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Memo shows involvement of Utah agency and 2 tribes in North Coast coal export proposal

Andrew Graham, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A Utah state official and the leaders of two federally recognized tribal nations in March discussed shipping Rocky Mountain coal by rail along the Northern California coast and exporting it out of Humboldt Bay, according to a newly revealed document that sheds additional light on parties involved in the controversial proposal.

The internal memo from a Utah port agency, first published last week by the Salt Lake Tribune, indicates coal industry players in Montana and Utah were at least initially involved in the proposal.

Amid widespread public outrage over the prospect of coal trains chugging through Northern California cities and towns and alongside rivers that are key water sources for the region, both the Utah agency and the Humboldt Bay-based Wiyot Tribe have since distanced themselves from the proposal.

And local opposition to the project appears increasingly difficult for coal advocates to surmount. This week, officials with the Humboldt Bay Harbor District, which regulates port facilities in the bay, said that body’s elected board was likely to pass its own resolution opposing coal shipments.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/memo-shows-involvement-of-utah-agency-and-2-tribes-in-north-coast-coal-expo/?

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Draft ordinance moves ahead to block new gas stations throughout Sonoma County

Woody Hastings, SIERRA CLUB SONOMA GROUP

The Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA) has stepped up. On July 12, the RCPA board, consisting of representatives from each city council within Sonoma County and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, agreed unanimously to direct RCPA staff to draft a resolution urging each of its member jurisdictions to adopt its own ordinance prohibiting the permitting or construction of new gasoline stations.

The resolution, to include a model ordinance, guidance, and options for each city to consider, will be presented at the next RCPA board meeting on Sept. 13.

View the July 12 meeting recording HERE. (passcode: BOARD-scta07.12.21). The gas station item 4.6 begins at the 1:49:30 mark, about two-thirds of the way through the meeting. The powerpoint and other materials can be found HERE.

Here is the update on Sonoma County local governments taking up the issue:

Santa Rosa: A draft ordinance is in the works and will be reviewed in August at the Santa Rosa Climate Action Subcommittee before going to the Planning Commission and then full city council, probably some time in September or October.

Cotati: In response to citizen action, city staff is working on a draft ordinance to be brought to city council later this summer, early fall.

Sebastopol: On July 14 the Sebastopol Climate Action Committee held its first discussion of an ordinance prohibiting new gasoline stations to be placed on the city council’s agenda. The SCAC runs all its proposals through an equity assessment. The assessment will accompany the recommendation to the city council. The city’s planning director is drafting an ordinance to be reviewed by the SCAC prior to going to the planning commission and then city council. The plan is to wait until after the RCPA issues its guidance and adopt an ordinance that is consistent with the RCPA guidance.

How about your city? If you live in Rohnert Park, Windsor, Healdsburg, Cloverdale, or Sonoma, get the ball rolling! Contact us to see how you can help.

Sonoma County. Although each supervisor states that they support a prohibition, they have taken no action. This is despite the fact that the Coalition Against New Gas Stations (CONGAS) delivered a presentation to the board of supervisors in a Climate Action Town Hall meeting on April 6, leading to a May 11 Board Climate Action Workshop where all the supervisors continued to express support for a new gasoline station prohibition. But to date, the board has not acted. Please contact your supervisor and urge them to stop talking about it and start doing something about it.
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Posted on Categories Air, Climate Change & EnergyTags , , ,

Northern California requires oil refiners to slash air pollution

Laila Kearney, REUTERS

Northern California regulators on Wednesday directed two of the state’s largest oil refineries to slash their fine particulate air pollution, which will require costly modifications at the plants.

The 19-3 vote by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District governing board means refineries in the area, including Chevron Corp’s (CVX.N) Richmond plant and PBF Energy Inc’s (PBF.N) Martinez refinery, will have to install wet gas scrubbers to reduce pollution spewed by their gasoline-making fluid catalytic cracking units (FCCU) within five years.

The new requirement is expected to cut PBF and Chevron’s particulate matter emissions from its cat crackers by about 70%, the air quality district estimates.

