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Feds Find Gaping Holes in CALOSHA Safety Net; Serious Enforcement and Inspection Failures Put California Workers at Risk

By Kirsten Stade - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, July 1, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Washington, DC — The, U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has cited the worker health and safety program in California for falling below minimum performance standards in response to a complaint filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, the state
Division of Occupational Safety & Health (Cal/OSHA) must upgrade its enforcement and inspection programs or face a variety of federal sanctions.

In a letter to PEER dated June 26, 2015, OSHA Area Director David Shiraishi upheld the bulk of the “Complaint about State Program Administration” that PEER filed in February 2014. In its review, OSHA found that Cal/OSHA:

  • Fails to conduct an adequate number of inspections in dangerous workplaces and fails to follow its own policy of doing follow-up inspections on serious violators;
  • Does not issue citations in a timely manner, thus delaying hazard abatement and prolonging dangerous conditions. OSHA found the “amount of time Cal/OSHA takes to issue citations is 69% longer than OSHA for safety inspections and 33% longer for health inspections”; and
  • Takes too long to respond to worker complaints of unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Cal/OSHA “averaged almost working four days to initiate investigations for complaints alleging serious hazards” with one serious complaint sitting 106 days. For non-serious complaints, Cal/OSHA averaged more than two weeks before inspecting with one case sitting 300 days.

The OSHA letter contains recommendations for how Cal/OSHA can remedy the identified failures while concluding that “the State Plan is required to remedy these deficiencies.” Like California, nearly half the states are funded by OSHA to operate their own state plans which, by law, must be at least as effective as the federal program. This finding means that California is not meeting that minimum threshold.

Capital Blight: California's Water Crisis Began Over a Century Ago

[Draft] By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 26, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

California Nurses, Teachers Oppose Phillips 66 Oil Train Project

Press Release - California Nurses Association, June 15, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

“What should be the top priority, student and school staff safety, or oil company profits? We hope that the elected officials of San Luis Obispo County believe that their first responsibility is to the health and well-being of students and families that go to school and live near the railroad tracks,” said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers.

The CFT vote followed last weekend’s decision by the 325,000-member California Teachers Association to oppose the Phillips 66 oil train project.

“Educators are very concerned about dangerous oil trains running past California schools. Hundreds of California schools are located near current and future oil train routes,” said CTA President Dean E. Vogel. “Educators and parents can help stop these Phillips 66 oil trains by encouraging local officials in San Luis Obispo County to put student and community safety first and not issue Phillips 66 a permit for their oil train project.”

The 85,000-member California Nurses Association, which sent a letter to the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors opposing the Phillips 66 oil train project last November, is pleased to join forces with the teaching profession in California on this important health and safety issue.

“Nurses are thrilled to know that teachers also are strongly opposed to the Phillips 66 oil train project. The Phillip 66 oil trains present significant and unacceptable risks to the health and safety of our communities throughout California and beyond, due to toxic emissions and the potential for a catastrophic derailment, spill, explosion and fire,” stated Amber Wiehl, RN at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo.

“Our most vulnerable populations are particularly at risk,” said Wiehl. “Children and infants are at greater risk due to their still-developing lungs and respiratory systems. The elderly and people with pre-existing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer all face greater risks than the general public. As the mother of a child who has been hospitalized with respiratory issues, these concerns hit especially close to home.

“To protect our children and our communities, we must stop the oil trains, ” added Wiehl.

Phillips 66 wants to begin running mile-long oil trains five days each week carrying tar sands oil from Canada to its refinery in southern San Luis Obispo County. Phillips 66 needs a building permit from San Luis Obispo County officials to build a rail yard at the refinery to accept these trains.

Nurses, teachers, and other California residents oppose the project and the issuance of a building permit by SLO County both for increased asthma risks from diesel train air pollution but also because of the risk of a catastrophic derailment, spill, explosion and fire from this hazardous cargo.

The Department of Transportation estimates that there will be ten oil train derailments each year based on the increasing number of crude oil trains in the United States and Canada. July 6 is the two-year anniversary of the catastrophic derailment in Quebec that leveled the downtown of Lac-Megantic and killed 47 people.

So far 13 California city councils, 12 school boards, 5 counties and one fire district in the potential blast zone of the Phillips 66 oil train route have written letters to the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors opposing the oil train project. The term “blast zone” refers to the two-mile-wide area along an oil train route corresponding to the Department of Transportation’s potential evacuation zone and area of concern for crude oil train derailments.

In San Luis Obispo County, both the city council of San Luis Obispo and the Lucia Mar teachers association have written letters opposing the project.

The Final Environmental Impact Report is expected in the coming months, followed by a vote of the County Planning Commission, then a vote of the County Board of Supervisors. More than 20,000 public comments from individuals and organizations throughout California have been received by the SLO County Planning Commission opposing the Phillips 66 oil train project.

