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Op-Ed: Lawmakers let oil and gas interests sicken us; Gov. Newsom can put us on the path to recovery

Venise Curry & Ellie Cohen, CAL MATTERS

Make no mistake about it. Climate change is powering California’s perfect storm of record heat, lightning, drought, wildfire and smoke amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and electricity blackouts.

In his video message to the Democratic National Convention in August, Gov. Gavin Newsom made it clear. “The hots are getting hotter; the dries are getting drier. Climate change is real. If you are in denial about climate change, come to California.”

While touring the devastating North Complex Fires near Oroville on Friday, Newsom called current state goals “inadequate to meet the challenges” and vowed to fast-track state efforts to combat the climate crisis.

Yet California continues to fan the flames as the seventh largest oil producing and third largest refining state in the country?

State lawmakers, with the exception of a few climate leaders, are increasingly falling under the thrall of oil and gas industry dollars. The Western States Petroleum Association, the largest and most powerful corporate lobby in California, spent $8.8 million on lobbying in 2019 alone.

Californians are being poisoned daily by pollutants emitted from California’s 81,500 active and idle oil and gas wells, pumps, refineries and pipes. Toxic oil and gas infrastructure – from freeways to oil rigs – are too often located in communities of color, dangerously close to homes, schools and hospitals due to historic redlining and racist redevelopment policies.

Read more at: https://calmatters.org/commentary/my-turn/2020/09/lawmakers-let-oil-and-gas-interests-sicken-us-gov-newsom-can-put-us-on-the-path-to-recovery/?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=28eb561a-c380-430e-9f9f-745a3f45e261

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, HabitatsTags , ,

Courts rein in fossil fuel agenda

ASSOCIATED PRESS

U.S. officials ignored potential ecological damage, judges rule.

Federal courts have delivered a string of rebukes to the Trump administration over what they found were failures to protect the environment and address climate change as it promotes fossil fuel interests and the extraction of natural resources from public lands.

Judges have ruled administration officials ignored or downplayed potential environmental damage in lawsuits over oil and gas leases, coal mining and pipelines to transport fuels across the U.S., according to an Associated Press review of more than a dozen major environmental cases.

The latest ruling against the administration came Thursday when an appeals court refused to revive a permitting program for oil and gas pipelines that a lower court had canceled.

Actions taken by the courts have ranged from orders for more environmental analysis to the unprecedented cancellation of oil and gas leases across hundreds of thousands of acres in Western states.

“Many of the decisions the Trump administration has been making are arguably illegal and in some cases blatantly so,” said Mark Squillace, associate dean at the University of Colorado Law School and a specialist in natural resources law. “They’ve lost a lot of cases.”
Continue reading “Courts rein in fossil fuel agenda”

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California issues first new fracking permits since July

CBS SACRAMENTO

California issued 24 hydraulic fracturing permits on Friday, authorizing the first new oil wells in the state since July of last year and angering environmental groups who have been pressuring the state to ban the procedure known as fracking.

California halted all fracking permits last year after Gov. Gavin Newsom fired the state’s top oil and gas regulator after a report showed new wells increased 35% since Newsom took office.

In November, the California Geologic Energy Management Division asked for an independent, scientific review of its permitting process to make sure the state was meeting standards for public health, safety and environmental protection.

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory completed that review, and Friday the state issued 24 permits to Aera Energy for wells in the North Belridge and South Belridge oil fields in Kern County near Bakersfield.

California still has 282 fracking permits awaiting review. State Oil and Gas Supervisor Uduak-Joe Ntuk said the state now has a “more technically robust process” to review those applications, “including requiring additional technical disclosures to improve transparency.”

Read more at https://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2020/04/03/california-issues-first-new-fracking-permits-since-july/

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Globe afloat in excess oil

Stanley Reed, THE NEW YORK TIMES

A chaotic mismatch between the supply and demand for oil is saturating the world’s ability to store it all.

The world is awash in crude oil, and is slowly running out of places to put it.

Massive, round storage tanks in places like Trieste, Italy, and the United Arab Emirates are filling up. Over 80 huge tankers, each holding up to 80 million gallons, are anchored off Texas, Scotland and elsewhere, with no particular place to go.

The world doesn’t need all this oil. The coronavirus pandemic has strangled the world’s economies, silenced factories and grounded airlines, cutting the need for fuel. But Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest producer, is locked in a price war with rival Russia and is determined to keep raising production.

Prices have plummeted.

“For the first time in history we are seeing the likelihood that the market will test storage capacity limits within the near future,” said Antoine Halff, a founding partner of Kayrros, a market research firm. As storage space becomes harder to find, the prices, which have already fallen more than half this year, could drop even further. And companies could be forced to shut off their wells.

This chaotic mismatch in supply and demand has benefited consumers, who have watched gasoline prices slide lower.

And it has been a field day for anyone eager to snap up cheap oil, put it someplace and wait for a day when it’ll be worth more.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/26/business/energy-environment/oil-storage.html?searchResultPosition=1

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Dakota access pipeline: court strikes down permits in victory for Standing Rock Sioux

Nina Lakhani, THE GUARDIAN

Army corps of engineers ordered to conduct full environmental review, which could take years.

