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Op-Ed: Why California’s climate solution isn’t cutting it

Jacques Leslie, LOS ANGELES TIMES

Many Californians take pride in the state’s position on the front lines of the global climate change struggle, but the dismal performance of its centerpiece climate program — cap and trade — shows that in a crucial way the state’s reputation is undeserved. Even here, in the heartland of climate awareness, it turns out that the oil industry calls the most important shots.

A revelatory November report by ProPublica delineates how the oil industry has successfully gamed the cap-and-trade program. The system is supposed to force a gradual decline in carbon dioxide emissions by issuing polluting companies an annually decreasing number of permits to pollute, but it has granted so many exceptions that the program is nearly toothless.

As a result, since the beginning of cap and trade in 2013, emissions from oil and gas sources — generated by production, refining and vehicle fuel consumption — have increased by 3.5%, according to ProPublica’s analysis. This is alarming, not least because the last of those categories, the transportation sector, is the leading source of emissions in the state.

In fact, the oil industry has found California’s cap-and-trade program so accommodating that it has been promoting similar market-based climate approaches — cap and trade and carbon taxes — around the world, according to ProPublica. The bigger threat to the oil industry is direct regulation, which it consistently opposes. Unlike cap and trade, regulations could target specific economic sectors and focus directly on limiting the oil industry’s carbon pollution.

Market-based policies now dominate programs that are intended to curb climate change. The 2015 Paris climate agreement touted such approaches as a principal method to reduce emissions, and according to a World Bank report in June, at least 57 jurisdictions have established carbon pricing programs. The problem, as the report points out, is that “prices remain too low to deliver on the objectives.”

The oil industry’s leverage over California’s cap-and-trade program stems in part from its successful backing of Proposition 26, a 2010 state ballot initiative that requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature to raise fees, including the cap-and-trade program’s charges for permits to pollute. That meant that in 2017, when state leaders set about extending the program for another decade after 2020, they needed buy-in from legislators in both parties who represent districts with major oil installations. That gave the oil industry an opening to nix provisions it didn’t like.

Read more at https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-01-02/cap-and-trade-california-oil-and-gas-industry

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Land Use, TransportationTags , ,

Woody Hastings – Environmentalist of the Year!

Tish Levee, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

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.

For more information see Woody’s op-ed piece in the August Gazette. Check out the Facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/NoMoreGasoline for current information on opposing new gas stations in the County.

Source: https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/woody-hastings-environmentalist-of-the-year

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable LivingTags , , , ,

A New Year’s climate diet

Paul Greenberg, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Most diets fail. They fail mostly because after a period of bingeing (for example, New Year’s Eve) we set unrealistic goals for reforming our bad ways. In time, self-control breaks down and we hunger to throw open the cupboards and binge again.

The same is true of the American carbon diet. After a period of bingeing (say, the last century), the United States is per capita the most prodigious emitter of carbon dioxide among the world’s top 10 economies. The average American generated around 15 metric tons of carbon per year in 2016, according to the International Energy Agency, using what it says is the most recent data available. Svelte France, by comparison, weighed in at 4.5 tons per capita, while Indians put out just 1.6 tons each.

To bring the planet to climate equilibrium would require a global per capita goal that falls halfway between France’s and India’s outputs, three metric tons, by 2050, according to a United Nations report from 2011. All of this may make the conscientious American want to drive the family S.U.V. into the nearest body of water and subsist on locally grown radishes. But I am fairly certain that as with food regimens, an extreme carbon diet will falter, and practitioners will soon retrieve their S.U.V.s and cheat so often with hamburgers that those local radishes will molder in the vegetable crisper.

But some diets do work. They tend to be modest in their goals, incorporating minor changes over long periods. That we need to transform the roots of our economy is unquestionable and something that must be fought for with intense social and political commitment.

Yet inertia abounds. Not every well-meaning American will engage in a protracted political struggle. Fortunately, there are smaller maintainable changes that would allow carbon couch potatoes to go from carbon obese to just carbon overweight.

Here then is something of a grocery list for the politically inert, things that can be done without a whole lot of effort that will lead to a carbon-slimmer 2020:

Have the chicken. Much has been made about the climate benefits of going vegan. If we switched to a vegan diet, we could cut our carbon dioxide emissions by 0.3 to 1.6 metric tons per person per year. I have made this change, but I doubt I could persuade a large portion of the country to choose pea protein over pot roast even when packaged as Beyond or Impossible meat.

For the legume-averse, chicken is relatively low impact. According to a study published by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, beef can require more than 27 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of meat eaten (much, much more if you compare foods based on protein content per unit of weight). A kilo of chicken, however, costs the planet about 6.9 kilograms of carbon dioxide. True, it’s not tofu (2.0) or lentils (0.9), but most red-blooded Americans know how to cook it.

