How California’s Oil Refining Sector Became, Proportionately, the Most Carbon-Intensive in the World

[Check out my new story in East Bay Monthly…]

California is one of the world’s most important political arenas for climate change policy. In contrast to the Trump administration, which has begun to dismantle the federal government’s existing climate change regulations, California officials are plotting out how to achieve a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions relative to 1990 levels by 2030 and have established cooperative programs with countries and states throughout the world to reduce atmospheric pollution.

California is also home to a massive oil industry, which has waged a multi-faceted campaign that includes lobbying, arm-twisting, and record levels of election campaign spending to soften state and regional climate programs as much as possible.

In particular, California is a major hub of oil refining (along with a large oil extraction sector). Other than Louisiana and Texas, no US state processes more oil into gasoline, diesel, propane, or other petroleum products. Moreover, California’s oil refining sector actually probably releases more greenhouse gases on a proportionate basis than any other major regional oil refining sector on planet earth.

That’s according to Communities for a Better Environment Senior Scientist Greg Karras, who has studied oil refinery pollution emissions, including for a 2010 article in peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology. I talked to him extensively for my new story in East Bay Monthly called “Stopping a Tar Sands Invasion.”>>


Brown Administration Weighing In on Proposal to Stop Bay Area Tar Sands Refining

Canadian tar sands mines.

On May 17, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District will consider a proposal that would make the San Francisco Bay Area the world’s first region to place limits on oil refineries’ overall greenhouse-gas and particulate-matter emissions. This new regulation, Refinery Rule 12-16, would prevent oil corporations from making the East Bay a hub of Canadian tar-sands processing, because it would enforce a cap based on historic emissions levels at the five major Contra Costa and Solano county refineries.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration is about to weigh in on the proposal. Will the administration help stop increased Bay Area refining of tar sands? Read more in my Feb. 22nd East Bay Express story. >>

Deluged: Logging That Imperils CA Rivers and Residents

During storms of even moderate intensity, the Elk River in Humboldt County rises above its banks and dumps torrents of mud and sand across neighboring properties and has ruined domestic water supplies, inundated vehicles, buried farmland and spilled into homes. Why does this happen?

The cause of the flooding is simple: logging. “California has a systematic and deliberate policy to flood our homes and properties for the sake of corporate profit,” Elk River resident Jesse Noell said.

Read my story in the February 15th North Bay Bohemian. >>

A Fight for the Oak Woodlands

Forest fragmentation resulting from cannabis grows in Humboldt County (photo courtesy of The Siskiyou Crest)

The Mendocino County Supervisors will soon vote on a series of environmental protections that would include putting 714,000 acres of rangeland off-limits to new cannabis cultivation permits. They are also considering an impressively strict oak woodlands protection ordinance and a grading ordinance, while also allowing existing cannabis growers to become legally permitted. The end of marijuana prohibition has opened up the possibility of a damaging “green rush,” which these measures aim to prevent.

The person who has most vocally opposed these protections is Stuart Bewley, one of Mendocino County’s wealthiest landowners, who made his fortune in the wine industry. Bewley has moved aggressively into the cannabis business.  Last year, the Mendocino County Sherriff’s illegally granted Bewley five grow permits and declined to act on complaints by county supervisors and local residents, thus raising questions about whether the county will actually enforce its own rules.

I wrote a two-part feature in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley Advertiser that provides a snapshot of this issue. Here’s part one, and here’s part two.

I’ve written in the past about how marijuana growing is used as a scapegoat for environmental degradation, but it’s also the case that extreme marijuana grows are a major source of environmental damage and cultural upheaval, as many people who have long campaigned against damaging logging have also pointed out.

This Bay Area Proposal Would Strike a Huge Blow Against Dirtier Oil Production (The Nation)

As I noted in a December post, I am preparing new stories on efforts by Bay Area climate justice activists who are mobilizing for the first-ever overall limits on oil refinery greenhouse gas and particulate matter emissions, thus dealing a major blow to the Canadian tar sands and other dirtier crudes.

I wrote a story about it for The Nation, published on January 31st:

“In spite of its reputation as a haven for environmentalism, California is home to the third-largest oil-refining sector in the United States, which exports a considerable amount of gasoline, jet fuel, propane, and other fossil-fuel products to surrounding states. Oil processing is already California’s largest industrial emitter of greenhouse gases, but things could get even worse in the coming years: The state’s refineries have developed a greater technical capacity to convert lower-quality, denser oil into engine fuels than those in other parts of North America, meaning they’re at the leading edge of the oil industry’s long-term pivot towards refining dirtier-burning sources, including the tar sands—something California’s existing climate policies may do little to prevent.” Click here to keep reading @ >>

Recent Stories on Redwood Region Logging Struggles

Logging-induced flooding in the Elk River watershed downstream of Headwaters Forest Reserve

In the last month, I’ve published two stories in the Anderson Valley Advertiser concerning struggles against ecosystem destruction — one of which is also, clearly, a human rights struggle — in my home territory: California’s redwood region.