The future of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline has been thrown into question after a federal court on Wednesday struck down its permits and ordered a comprehensive environmental review.

The US Army Corps of Engineers was ordered to conduct a full environmental impact statement (EIS), after the Washington DC court ruled hat existing permits violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The ruling is a huge victory for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota, which rallied support from across the world and sued the US government in a campaign to stop the environmentally risky pipeline being built on tribal lands.

“After years of commitment to defending our water and earth, we welcome this news of a significant legal win,” said the tribal chairman, Mike Faith. “It’s humbling to see how actions we took to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet.”

In December 2016, the Obama administration denied permits for the pipeline to cross the Missouri river and ordered a full EIS to analyze alternative routes and the impact on the tribe’s treaty rights.

In his first week in office, Donald Trump signed an executive order to expedite construction. Construction of the 1,200-mile pipeline was completed in June 2017.

The tribe challenged the permits – and won. As a result, the corps was ordered to redo its environmental analysis, which it did without taking into consideration tribal concerns or expert analysis.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/mar/25/dakota-access-pipeline-permits-court-standing-rock

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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

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Cap and trade is supposed to solve climate change, but oil and gas company emissions are up

Lisa Song, PROPUBLICA

Countries have called California’s cap-and-trade program the answer to climate change. But it is just as vulnerable to lobbying as any other legislation. The result: The state’s biggest oil and gas companies have actually polluted more since it started.

Gov. Jerry Brown took the podium at a July 2017 press conference to lingering applause after a steady stream of politicians praised him for helping to extend California’s signature climate policy for another decade. Brown, flanked by the U.S. and California flags, with a backdrop of the gleaming San Francisco Bay, credited the hard work of the VIPs seated in the crowd. “It’s people in industry, and they’re here!” he said. “Shall we mention them? People representing oil, agriculture, business, Chamber of Commerce, food processing. … Plus, we have environmentalists. …”

Diverse, bipartisan interests working together to pass climate legislation — it was the polar opposite of Washington, where the Trump administration was rolling back environmental protections established under President Barack Obama.

Brown called California’s cap-and-trade program an answer to the “existential” crisis of climate change, the most reasonable way to manage the state’s massive output of greenhouse gasses while preserving its economy, which is powered by fossil fuels. “You can’t just say overnight, ‘OK, we’re not going to have oil anymore,’” he said.

But there are growing concerns with California’s much-admired, much-imitated program, with implications that stretch far beyond the state.

California’s cap-and-trade program was one of the first in the world, and it is among the largest. It is premised on the idea that instead of using regulations to force companies to curb their emissions, polluters can be made to pay for every ton of CO₂ they emit, providing them with an incentive to lower emissions on their own. This market-based approach has gained such traction that the Paris climate agreement emphasizes it as the primary way countries can meet their goals to lower worldwide emissions. More than 50 programs have been developed across the world, many inspired by California.

But while the state’s program has helped it meet some initial, easily attained benchmarks, experts are increasingly worried that it is allowing California’s biggest polluters to conduct business as usual and even increase their emissions.

ProPublica analyzed state data in a way the state doesn’t often report to the public, isolating how emissions have grown within the oil and gas industry. The analysis shows that carbon emissions from California’s oil and gas industry actually rose 3.5% since cap and trade began. Refineries, including one owned by Marathon Petroleum and two owned by Chevron, are consistently the largest polluters in the state. Emissions from vehicles, which burn the fuels processed in refineries, are also rising.

Read more at https://www.propublica.org/article/cap-and-trade-is-supposed-to-solve-climate-change-but-oil-and-gas-company-emissions-are-up

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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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Over 4,200 Amazon workers push for climate change action, including cutting some ties to big oil

Karen Weise, THE NEW YORK TIMES

SEATTLE — Employees at big tech companies have pushed back against their employers for working with the military and law enforcement offices, and demanded better treatment of women and minorities.

Now, thousands of them are also taking on climate change.

This week, more than 4,200 Amazon employees called on the company to rethink how it addresses and contributes to a warming planet. The action is the largest employee-driven movement on climate change to take place in the influential tech industry.

The workers say the company needs to make firm commitments to reduce its carbon footprint across its vast operations, not make piecemeal or vague announcements. And they say that Amazon should stop offering custom cloud-computing services that help the oil and gas industry find and extract more fossil fuels.

The goal for Amazon’s leaders and employees is “that climate change is something they think about whenever a business decision is being made,” said Rajit Iftikhar, a software engineer in Amazon’s retail business. “We want to make Amazon a better company. It is a natural extension of that.”

The letter adds support for a new tactic among activist tech workers: using the stock they receive as compensation to agitate for change. Like other shareholders, they can file a resolution urging a particular corporate change that investors vote on at a company’s annual meeting. Historically, this approach has been used by outside activist investors, not employees.

The Amazon employees signing the letter, who made their names public, are pushing Amazon to approve a shareholder resolution that would force the company to develop a plan to address its carbon footprint. The resolution was filed by more than two dozen current and former employees late last year, and it could come up for a vote next month.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/10/technology/amazon-climate-change-letter.html