Or the fish. Fish and shellfish can make for surprisingly carbon-dioxide-light meals, though not everything from the sea shrinks one’s emissions waistline. America’s favorite seafood, shrimp, can far exceed chicken and even rival pork. At the same time, a kilogram of most American-caught finfish, like the Alaska pollock, used for McDonald’s fish sandwich, comes in at a tofu-besting 1.6 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions. And depending on how you adjust for nutrient content, some varieties of farmed mussels can cost us just 0.6 kilograms of carbon per kilogram of mussel meat. Take that, lentil!

Do nothing better. Busy Americans fret about actually having to do something to address the climate crisis in their already hectic lives. But doing nothing better can add up to something. A 2018 study in the journal Nature notes that tourism accounts for about 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Just one long-haul flight emits around a half-ton of carbon per person or a full ton of greenhouse effect if one considers other gases a jet puts into the upper atmosphere. Business and first-class air travel generates three to four tons of carbon per long-haul flight because of the extra space those fancier seats take up.

So doing nothing at home for your next vacation is an easy choice. Other better nothings include turning off your car rather than letting the engine idle, which accounts for about 30 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States a year.

Change the way other things in your life do nothing. Similarly when your appliances do nothing, they are often still burning fossil fuels. Standby power accounts for 4.6 percent of residential carbon emissions. Address this by turning off your internet router at night, shutting down your computer, unplugging your cellphone when it’s fully charged and choosing appliances that have low standby power requirements. To go beyond saving standby power, Karl Coplan, the author of “Live Sustainably Now,” suggests “depriving fossil fuel companies of their sales revenues by switching to a renewable-electricity contract and upgrading to an electric car the next chance you get.”

Be really lazy and drink from the tap. What could be lazier than shuffling to your own sink and pouring yourself a glass of water? And yet nowadays we often replace this most low-effort of American habits with driving to a store and buying a plastic bottle of water. This can end up costing us significantly more in carbon dioxide emissions than drinking water from the tap, according to one 2009 Italian scientific analysis.

Ditch the car one day a week. Collectively Americans drive more than three trillion miles annually. (Over 10 years that would take us all the way to Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to Earth.) That comes out to about 4.6 tons of carbon per vehicle a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Transportation is the largest single contributor to American carbon emissions, the agency says. So skipping a day of driving each week would significantly decrease an individual’s contribution to emissions.

Upgrade a forest instead of your phone. A smartphone does not carry a huge carbon burden. Apple reports that a single iPhone 11 results in the emission of about 70 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions over its life cycle. But if you donated the several hundred dollars you typically spent on a phone upgrade to a program managing a carbon-sequestering ecosystem, you could shave a much greater portion of carbon from your budget. For the best possible carbon sequester, consider the mangrove. Mangrove forests are one of the world’s most powerful carbon sinks; those in the Amazon store twice as much carbon per acre as the region’s rain forests.

Divest from fossil fuels. All of us are implicated in the carbon economy through our daily financial transactions. The headline of a recent New Yorker essay by the climate activist Bill McKibben read, “Money Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warning Burns.” How to address this? “Switching to a fossil-free index fund is a no-brainer: Among other things they’re outperforming the market,” Mr. McKibben wrote me recently.

For those who don’t invest but do own a credit card and a bank account, Mr. McKibben suggested going a step further. “As we approach Earth Day at 50, cut up your Chase card or move your money to a new bank — JPMorgan Chase has become by far the largest funder of the fossil fuel industry.”

Here lies the truly profound global effect of the carbon-obese American economy, according to data compiled in a recently released “fossil fuel finance report card” by a group of environmental organizations. Four of the world’s five largest institutional investors in fossil fuels are banks headquartered here in the U.S.A.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/31/opinion/climate-diet.html?searchResultPosition=3

Posted on Categories Air, Climate Change & Energy, TransportationTags , , , ,

California considers sweeping electric truck regulation

Skip Descant, GOVERNMENT TECHNOLOGY

The most populous state in the country is poised to adopt a sweeping new set of regulations that would require medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses to transition to zero-emission vehicles.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) spent roughly four hours Thursday hearing testimony from more than 100 organizations, government officials and residents related to the proposed Advanced Clean Trucks Regulation that could require the gradual phasing of big-rig and other trucks over the next decade.

The proposal is billed as landmark in its ability to transform a major component of the transportation sector, and one that is credited with producing a disproportionate amount of air-pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is a very important, and as far as we know, groundbreaking piece,” said Mary Nichols, CARB chair, in her opening comments at the meeting. “because it focuses on the production of the vehicles, to make sure that they will be there.”

Read more at https://www.govtech.com/fs/transportation/California-Considers-Sweeping-Electric-Truck-Regulation-.html

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Developers sue over Windsor’s ban on natural gas in new homes

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Windsor’s fledgling natural gas ban is under legal fire from developers who argue its new mandate will increase costs for future homeowners and fails to account for the continued potential of widespread electricity shut-offs imposed by PG&E.

Two lawsuits filed by Sonoma County developers last week ask a judge to block Windsor’s requirement that most new homes use electric appliances for cooking and heating instead of natural gas technology. The court fights could shape future development in Windsor and ripple out to Santa Rosa, where the City Council enacted a similar ban earlier this month.