My Jan. 11th story, “That Old Maxxam Band Again,” explores the historical connections to Maxxam Corporation of the people involved in crafting and defending recent Gualala River floodplain logging plans.

My Jan. 25th story, “Floodwaters Still Rise,” looks at the decades-long problem of logging-induced flooding in the Elk River watershed near Eureka, downstream from the Headwaters Forest Reserve, which invades and destroys people’s homes, orchards, domestic water supplies, and more, and has gravely harmed some of the North Coast’s best coho salmon habitat.

A broader story I’ve written on these topics will be the lead feature in the North Bay Bohemian on Feb. 8th. I will repost it here.

First-Ever Overall Limit on Oil Refinery Climate Pollution? The Bay Area Could Adopt It

Chevron's Richmond refinery
Chevron’s Richmond refinery

For those concerned about climate change, all eyes are on California as it braces for the Trump era, particularly in the wake of Governor Jerry Brown’s fiery speech to the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco two weeks ago. Within the United States, California might be virtually alone when it comes to enacting and implementing policies to achieve deep greenhouse gas reductions in the next four years.

It is far from guaranteed that these policies will be progressive or adequate, however, partly because Brown himself remains deeply committed to big business-oriented GHG reduction strategies, activists say. Here are two stories that provide background: one and two.

In May, a group of 24 San Francisco Bay Area elected officeholders have a unique opportunity to help set climate policy in a stronger direction. They are scheduled to vote on whether to adopt the world’s first-ever restrictions on overall oil refinery greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, thus preventing increased regional processing of dirtier oils such as Canadian tar sands and Arctic crude. (more…)

“Post-Carbon Radio” Interview

The day after Baby Jesus Day, I appeared on “Post-Carbon Radio” on KMWR Radio in West Marin, along with a 21 year-old senior at Barnard College, a private women’s liberal arts college affiliated with Columbia University in New York City, who has helped lead a fossil fuels divestment campaign. I discussed my research on Bay Area institutions funding the Dakota Access Pipeline and other Big Oil projects.



Marin Hedge Fund is Largest Investor in One of DAPL’s Likely Suppliers

The offices of SPO Partners, the largest investor in prospective DAPL oil supplier Oasis Petroleum, are located in Shelterpoint Business Center along Highway 101 in Mill Valley, CA.

According to Energy Transfer Partners Executive Vice President Joey Mahmoud, nine oil companies have contracts to supply the Dakota Access Pipeline. They all expire on January 1, 2017.

Mahmoud made this assertion in a sworn declaration to the US District Court for Washington, DC this past August 18th.  In oil industry jargon, the pipeline suppliers are known as “shippers.”

If the shippers decline to renew their contracts, in other words, it will significantly add to the financial stress facing the project.

“The long-term transportation contracts give shippers a right to terminate their commitments if DAPL is not in full service per the contract deadline,” Mahmoud told the court. (more…)

North Bay and North Coast First Nations Stand with Standing Rock

Check out my new story in the North Bay Bohemian:

feature-1-82f2659e81cfafaaOn Sunday, Nov. 6, in Redwood Valley, one of two small Mendocino County towns where the Russian River’s headwaters spill from the southern Mendocino Range mountains, cars overflowed the parking lot at the local grange and lined rural East Side Road in both directions. Several hundred people had gathered to listen to activists report back from Standing Rock where they had stood in solidarity with Native American tribes known as Water Protectors who oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline.

One such speaker was Jassen Rodriguez, a member of the Mishewal Wappo, whose ancestral lands include much of Sonoma, Napa and southern Lake counties. He had just returned from a three-week sojourn to Standing Rock.

Rodriguez had stayed at Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires, an encampment named for the seven bands of the Sioux people where a ceremonial fire has remained burning for many months. Elders at Standing Rock had granted Rodriguez the responsibility of tending the sacred fire on behalf of the entire camp, and he choked back tears as he recounted the experience. Tears also moistened the eyes of many audience members as he spoke.

“It was the greatest honor of my life,” Rodriguez says. “It was an incredible blessing. The entire experience was a spiritual awakening.” Click here to keep reading @ North Bay Bohemian >>