Read more at https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/northern-california-air-board-requires-oil-refiners-slash-pollution-2021-07-21/

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Cleaner air and racial justice versus jobs: The battle over fossil fuels hits the Bay Area

Joe Garofoli, SFGATE

Petaluma Mayor Teresa Barrett knew exactly what was going on when a coalition of multinational oil companies spent roughly $78,000 to support her opponents in her last re-election campaign.

That kind of cash stood out in a city where there is a $200-per-person cap on campaign donations.

Why would an oil-funded political action committee care about who held a part-time job that pays $40 a month? They went after Barrett because she represents Sonoma County as one of the 24 locally elected representatives who also serve on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. “It was very clear that they didn’t want me on the air district board,” she said.

Barrett won re-election anyway in that 2018 race and remains on the air board, where another bruising political battle is being waged. And local officials who typically fly below the radar are being targeted again because they serve on a regional board that is far more powerful — and potentially influential to the rest of the country.

The fight is between forces who are usually united under the Democratic Party umbrella: It’s labor unions — siding with the oil companies who provide their jobs — against environmentalists and racial justice advocates.

Their standoff affects the air breathed by the 7 million Bay Area residents whom the air district is charged with protecting. But it is a complicated battle. And this disagreement in California previews the challenges facing America as it transitions away from fossil fuel — something both Gov. Gavin Newsom and President Biden have promised to do.

The proximate issue is a proposal coming before the air board on Wednesday. The proposed change would require refineries to install technology that greatly reduces the particulate matter they emit. It is a technology that, environmentalists point out, is already widely in use, including even in oil-friendly states like Texas.

If the board made those changes, it would not only reduce the number of particulates, according to the air district, but could literally save lives. The district has calculated that exposure to particulate matter from the Chevron refinery in Richmond increases mortality in the region by up to 10 deaths per year and up to six deaths per year from the PBF Martinez refinery.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/politics/article/Cleaner-air-and-racial-justice-versus-jobs-The-16211535.php?cmpid=gsa-sfgate-result

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Amid resident-led lawsuit, Safeway abandons gas station plans in Petaluma

Kathryn Palmer, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

Safeway is walking away from its embattled Petaluma gas station project after years of resident-led pushback, city officials and a Safeway representative confirmed Friday.

The decision marks a victory for opposition group NoGasHere, which has been locked in a nearly two-year legal battle with the grocery giant and the city of Petaluma over the project. And it comes on the heels of the city’s first-in-the-nation ban on new gas stations, which drew national attention after it was passed March 1.

Safeway spokeswoman Wendy Gutshall confirmed the company is abandoning the project in an emailed statement to the Argus-Courier Friday, explaining that the company is choosing not to pursue renewed project approvals from the city after they lapsed earlier this month.

“We appreciate those who supported a new Safeway gas station at the Washington Square Shopping Center in Petaluma,” she said in the message. “The city’s approval of the project on April 1, 2019, was valid for two years, and the project approvals recently expired. The project has come to an end.”

The project has drawn heated opposition from Petaluma residents and some local business owners since the national chain unveiled its plans for the Washington Square addition in 2013, with NoGasHere leaders objecting over potential environmental impacts and increased traffic hazards.

Read more at https://www.petaluma360.com/article/news/amid-resident-led-lawsuit-safeway-abandons-gas-station-plans-in-petaluma/?ref=mostsection&sba=AAS

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Do we actually need more gas stations?

Bill McKibben, THE NEW YORKER, The Climate Crisis Newsletter

If we’re really going to change, sooner or later we’ll have to actually make a change

The latest front in the fight against fossil fuels—so far, one confined to a couple of California towns—concerns what might be the most iconic element of the American commercial landscape: the gas station. Beginning in 2019, activists from the Coalition Opposing New Gas Stations have questioned whether there’s a need for big new versions of the filling station, or whether—since both California and G.M. have announced plans to end the sale of new internal-combustion vehicles in fourteen years—it might be time to decide that we have enough pumps already. Last year, they helped persuade developers to withdraw plans for two gas stations in unincorporated parts of Sonoma County, and earlier this month they helped convince the city of Petaluma to become the first in the country to ban new stations; they’ve so far lost a battle against a “mega station” that would accommodate up to twenty-eight vehicles at a time in the city of Novato, but they vow to keep fighting.