The suits claim Windsor’s rule violates state environmental law, glosses over the dangers of increased generator use by residents of gas-free homes and ignores some research showing higher utility bills for those who live in all-electric homes.

The suits cite PG&E’s recent electricity shut-offs and the 2018 Camp fire in Butte County — apparently sparked by the utility’s power equipment — to bolster claims that banning natural gas is unwise.

Read more at: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10363925-181/lawsuits-by-developers-challenge-windsors

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Santa Rosa homebuilders oppose potential natural gas ban on new homes

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

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.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10063618-181/santa-rosa-homebuilders-urge-city?ref=related

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Santa Rosa moves forward on plan to ban natural gas in new homes

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Starting in early 2020, plans for most new Santa Rosa homes likely won’t include natural gas stoves, fireplaces, furnaces and water heaters.

The Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday voted 6-0 to require the exclusive use of electric appliances in most new residential construction below four stories. The measure, which will need a second vote of approval and the California Energy Commission’s backing in the coming weeks, will put the city in the company of Windsor, Berkeley and other local governments across California that have passed a type of natural gas ban in the name of curbing climate change.

The council’s vote came after PG&E shut off electricity to prevent wildfires four times in October, plunging thousands of Sonoma County homes into darkness and raising questions about the wisdom of eliminating natural gas from the range of possible home power sources.

But council members, who made confronting global heating a top priority earlier this year, didn’t waver from their pursuit of an all-electric requirement, which is more stringent than state law requires. Their decision was backed by supporters of climate action such as Chris Thompson, vice president of the Oakmont Democratic Club.

“We are in a state of emergency. We are running out of time,” Thompson said. “Electric homes are the future we need for ourselves, and especially for our children and our grandchildren.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10301069-181/santa-rosa-moves-forward-on

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Divestment works – and one huge bank can lead the way

Bill McKibben, THE GUARDIAN

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.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/13/divestment-bank-european-investment-fossil-fuels

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Richmond v Chevron: the California city taking on its most powerful polluter

Susie Cagle, THE GUARDIAN

The Chevron refinery that looms over Richmond, California, its muted orange tanks nestled into the scrubby low-slung hills above San Francisco Bay, is older than the city itself.

The refinery processes nearly 250,000 barrels of crude oil each day. When it “flares”, as it did more often in 2018 than in any other year over the past decade, dark smoke spirals up and across town in the bay breeze.

When it explodes, like it did in 1989, 1999 and 2012, the thick cloud is visible across the bay and beyond, a blot against the sky that ascends before falling and settling on everything within a multi-mile vicinity that is not covered, closed or sealed up.

A fire on 6 August 2012 sent more than 15,000 people to seek treatment for respiratory distress at local hospitals.

Richmond has long been known for the three Cs: crime, corruption and Chevron. You could also add coal to that list, which the Levin-Richmond terminal began exporting out of the city in 2013, along with coke, the petroleum-refining byproduct.

Despite its proximity to San Francisco and Silicon Valley’s wealth, Richmond’s median household income is below the California state average, with more than 15% of residents living in poverty. More than 80% of residents are people of colour. And Richmond children have roughly twice the rate of asthma as their neighbours countywide.

“It’s a textbook example of an environmental justice community,” said Matt Holmes, the executive director of the nonprofit Groundwork Richmond. “I think the whole country owes Richmond a debt.”

And the city is here to collect. Richmond may be a company city, but it is in open and sustained conflict with the industries that sustain it. Environmental justice activists here are fighting a multi-front war against the fossil fuels that gave the city life, but which, they argue, are also slowly killing it.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/09/richmond-chevron-california-city-polluter-fossil-fuel

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Santa Rosa and other cities consider natural gas bans as way spur transition to all-electric homes

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Marlena and Barry Hirsch have found numerous rays of sunshine since the Tubbs fire of October 2017 destroyed their Santa Rosa-area home and took out about 40 trees on their property, mostly black oaks.

The Hirsches had previously thought about adding solar panels to their roof, but a technician who visited their Mark West Springs home told them the canopy overhead was too dense. Looking up in the early phases of their rebuilding process, they saw a lot more sunshine and realized they could go ahead and add photovoltaic cells to their new home, which they moved into last October.

They didn’t stop there, outfitting their home with an induction stove and electric appliances to heat and cool their water and space, as well as an electric car. They didn’t bother with hooking up their new home with natural gas lines or a propane tank, which fueled their old home.

“We went for the whole package in this house,” said Barry Hirsch, who said he and his wife were fueled by a desire to power their home and transportation with greener energy. He acknowledged that their life situation is favorable to making such a change: He’s a retired homebuilder, and the couple have good insurance coverage and no mortgage or minor children.

Homes like theirs could soon become the norm in the North Bay and in dozens of California municipalities poised to ban natural gas infrastructure in new houses by requiring most to use electric appliances.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10014958-181/santa-rosa-and-other-cities