Joel Fallon…

“For Joel Fallon” by Ronna Leon

Reposted from the Benicia Herald, Poetry Corner, August 19, 2016

You called them “dead Mother poems”
and scorned their cloying sentiment, easy forgiveness.
Your poem about your Mother named her Kali.
You hungered for life – anger, difficulty, competition, sex.
You insisted that wringing a tear from a stone
was superior to opening well oiled floodgates.

 

Now you are dead and my tears come unbidden
looking at the bookshelf, pulling a stubborn weed,
eating a pastry.
“Keep smiling” you’d instruct,
but I don’t want to brush these tears away,
each glistens with memory, swells with loss.
You are in them, like it or not.Ronna Leon was Benicia’s third poet laureate from 2010 to 2012


“Hope is the Thing with Feathers (Dedicated to Joel Fallon)” by Johanna Ely

Reposted from the Benicia Herald, Poetry Corner, August 19, 2016

“Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul
and sings the tune without the words
and never stops-at all”
-Emily Dickinson

 

If such a tiny bird,
perhaps left for dead,
or suffering from an injured wing,
its feathers matted and torn,
finds refuge in your broken heart,
then reach inside yourself
and touch this living thing called Hope,
gently bind its limp and useless wing
with Love’s tattered cloth,
and press it to your shattered heart
until it heals,
until this lovely creature sings again,
then let it fly,
and nest in someone else’s heart,
the stranger,
the neighbor,
the old friend,
the one who just like you,
needs to hear its song.
Johanna Ely is Benicia’s current poet laureate

“Joel’s Passing” by Mary Susan Gast

Reposted from the Benicia Herald, Poetry Corner, August 19, 2016

“So, I may have been wrong after all – this damn cancer may indeed be the death of me.”
-Joel Fallon, in an email of June 30, 2016

He died on the morning of August 11.
That night, meteor showers dazzled the skies:
The Perseids, at their peak.
No reason to doubt that Joel hitched a ride
On that celestial glory train,
Meeting up with all the other streaming luminaries,
Fireball to fireball.

Mary Susan Gast served as Conference Minister of the Northern California Conference United Church of Christ, now retired, and is a member of Benicia’s First Tuesday Poetry Group

    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.

     

      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.