It will be a tough battle in Novato, because the opponent is not some mom-and-pop garage but Costco, the vast—and vastly successful—warehouse-store chain. Costco’s model is enormous volume allowing cheap prices. The company’s public image is sterling, because it offers employees fair wages and generous benefits (one looks forward to the day when this will not stand out enough to be a boast), but its practices are beginning to come under scrutiny: Nicholas Kristof describes in the Times precisely what practices are behind the production of a $4.99 rotisserie chicken.

Read more at https://link.newyorker.com/view/5be9d06e3f92a40469e05fc8dvqy7.cjl/1a3118b7

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This California city banned the construction of any new gas stations

Kristin Toussaint, FAST COMPANY

Petaluma has decided it has enough gas stations to last until we transition to electric vehicles.

In the California city of Petaluma, which covers less than 15 square miles, there are currently 16 gas stations. But there will never be another one, even if one of the existing stations goes out of business. The ones that are left also can’t ever expand the number of fuel pumps, either, though they can add electric charging stations and hydrocarbon pumps. City officials recently approved a permanent ban on new gas stations in a move that climate activists say is national first, and a crucial step towards curbing our reliance on fossil fuels.

“It’s a really important sign of things to come where, because we haven’t seen sufficient action at a state or federal level, cities have an opportunity to do the right thing and make sure we are planning a transition from a carbon economy to a clean energy economy,” says Matt Krogh, an oil and gas campaign manager with the environmental nonprofit Stand.earth. “There’s no need to build new fossil fuel infrastructure of any sort. We have all the tools we need for a clean energy economy, and these wasted investments are things that are going to become polluting liabilities, and communities get left holding the bag.”

Across the country the number of gas stations has been steadily declining, as big businesses like Costo, Sam’s Club, and Safeway have been adding gas stations to their existing stores. This can run smaller gas stations out of business—but also creates large environmental repercussions. “If they go out of business, there’s no one to pay for the cleanup or to offer new services like transitioning to electric charging or hydrogen,” Krogh says.

Gas stations have underground storage tanks which can crack and leak, polluting the soil and groundwater. That land has to be completely remediated before the ocation can be used for anything else, a process which often costs millions of dollars. In the U.S., there are currently 450,000 “brownfield” sites—previously developed land that currently isn’t in use and may be contaminated—and the EPA estimates half of those sites are contaminated by petroleum from underground tanks at abandoned gas stations.
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Petaluma City Council moves to ban new gas stations

Kathryn Palmer, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

The Petaluma City Council this week moved to ban new gas stations, cementing a nearly two-year moratorium as leaders accelerate ambitious climate action goals.

The prohibition, approved unanimously late Monday, caps a years-long effort by city leaders and climate activists who have pushed an ambitious, zero-emission-by-2030 timeline. The council must approve the ban during a second reading before it takes effect.

It also streamlines processes for existing gas stations seeking to add electric vehicle charging stations and potential hydrogen fuel cell stations, with city staff underlining an urgency to support alternative fueling in order to meet state zero-emission infrastructure targets.

“The goal here is to move away from fossil fuels, and to make it as easy as possible to do that,” Councilor D’Lynda Fischer said. “Right now, we have existing fossil fuel stations, and what we want them to do is add (electric vehicle) chargers and create another source of fueling people can use.”

The city of roughly 60,000 people is host to 16 operational gas stations, and city staff concluded there are multiple stations located within a 5-minute drive of every planned or existing residence within city limits.

A contentious Safeway gas station at McDowell Boulevard and Maria Drive, which drew the ire of residents for its proximity to a school and residential neighborhoods, will see no impacts from the ban.

The controversial project has been locked in a legal battle with resident group Save Petaluma since 2019. The group is suing Safeway and the city in an attempt to compel the company to complete an additional environmental study of the project, with the hope that the study will help block the fueling station first proposed in 2013.

