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Aiming to ship coal out of Humboldt Bay, shadowy corporation makes bid to take over NCRA line

Ryan Burns, LOST COAST OUTPOST

Unidentified coal companies appear to be behind a new backdoor effort to acquire the North Coast Railroad Authority’s right-of-way between Eureka and Willits and rehabilitate the defunct railroad, all so they can export coal to Asian markets via the Port of Humboldt Bay.

State Senator Mike McGuire calls this development “one of the largest environmental threats to hit the North Coast in decades.”

On Aug. 16, a mysterious, newly formed corporation called North Coast Railroad Company, LLC, filed a pleading with the Surface Transportation Board. Ostensibly a proposal to submit an “Offer of Financial Assistance” to rebuild the line, the filing makes a number of surprising claims.

For one, the 14-page filing, submitted by a pair of Chicago attorneys, says NCRCo. is “capitalized to the tune of $1.2 billion” and has “thoroughly-developed plans” to acquire and rehabilitate the dilapidated rail line between Humboldt Bay and Willits. Once complete, the company says, this newly reconstructed railroad will move “high-volume shipments” between the San Francisco Bay Area and Humboldt Bay.

The document does not disclose what these “high-volume shipments” might contain. Nor does it identify anyone involved with the corporation.

The pleading prompted an incredulous response from the North Coast Rail Authority (NCRA), the state agency that spent 30 years trying to resuscitate that same stretch of railroad but is now, under McGuire’s leadership, working to develop the Great Redwood Trail, a multi-use pathway extending 320 miles along the agency’s right-of-way.

Read more at https://lostcoastoutpost.com/2021/sep/2/aiming-ship-coal-out-humboldt-bay-shadowy-corporat/?

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The Climate Crisis: August 18, 2021

Bill McKibben, THE NEW YORKER

I’ve long felt that one of my great failings as a climate communicator has come in trying to get across the dangers posed by methane, the second most damaging greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide. Despite long years of many people trying to underscore the risks of methane, our go-to shorthand for climate pollution remains “carbon.” That’s why companies and political leaders boast about how much they’ve reduced their carbon emissions, but, if they managed the trick by substituting gas for coal, their total contribution to global warming has barely budged—because natural gas is another word for methane, and because when it invariably leaks from frack wells and pipelines it traps heat, molecule for molecule, much more effectively than CO2.

Now, finally, methane appears to be having its day in the sun. A key thing to understand about methane (CH4) is that it doesn’t hang around in the atmosphere anywhere near as long as CO2: its life span is measured in decades, not centuries. While methane is in the air, it traps a lot of heat, but a dramatic reduction in the amount of CH4 would be a quick fix that would help slow the rise of global temperatures, giving us more time to work on the carbon quandary. As Stanford University’s Rob Jackson told me, last week, the best estimate is that methane caused about a third of the global warming we’ve seen in the past decade, not far behind the contributions of CO2.

The first way to reduce methane in the atmosphere, of course, is to stop building anything new that’s connected to gas: stop installing gas cooktops and gas furnaces, and substitute electrical appliances. And stop building new gas-fired power plants, instead substituting sun, wind, and battery power. And, as a really important new study by the star energy academics Bob Howarth and Mark Jacobson emphasizes, by all means do not start using natural gas to produce hydrogen, even if you’re capturing the carbon emissions from the process.

Read more at https://link.newyorker.com/view/5be9d06e3f92a40469e05fc8er70o.6ds/6fbf19eb

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Greenhouse gas emissions must peak within 4 years, says leaked UN report

Fiona Harvey and Giles Tremlett, THE GUARDIAN

Global greenhouse gas emissions must peak in the next four years, coal and gas-fired power plants must close in the next decade and lifestyle and behavioural changes will be needed to avoid climate breakdown, according to the leaked draft of a report from the world’s leading authority on climate science.

Rich people in every country are overwhelmingly more responsible for global heating than the poor, with SUVs and meat-eating singled out for blame, and the high-carbon basis for future economic growth is also questioned.

The leak is from the forthcoming third part of the landmark report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the first part of which was published on Monday, warning of unprecedented changes to the climate, some of them irreversible. The document, called the sixth assessment report, is divided into three parts: the physical science of climate change; the impacts and ways of reducing human influence on the climate.

Part three is not scheduled to be released before next March, but a small group of scientists decided to leak the draft via the Spanish branch of Scientist Rebellion, an offshoot of the Extinction Rebellion movement. It was first published by the journalist Juan Bordera in the Spanish online magazine CTXT.

Bordera told the Guardian that the leak reflected the concern of some of those involved in drawing up the document that their conclusions could be watered down before publication in 2022. Governments have the right to make changes to the “summary for policymakers”.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/aug/12/greenhouse-gas-emissions-must-peak-within-4-years-says-leaked-un-report

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A hotter future is certain, climate panel warns. But how hot is up to us.

