Sarah Tory, HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
On June 27, hundreds of people packed the Oakland City Council meeting where a proposal to ban the transport of coal through the California city was up for a vote. Speakers on both sides of the issue delivered passionate arguments, pitting the promise of good jobs in a depressed area against concern about environmental impacts. The meeting quickly became rowdy. “There was a lot of tension,” says Rev. Ken Chambers, pastor of West Side Missionary Baptist Church in West Oakland, who spoke in support of the ban. Pro-coal supporters stationed in the audience heckled him throughout his address, and at times, Lynette Gibson McElhaney, the council president, struggled to maintain order.
“Officers,” she requested, “please escort those persons who continue to have disrespectful outbursts outside of the chamber.”
The vote came after more than a year of heated debate over plans to build a marine terminal, from which coal mined in Utah could be shipped to Asia. The proposed terminal was part of a larger redevelopment project slated for the old Oakland Army Base, located in West Oakland, a predominantly black neighborhood that’s among the region’s poorest and most polluted.
One by one, the seven council members present voted to uphold the ban on transporting coal. The decision was finalized by a second vote on July 19, leaving the proposed $250 million project in limbo. Without coal as one of the terminal’s possible bulk commodities, proponents warned, it would be at risk of losing critical funding — depriving an economically struggling neighborhood of job opportunities. Critics of the plan, however, worried that transporting millions of tons of coal by rail — even in covered cars — through West Oakland poses a public health and safety risk to local residents, who already experience high levels of air pollution.
The decision — and the wider controversy around it — places Oakland at the center of a growing battle over coal exports on the West Coast. From British Columbia all the way to California, plans for new export terminals are faltering, thanks to opposition from local communities concerned about climate change and the environmental impacts of fossil fuel development.
Read more at: How Utah coal interests helped push a secret plan to export coal from California — High Country News
Will Parrish, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN
In recent years, oil corporations have intensified their push to make the San Francisco Bay Area and other areas of the West Coast into international hubs for refining and shipping of one of the world’s most carbon-intensive and polluting fuel sources: the Canadian tar sands.
In April, that long-standing effort spilled into Santa Rosa mailboxes. Constituents of 3rd District supervisor Shirlee Zane received a letter, addressed to Zane herself, from a group called Bay Area Refinery Workers.
“As a member of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District,” the letter read, “you’ll soon vote on a proposal that will impact our jobs, our refineries and the important work we do refining the cleanest gasoline in the world.”
It asked that Zane “please remember that the Bay Area refineries provide more good-paying union jobs than any private sector employer in the region.”
Twelve refinery employees provided signatures, but the letter was produced and mailed by an organization called the Committee for Industrial Safety, which is bankrolled by the oil giants Chevron, Shell, Tesoro and Phillips 66. According to state and federal records, each corporation annually provides the group between $100,000 and $200,000 to advocate on their behalf.
The letter’s apparent aim was to influence Zane’s upcoming vote on a little-known but potentially far-reaching Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) regulation called Refinery Rule 12-16 that’s aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If enacted, the measure would make the BAAQMD the nation’s first regional air district to go beyond state and federal mandates in regulating refinery GHG emissions, the pollutants that fuel global climate change.
Zane is one of the BAAQMD’s 24 directors, along with elected officials from nine Bay Area counties extending from Santa Clara in the South Bay to Sonoma and Napa. They will determine the measure’s fate at a yet-to-be-scheduled meeting later this year.
Staff members at BAAQMD have proposed four alternative forms of Refinery Rule 12-16. But only one has the support of a coalition of environmental groups and the unions that represent refinery employees: a quantitative limit, or cap, on GHGs.
Processing the tar sands would dramatically increase greenhouse gas pollution at the refineries under the BAAQMD’s jurisdiction, and advocates from groups like Oakland’s Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), an environmental justice organization, say an emissions cap would turn back what they call the “tar sands invasion” from the San Francisco Bay Area.
Critics warn that without the cap, the oil industry will continue pursuing new tar sands infrastructure on the West Coast at a frenetic pace. “We’ve seen them come at us at a 10 times faster rate in the last few years,” says CBE senior scientist and refinery expert Greg Karras. “Up and down the refinery belt, refineries are retooling for the tar sands and creating infrastructure for export of refined tar sands products overseas.”
Read more at: Crude Awakening | Features | North Bay Bohemian
Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A divided Sonoma City Council on Monday adopted a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers within city limits, a move that would make the city of 11,000 the first in Sonoma County and one of the few nationwide to enforce such restrictions.
But the council’s action before a packed crowd does not end the city’s years-long debate over the landscaping devices. Opponents vowed to push forward with plans for a citywide referendum to delay and possibly overturn the prohibition.
The ordinance otherwise takes effect July 1. It would ban gas-powered blowers in Sonoma but allow the continued use of electric and battery-powered devices, albeit under more limited hours of operation. Commercial operators, as well as private property owners and tenants, could be subject to fines if they are caught using gas blowers.
