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.