Brad Plumer and Henry Fountain, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Some devastating impacts of global warming are now unavoidable, a major new scientific report finds. But there is still a short window to stop things from getting even worse.

Nations have delayed curbing their fossil-fuel emissions for so long that they can no longer stop global warming from intensifying over the next 30 years, though there is still a short window to prevent the most harrowing future, a major new United Nations scientific report has concluded.

Humans have already heated the planet by roughly 1.1 degrees Celsius, or 2 degrees Fahrenheit, since the 19th century, largely by burning coal, oil and gas for energy. And the consequences can be felt across the globe: This summer alone, blistering heat waves have killed hundreds of people in the United States and Canada, floods have devastated Germany and China, and wildfires have raged out of control in Siberia, Turkey and Greece.

But that’s only the beginning, according to the report, issued on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of scientists convened by the United Nations. Even if nations started sharply cutting emissions today, total global warming is likely to rise around 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next two decades, a hotter future that is now essentially locked in.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/09/climate/climate-change-report-ipcc-un.html

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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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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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Op-Ed: Divest public funds from fossil fuels

Shelly Browning and Philip Beard, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

In December 2019, following a spirited discussion by supervisors and citizen commentators, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors adopted unanimously a remarkable resolution. Making note of the manifest connection between burning fossil fuels and the appalling frequency of catastrophic wildfires, they directed Treasurer-Tax Collector Erick Roeser in part as follows:

“… Investment in the fossil fuel industry is inconsistent with (environmental/social/governance) investment principles. (The supervisors) request that the County Treasurer make no new or renewed investments in fossil fuel development corporations to the extent that other, more socially responsible investments achieve substantially equivalent safety, liquidity, and yield.”

The Sonoma County treasurer manages money on behalf of scores of public agencies. They entrust surplus resources to the Sonoma County Pooled Investment Fund to guarantee secure, responsible management of public money. To name just a few: Animal Welfare, the Office of Education, Health Services, Homeless Emergency Aid, Public Health and virtually all fire and school districts.

As the fund’s manager, Roeser enjoys considerable latitude and bears fiduciary responsibility in deciding where and how to invest these funds.

Since December 2019, however, Roeser has contravened the spirit of the supervisors’ resolution by maintaining and adding to the county’s deposits in several large banks that appear prominently in the Fossil Fuel Finance Report 2020. The report, published by the Rainforest Action Network, lists the major banks financing fossil fuels globally. Roeser’s new or renewed certificates of deposit in these banks amount to $236 million of Sonoma County pooled investment funds in the third quarter of 2020 alone.
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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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The fossil fuel industry wants you to believe it’s good for people of color

Sammy Roth, LOS ANGELES TIMES

The letter to Mexico’s energy minister offered a glowing review of a fossil fuel project in Baja California.

Writing in July, three U.S. governors and the chair of the Ute Indian Tribe praised the Energía Costa Azul project — which was seeking approval from the Mexican government — as “one of the most promising [liquefied natural gas] export facilities on the Pacific Coast.”

The letter was arranged by Western States and Tribal Nations, an advocacy group that says it was created in part to “promote tribal self-determination” by creating easier access to overseas markets for gas extracted from Native American lands.

But internal documents shared with The Times reveal that the group’s main financial backers are county governments and fossil fuel companies — including Sempra Energy of San Diego, which received approval this month to build the $1.9-billion facility in Baja. In fact, the group has just one tribal member, the Ute Indian Tribe.

Western States and Tribal Nations isn’t the only effort by fossil fuel proponents to cast themselves as allies of communities of color and defenders of their financial well-being.

The goal is to bulwark oil and gas against ambitious climate change policies by claiming the moral high ground — even as those fuels kindle a global crisis that disproportionately harms people who aren’t white.

Recent examples abound.

As protests rocked the United States after the police killing of George Floyd, a government relations firm whose clients include oil and gas companies told news media that the mayor of San Luis Obispo, Calif., was “getting a lot of heat” from the NAACP over a proposal to limit gas hookups in new buildings. That was proved false when the local NAACP chapter said it supported the policy.

Around the same time, Alaska’s all-Republican congressional delegation wrote a letter to federal officials complaining about the refusal of several banks to finance oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, writing that the banks were harming Alaska Natives by “openly discriminating against investment in some of the most economically disadvantaged regions of America.”

Some of the most contentious debates involve natural gas. The fuel is less polluting than coal, but an international team of scientists reported last year that planet-warming emissions from gas are rising faster than coal emissions are falling. A recent study in the peer-reviewed journal AGU Advances found that replacing coal with gas might do little good for the climate.

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