Councilman David Cook called the ordinance a good compromise after years of debate.“It’s time we put something on the books in this town,” he said.
Mayor Laurie Gallian and Councilwoman Madolyn Agrimonti joined Cook in supporting the ordinance. Councilwoman Rachel Hundley and Councilman Gary Edwards were opposed.
Read more at: Sonoma bans some leaf blowers; opponents vow ballot fight | The Press Democrat
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
“If we can get people to burn properly, it would be a significant reduction in wood smoke.”
Life among the towering redwoods along the Russian River can be idyllic, but not when the temperature drops and folks fire up wood stoves to stay warm.
All too many of those stoves belch smoke that often shrouds the closely packed homes on wooded slopes and in canyons along the river from Forestville to Monte Rio, said Chuck Ramsey, president of the Russian River Alliance, a consortium of community groups.
“It seeps and settles in the redwoods, and it doesn’t dissipate,” said Ramsey, who is spearheading a campaign to address the problem, largely through educating residents on proper wood-burning practices.
Ramsey, a resident of The Terraces, a community of at least 200 homes on a hillside in Monte Rio overlooking the river, regularly breathes his neighbors’ smoke. From his laundry room, he can nearly touch the roof of one house and its chimney is about 20 feet away.“
It’s not like you can just close your doors and windows and keep it out,” he said. Wood-frame homes in The Terraces were built as summer cabins in the early 1900s and are hardly airtight, he said. Monte Rio and Rio Nido are hardest hit by smoke, Ramsey said, but the problem persists along the lower river.
But wood smoke pollution, readily visible on cold, dry, windless days, doesn’t register on the air quality monitor on the roof of the Veterans Memorial Hall in Guerneville, and thus doesn’t sully Sonoma County’s official record as a clean-air haven.
Read more at: Campaign to address wood burning seeks cleaner air | The Press Democrat
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County once again got straight-As on the American Lung Association’s latest air quality report card, which also cited California’s prolonged drought as a factor in fouling the state’s skies.
For the second year in a row, the county went without a single day of ozone or particle pollution exceeding federal standards, according to State of the Air 2015, the lung association’s annual report released Wednesday. Much of the credit can go to the breezy weather that typically blows away bad air.
Only three other coastal counties — Mendocino, Humboldt and Monterey — matched that perfect score, while Lake County came close with a single day of high ozone pollution, just as it did in last year’s report.
Read more via: Sonoma County gets high marks for good air | The Press Democrat
Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Wood smoke is the leading cause of wintertime air pollution, contributing 38 percent of fine particular matter, and about 1 million Bay Area residents have respiratory ailments putting them at risk from exposure to particulate pollution, the air district said.
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire are a celebrated slice of Americana, but those cheerful blazes are bound for extinction under proposed Bay Area air quality regulations that would apply to most of Sonoma County’s 185,660 households.
Aimed at reducing the health threat from pollutants produced by burning wood in fireplaces and stoves, the rules would cost property owners hundreds to thousands of dollars to install alternatives — including federally certified wood-burning devices, gas-fueled or electric options — or to remove or wall off fireplaces.
For homeowners, however, the requirements would not apply until their property is sold or transferred.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District says that a complete turnover — eliminating about 1.4 million fireplaces and noncertified wood-burning devices — would occur in about 30 years, based on the assumption that 3 percent of Bay Area homes are sold each year.
The district’s proposals have rekindled a debate over wood smoke, with health advocates supporting cutbacks and both the wood stove industry and real estate interests challenging specific regulations.
The air district began issuing winter pollution alerts more than 15 years ago through voluntary burn bans on days when air quality was expected to be poor, said Ralph Borrmann, a district spokesman. The program did not effectively curb particulate levels, leading to the adoption in 2008 of more extensive rules, including mandatory winter burn bans known as Spare the Air alerts, which have cut particulate pollution by 30 percent, Borrmann said.
But wood smoke remains “a significant health issue in the Bay Area,” Jack Broadbent, executive officer of the air district, said in a press release. The proposed rule amendments are intended to “ensure that public health is protected” and that the Bay Area meets state and federal air quality standards, he said.
Read more via Bay Area fireplace phase-out could cost Sonoma County | The Press Democrat.
David A. Lieb, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Smoke wafting from wood fires has long provided a familiar winter smell in many parts of the country – and, in some cases, a foggy haze that has filled people’s lungs with fine particles that can cause coughing and wheezing.
Citing health concerns, the Environmental Protection Agency now is pressing ahead with regulations to significantly limit the pollution from newly manufactured residential wood heaters. But some of the states with the most wood smoke are refusing to go along, claiming that the EPA’s new rules could leave low-income residents in the cold.
