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North Coast rail dispute intensifies with competing bids from Skunk Train and coal export company

Andrew Graham, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A mysterious Wyoming-based firm believed to be pushing a controversial coal-by-rail export proposal along the Northern California coast has made a new filing with a powerful federal board to advance its bid to seize control over the defunct lines running between Willits and Eureka.

The June 1 filing indicated the so-named North Coast Railroad Company, which wants to ship Rocky Mountain coal out of the port at Humboldt Bay, had at least $15 million in the bank — enough to clear an initial federal hurdle in which a company must prove it can cover the cost of a line’s scrap steel and two years of maintenance.

But that company is not the only entity vying for control of abandoned track running through Mendocino and Humboldt counties — along a right of way state lawmakers hope will one day welcome a 320-mile multiuse trail stretching south to San Francisco Bay.

In an unrelated venture, Mendocino Railway, owners of the tourist excursion Skunk Train, are petitioning the federal rail board to restore 11 miles of track north of Willits to run loads of gravel. Mendocino Railway also filed with the board indicating it had the resources to take on that project.

Either bid could complicate the more broadly-supported venture: the proposed Great Redwood Trail, a recreational route planned from Eureka in the north to Larkspur in Marin County on the south. A state agency has already begun planning the conversion of abandoned segments of the rail line in Mendocino and Humboldt counties for the trail.

The three competing ventures must now vie for the endorsement of the U.S. Transportation Board, a body that aims to preserve the nation’s rail corridors but has proven amenable to allowing recreational trails along disused rights of way.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/north-coast-rail-dispute-intensifies-with-competing-bids-from-skunk-train-a/

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Federal rail board wants to hear out mysterious coal train proposal, jeopardizing Great Redwood Trail project

Andrew Graham, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The federal body that oversees the nation’s railroad rights of way indicated this week that it will consider the proposal from a mysterious Wyoming company to reconstruct defunct rail lines and ship coal out of Humboldt Bay to Asia.

The coal export proposal, widely regarded as unrealistic, is facing staunch opposition from local and state lawmakers, the tight margins of a declining coal industry and would need up to $2 billion to restore abandoned sections of track in Mendocino and Humboldt counties, according to previous state estimates.

But the decision by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board could complicate another North Coast venture: the proposed Great Redwood Trail, a 320-mile bicycle and pedestrian recreation route along former railways stretching from Eureka to San Francisco Bay.

The trail project, championed by state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, and many other elected officials, conservationists and economic development officials, made significant strides in March with the creation of a state agency to spearhead the effort.

The coal shipping proposal surfaced in August 2021, when a newly-formed, Wyoming-based entity called the North Coast Railroad Co. filed documents with the federal rail board suggesting it could raise the funds to restore abandoned rail segments.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/federal-rail-board-wants-to-hear-out-mysterious-coal-train-proposal-jeopar/

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New gas station bans working their way through Sonoma County communities

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Maybe 138 gas stations in Sonoma County is enough for now. Or really, forever.

That’s the thinking behind a wave of new ordinances making their way through local governments around the region that would prohibit permit applications for new petroleum fueling stations or expansions.

While it may be years yet before electric vehicles dominate the roadways, elected officials think planning ahead for a successful transition away from planet-fouling, gas-powered cars makes sense. And that includes putting a stop to any more fuel pumps in the county.

The Rohnert Park City Council took the first vote on its new ordinance Tuesday and is expected to adopt a citywide ban on new gas pumps at its March 22 meeting. The Sebastopol council will take up the matter April 5, when it considers a draft ordinance already approved by the planning commission. And Santa Rosa City Council’s climate action subcommittee has sent a recommended ban to its planning commission which, if OK’d there, would move onto the City Council later this year.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/new-gas-station-bans-working-their-way-through-sonoma-county-communities/

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Windsor exploring ban on new gas stations, gas infrastructure

Brandon McCapes, SOCONEWS

The Town of Windsor will soon join the City of Petaluma in banning new gas station infrastructure, following a recommendation by the Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA).

At their Nov. 3 meeting, the town council voted unanimously to direct planning staff to explore a ban, which would not affect current gas stations, but only prevent the establishment of fueling stations providing fossil fuels, or adding to the number of fuel pumps at existing stations.

Kim Voge, a planner from the community development department, said that, following Petaluma’s ban in March of this year, the RCPA has been recommending all jurisdictions in Sonoma County follow suit.

The Town of Windsor declared a climate emergency in September 2019, and the general plan includes policies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and achieve net zero emissions.

Currently, Windsor allows gas stations in three zoning districts (community commercial, service commercial and gateway commercial), requiring a use permit; the ban would be implemented by removing gas stations from the zoning ordinance, making all gas stations “non-conforming.”

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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.
Continue reading “Draft ordinance moves ahead to block new gas stations throughout Sonoma County”

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