Read more at: https://www.petaluma360.com/article/news/petaluma-city-council-moves-to-ban-new-gas-stations/?sba=AAS

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Large methane leaks reveal long-standing shortfalls in oversight

Chiara Eisner, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

Ever since a father and son managed to draw four whiskey barrels of oil from a hand-dug hole near California’s Kern River 121 years ago, productive oil and gas wells have multiplied like mushrooms across the area. Though such wells are expected to emit minimal amounts of greenhouse gases during the oil-extraction process, scientists from a space-related research group were shocked by the size of the methane plumes they detected when they flew an infrared sensor over Kern County in 2015. Repeating the flights three more times in the next three years confirmed the initial reading: some wells were releasing at least six times more of the potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere in one day than the Environmental Protection Agency had estimated they should emit in a year.

Karen Jones is one of the scientists at the Aerospace Corporation, the California-based nonprofit organization that conducted the aerial survey. She says she felt mystified by what she calls a lack of action among the oil fields’ operators and regulators as she watched the methane—the second-highest contributor to human-caused warming after carbon dioxide—continuously spew over the years. “The gas coming out of Kern County isn’t supposed to be there,” she says.

Revelations like Aerospace’s, which the nonprofit published in a report this past summer, are becoming more common. For years, oil and gas companies have been required to detect and repair methane leaks in their equipment. But scientists have produced dozens of studies over the past decade that suggest the current methods and technology used by industry to detect leaks—and by regulators to estimate how much methane is emitted—are inadequate to catch the actual scale of the problem.

Nonprofit groups and private satellite companies may soon make high-quality data about methane publicly available and ubiquitous, potentially creating more pressure to address the situation. Action to plug leaks and prevent further air pollution may be stymied in the meantime, though: the Trump administration took numerous steps that could weaken environmental protections, including rules outlining how companies monitor for and locate natural gas leaks in their equipment (methane is the main component of natural gas). Whether those rules will be reversed when the Biden administration enters the White House, and how long that process will take if it happens, remains to be seen.

Read more at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/large-methane-leaks-reveal-long-standing-shortfalls-in-oversight/

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Windsor poised to repeal natural gas ban opposed by developers

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

While Windsor has been negotiating with its challengers, Santa Rosa is not looking to settle.

“Santa Rosa is fighting the lawsuit and intends to keep our all-electric ordinance intact,” said Councilman Chris Rogers on Friday in a text message.

Windsor is preparing to repeal its ban on natural gas in most new homes as part of a tentative settlement with Bill Gallaher, the politically connected Sonoma County developer who has sued the town over its new climate-friendly mandate.

The Town Council on Nov. 18 put off the move under advice from Town Manager Ken MacNab after a flood of support from community members urging Windsor to defend its 2019 ban, which requires all-electric appliances in most new homes under three stories. MacNab had asked for more time “to review some of the legal points in the litigation.”

Under the proposed settlement, Gallaher and Windsor-Jensen Land Co., another developer that sued the town over the ban, would drop their lawsuits in exchange for a repeal of the all-electric rule, according to town documents. Town officials said they have pursued a deal to avoid costly litigation — taking an opposite tack from Santa Rosa, where City Hall is steeled for its own court fight with Gallaher over similar all-electric rules for new housing.

The all-electric measures are meant to align cities with California’s goal of fighting climate change by eliminating fossil fuel use associated with buildings. And supporters, including Windsor residents and elected officials and climate advocates from across the North Bay, have called on Windsor to stick with its rules while questioning the influence of political contributions that Mayor Dominic Foppoli has received from Gallaher. Some are calling for the mayor to recuse himself from the matter.

All of the written public responses Windsor officials received and published ahead of the Nov. 18 Town Council meeting were in support of the town’s natural gas ban.

“It would really be an extreme disappointment if a millionaire developer was able to bully the town out of doing all the amazing work to support the climate that this town does,” Windsor resident Jennifer Silverstein said at the virtual council meeting, noting that Windsor’s response to the Gallaher and Windsor-Jensen lawsuits could have ramifications beyond the town. “If they succeed in bullying us, they will bully Sonoma County and they will bully California.”

The five-member council is set to discuss the litigation again Wednesday in closed session. Its next regular meeting is scheduled for Dec. 16.
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