A move by the Trump administration to roll back landmark environmental policy intended to ensure vigorous scrutiny of federal infrastructure projects has struck alarm in the hearts of California conservationists, particularly those striving to safeguard North Coast waters from offshore energy exploration and production.
Proposed changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act would have sweeping effects nationwide, wherever there is federally built, funded or permitted construction or activity. Examples include mining on federal lands, construction of federally funded highways, or work on interstate gas pipelines or federal dams. But on the North Coast, where residents enjoy some of the most scenic and productive ocean waters on Earth, a coastline already subject to renewed drilling pressures and proposed wind generation facilities may be at greater risk if the NEPA revisions go through, experts say.
“Obviously, it’s going to have dramatic impacts on the whole offshore drilling equation,” said Richard Charter, senior fellow with the Ocean Foundation and a Sonoma Coast resident.
That’s especially true given increased instability in the Middle East due to tension between the United States and Iran, which could move the White House to try to fast-track plans to reopen the North Coast to oil drilling, he said.
“It’s quite frightening,” said Cea Higgins, executive director of Coastwalk California, headquartered in Sonoma County.
On December 5th, at its Holiday Networking Party, the Sonoma County Conservation Council gave Woody Hastings the Ernestine I. Smith Environmentalist of the Year award, for his work organizing against new gas stations being built in the County — one of the great success stories of 2019.
For the last decade, Woody has worked at the Climate Center, formerly the Center for Climate Protection, using his organizing skills to promote the formation of Sonoma Clean Power, our local CCA, and Community Choice Aggregation in general.
In April, Jenny Baker’s article in the Gazette alerted Woody and the community to a proposed mega-gas-station at Highway 116 and Stony Point Road. The 16-pump gas station, car wash, and minimart would operate around the clock, all year long. Contacting Jenny, Woody offered his assistance. Together they began organizing the community to oppose the station, which would have been one of six within two miles — with an additional two car washes less than two miles away.
Their efforts culminated in a public meeting on June 25th; all the speakers were opposed to the gas station. Less than two weeks later, the developer withdrew the application. Woody proclaimed, “sometime we win!”
Although that battle was won, the war against building more polluting gas stations continues. Key to winning the war is getting the County Board of Supervisors to adopt an ordinance to put new applications for gas stations on hold until the rules for permitting new gas stations have been reviewed and revised. There’s no way to argue that any of the recently proposed stations are needed — all the proposed gas stations are in areas where there are already several gas stations within a small radius.
For nearly two decades Sonoma County has been commited to responding to the climate crisis, starting with a 2002 resolution that committed the County to reduce greenhouse gases from internal operations. Additional actions in 2005, 2006, and 2008, were followed in 2009 when the County and all nine cities formed the Regional Climate Protection Authority to coordinate countywide climate protection efforts, the first such authority in the US. In 2018, the County adopted the “Climate Change Action Resolution” to pursue local actions supporting goals including “encouraging a shift toward low-carbon fuels in vehicles and equipment” and “switching equipment from fossil fuels to electricity.” Our County leaders appear to be committed to a meaningful and effective response to the climate crisis, but why we are now facing proposals for new gas stations? How does that not make a mockery of these past efforts?
We’re still permitting new gas stations using outmoded 20th century rules while we’re in the midst of a 21st century climate crisis. Contact your Supervisor and urge them to adopt 21st century rules.
Homebuilders unhappy with Santa Rosa’s plans to prohibit most new homes from relying on natural gas voiced concerns Thursday that efforts to require electric appliances are moving too fast.
The city, one of dozens in California that could require new homes up to three stories to be all-electric, held a meeting to solicit feedback from local homebuilders before a City Council study session Tuesday.
The council has yet to vote on the issue, but the natural-gas ban’s inclusion in city discussions of building codes taking effect in 2020 has stirred up some in the building community who fear a hasty process could elicit negative reactions from customers who prefer gas-fueled stoves, fireplaces and heaters.
“We’re kind of assuming this is a done deal,” said Keith Christopherson, a prominent North Bay builder. “And I gotta tell you, the response that we’ve gotten from people is that they’re really P.O.’d.”