Missouri and Michigan already have barred their environmental agencies from enforcing the EPA standards. Similar measures recently passed Virginia’s legislature and are pending in at least three other states, even though residents in some places say the rules don’t do enough to clear the air.
It’s been a harsh winter for many people, particularly those in regions repeatedly battered by snow. And the EPA’s new rules are stoking fears that some residents won’t be able to afford new stoves when their older models give out.
“People have been burning wood since the beginning of recorded time,” said Phillip Todd, 59, who uses a wood-fired furnace to heat his home in Holts Summit. “They’re trying to regulate it out of existence, I believe, and they really have no concern about the economic consequences or the hardship it’s going to cause.”
Others contend the real hardship has fallen on neighbors forced to breathe the smoke from winter wood fires.
Read more via News from The Associated Press.
Barbara Lee, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
Air Pollution Control Officer of the Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District
Air quality is measured against standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board for specific pollutants. When air quality doesn’t meet a standard, the local air district has to develop a plan of regulations that will improve air quality until it does meet the standard. Air quality regulations vary from district to district because they reflect local air quality needs.
Sonoma County spans two air regions. The southern portion of the County is managed by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which includes eight other Counties around the San Francisco Bay. The Northern Sonoma County Air Pollution Control District manages the remainder of the county. Most of Sonoma County’s cities are included in the Bay Area District.
Only the cities of Healdsburg and Cloverdale are in the Northern Sonoma District, which also includes the towns along the lower Russian River and the entire Sonoma Coast. Anyone interested in more information about the boundary line can view a map of the County showing both air districts at: www.sonoma-county.org/tpw/divisions/nsc_air_pollution/.
The most significant pollutants in Sonoma County are ozone (a component of smog), and particle pollution (which we refer to as particulate matter, or PM). We know this by measuring pollutants in the air. The Bay Area District operates a monitoring station on 5th Street in Santa Rosa. The air quality in the Bay Area does not meet the federal or state standards for ozone or particulate matter. The Northern Sonoma District operates air monitoring stations in Cloverdale, Healdsburg, and Guerneville. Air quality in Northern Sonoma meets all of the federal and state standards – along with Lake County, it is the cleanest air in California!
Most people understand that smog is harmful, but many people don’t know what particulate matter is or why we’re concerned about it. Particles in the air come from a variety sources and have varying chemical make-ups. The size of a particle determines how far past our bodies’ defenses it can penetrate. We are most concerned about particles small enough to penetrate deep into our lungs, specifically known as inhalable and fine particles.
Inhalable particles are generally smaller than 10 microns in diameter (often called PM10) and come mostly from fine dust and combustion. By comparison, the average human hair is about 70 microns in diameter and fine grains of beach sand are about 90 microns. Inhalable particles have been shown to cause or contribute to a long list of adverse health effects, including: increased respiratory symptoms, pneumonia, bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; exacerbation of asthma; increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits; increased risk of premature births and infant mortality; and an increase in cancer, cardiovascular, and respiratory deaths, as well as increased total mortality.
Fine particles are a subset of inhalable particles. These are the smaller particles in that group, less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5). These particles penetrate so deeply that they get carried throughout the body where they interfere with cellular processes.Fine particles also tend to be more reactive and are responsible for some of the most significant of the health effects. Fine particles come mostly from combustion, including factories, cars, and fireplaces and woodstoves.
Read more via NO SMOKING PLEASE – Air Quality & Smoke Impacts in Northern Sonoma County.
Jalissa Tello, SONOMA STATE STAR
An annual phenomenon of promoting sustainability and the environment has made its way back around this year to Sonoma County. Starting on the third Monday of September each year is National Pollution Prevention Week. Originating in California in 1992, Prevention Week has gained popularity throughout the entire nation and in the local community.
“The National Pollution Roundtable, based in Washington, D.C. and the largest membership association devoted solely to pollution prevention, is advancing pollution prevention awareness through efforts to encourage and promote widespread participation in National Pollution Prevention Week,” as stated on the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District website.
The purpose of Pollution Prevention Week is to give the community and citizens the opportunity to learn about sustainability efforts and participate in activities and events by spreading awareness of the harms caused to Earth and its inhabitants through pollution.
Read more via Pollution Prevention Week in Sonoma County — Sonoma State Star – The university's student-run newspaper.
Lori A. Carter, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Opponents of an asphalt plant just outside Petaluma city limits have lost another legal battle and are mulling whether to pursue one final appeal, a review by the state Supreme Court.
The 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco this week denied a request by the Petaluma River Council, city of Petaluma and other plaintiffs for a rehearing before the same three-judge panel that unanimously rejected their appeal last month.
The groups had appealed a 2011 ruling of Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau, who determined that the county’s environmental analysis of the proposed Dutra Materials plant was adequate and that open meeting laws were followed when the issue came before the Board of Supervisors.
via Asphalt plant opponents’ appeal denied | The Press Democrat.
See also Friends of Shollenberger Park