The push to ban gas appliances — a step already taken by Berkeley and being given serious consideration by other locales including Windsor, Petaluma and Cloverdale — is connected to California’s aspiration to eliminate or offset all carbon emissions by 2045. That will necessarily involve ending the use of natural gas in buildings. Eliminating its use in new homes is a first step, while retrofitting existing buildings is a distant but implicit goal.
New state building codes set to take effect Jan. 1 already include a standard requirement for new homes to include solar panel arrays.
On 15 October, the European Investment Bank meets to decide its policy on fossil fuels. The hand of history is on its shoulder.
Millions of people marched against climate crisis over the past two weeks, in some of the largest demonstrations of the millennium. Most people cheered the students who led the rallies – call them the Greta Generation. But now we’ll start to find out if all their earnest protest actually matters.
Perhaps the first real test will come on 15 October, when the board of the EU’s European Investment Bank – the largest public bank in the world – meets to decide whether the time has finally come to stop expanding the fossil fuel sector. This should be a no-brainer decision: the bank’s staff has put forward a cogent proposal, supported by campaigners across the continent, that would end loans to new fossil fuel projects by 2020.
That plan fits with the facts: when the world’s climate scientists declared last autumn that we would need to have fundamentally transformed our energy sector within a decade, it was clear that the first job was to stop building any new infrastructure. The first rule of holes is, when you’re in one, stop digging.
In this case that means no more digging for gas pipelines or ports or anything else that will help lock in carbon emissions for decades to come. In the past week of Guardian reporting we’ve learned that the biggest oil companies plan to increase production as much as 35% in the next decade. It’s going to be hard enough to phase out the vast existing fossil fuel infrastructure in the years ahead: adding new projects at this point is insane.
For several months Petaluma residents have been in a David-and-Goliath battle with Safeway, which is trying to build a mega 16-pump gas station adjacent to a residential district near an elementary school, a child care center and fields where children play.The residents are distraught, because a gas station does not mix well with children or bode well for their health, for many reasons.
Meanwhile, another totally unnecessary 16-pump ARCO gas station (including 4 diesel pumps), with a carwash and 24/7 convenience store (selling soda, chips etc.) is now being proposed at Highway 116/Stony Point Road in an unincorporated, semi-rural area of the County, less than 2 miles from Cotati on the way to Sebastopol.
The handful of small, locally owned businesses on the site, including Cali Kind tie-dye clothing shop, the Pond & Garden Nursery and Martin’s Market & Deli would have to go – pushed out by massive, out-of-county corporate developers.
There are already five gas stations within 2 miles of this site, four clustered around the Hwy 116/Hwy 101 intersection, and Bill’s Valero to the north on Hwy 116. There are also two carwashes, a full service and a self-service, less than 2 miles away in Cotati.
Over 10,000 sq. ft. of impervious surfaces would be added.Well water, a septic system, wastewater from the car wash and run off from the gas station would all supposedly be dealt with on site, while ditches from alongside the site run into nearby Gossage and Washoe Creeks, tributaries to the Laguna de Santa Rosa – a wetland of international significance.Sonoma County is already riddled with Leaking Underground Storage Tanks, including within a few miles away.Underground gas tanks from gas stations almost always leak.One gallon of oil can pollute 1 million gallons of water. One pin-prick size hole in an underground gas tank can leak 400 gallons of fuel a year.And all of this potential trouble lies upstream from the Llano Road water treatment plant.
The site is in a “High Priority Greenbelt” area, on a Scenic Corridor, and surrounded on two sides by a Community Separator, voted in 2 years ago by 81% of the voters to protect green open spaces between cities. The surrounding land consists of seasonal wetlands, and lies within the area of critical habitat for our local endangered species, the California tiger salamander.
Quite apart from local impacts, why would anyone want to build another gas station now, with the climate crisis looming over us, gas stations plummeting, and sales of electric cars rising rapidly? If built, how soon will this one become an obsolete white elephant and who will pay for the clean-up costs?
The project came to preliminary Design Review and was sent back to the drawing board for a redesign, mainly because it is in a scenic corridor and not suitable for a rural area. It will come back for a second preliminary Design Review, but we don’t yet know when. The site is zoned for Limited Commercial and development would require a Use permit. You can submit comments to staff at Permit Sonoma, Daniel Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org and Chelsea.Holup@sonoma-county.org.