It's Not the End of the World, But a Chance to Confront the Climate Crisis: The Politics of the California Drought

By Arun Gupta - CounterPunch, June 2, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

As if in compensation for a historic drought, California is being deluged by expressions of grim satisfaction that it is finally getting its comeuppance for environmental sins. Judgement was especially swift after California Gov. Jerry Brown imposed a 25 percent reduction in water usage for urban areas. The media asked if this is “The End of California?”, as well as declaring “So Long, California,” and “Dust Bowl 2.0.” One historian of California told the New York Times, “Mother Nature didn’t intend for 40 million people to live here.”

The conceit is nature is punishing humanity in the form of climate-change induced disaster. Except climate change does not appear to be the primary culprit of what is California’s most severe drought in the last 1,200 years. Scientists say the rainfall is “anomalously low—yet not unprecedented.” What’s making the drought exceptionally harsh is the added effect of a warming planet, which is drying out the soil. However, climate change is not a one-way cause and effect. For example, the entire Southwest will be afflicted with more frequent, intense and longer-lasting droughts, but California’s Northern Sierra Nevada watershed “may become wetter and … somewhat less drought-prone” over time.

Like the weather, climate change does not respect borders. The crisis may be most visible in California as reservoirs evaporate and lawns brown, but, as some point out, “this drought is America’s.” As such, the tendency to condemn California tells us more about U.S. society than the natural world. Believing the mega-drought signals the end of California is a form of secular end times.

The mainstream media, while sensationalistic, are more measured than the outlandish predictions found in the conspiratorial corners of the Internet: “California’s food supply to collapse,” “California economy at risk of collapse,” “housing collapse, municipal bankruptcies and a mass exodus of climate refugees.”

Much of the reaction is a mishmash of Christianity and pop culture that’s distinctly American. There is the puritanical disapproval of California’s hedonism. The idea of a cataclysmic rupture draws as much from Hollywood as it does from religious and political thought. Some also believe there will be tribulations, a staple of Sunday sermons and science fiction alike: Everyone who enjoyed the Edenic fruits of California will be thrown into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and our salvation lies in returning to our eco-communal roots.

The problem with this thinking is imagining the apocalypse to be a singular event rather than a process. The apocalypse is already upon us; we just don’t notice it from our privileged perches. The effect of extreme weather is relatively modest over a continent-sized nation of 319 million. Record floods, hurricanes, and wildfires are caused as much by habitat loss, sprawl, and environmental mismanagement as by a destabilized climate. Add in invasive species, pollution, and deforestation, and this explains why the sixth great mass extinction in Earth’s history is now underway. But because the natural world we depend on is evermore synthetic and managed, we don’t experience this loss in our daily lives. Plus even if we mustered the effort to dial back global warming, there are at least seven other ecological crises degrading the biosphere.

Governor Jerry Brown Thinks "Pipes" Will be More Popular than "Tunnels"

By Dan Bacher - Indybay, June 1, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In 1982, Jerry Brown called his unpopular scheme to divert more water to corporate agribusiness and Southern California water agencies the "peripheral canal." The voters of the state overwhelmingly rejected the canal proposal in the November election.

After Brown was inaugurated for his third term as Governor in 2011, he described the reincarnated "conveyance" plan proposed under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) as the Delta "tunnels."

Now the Governor, in his fourth term, wants to change the name of the widely-opposed project to "pipes."

In addressing Sacramento business leaders at the 90th Annual "Sacramento Host Breakfast" on May 28, Governor Jerry Brown said that he is now going to call the Delta tunnels, "pipes," because pipes are more popular.

"Instead of a tunnel, were going to call it a pipe. That seems to be more popular," he said to laughter from the crowd, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Apparently, Brown has been not watching the media coverage of the massive Santa Barbara oil spill. The disaster is the result of a rupture in one of these “ever-popular” pipes, owned by the Plains All-American Pipeline corporation, on May 19 off Refugio State Beach. The "pipe" concept is so "popular" off Santa Barbara now that a "Stand In The Sand" protest yesterday drew over 500 people!

Santa Barbara disaster inevitable with Big Oil's capture of the regulatory apparatus

By Dan Bacher - Daily Kos, May 25, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The same region devastated by the Santa Barbara Oil Spill of 1969 is now the scene of a massive clean up of crude oil by the state and federal governments and volunteers. The international and national media have spread throughout the world the startling images of the oil soaked beaches, birds, fish and ecosystem in a deluge of TV, radio, newspaper and internet reports.

The oil spill resulted from the rupture of an oil pipeline owned by Plains Pipeline, a subsidiary of Plains All-American Pipeline, near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County on Tuesday, May 19. A 24-inch wide, 11-mile long section carrying oil from offshore platforms and an Exxon Mobil processing plant onshore leaked as much as 105,000 gallons of crude oil. An estimated 21,000 gallons made into the ocean, devastating nine miles of coastal waters and beaches.    

The oil spill that began off Refugio State Beach was inevitable, when you consider the capture of the regulatory apparatus by the oil industry in California. Until people challenge the power of Big Oil in California and the industry's control over the state and federal regulatory agencies, we will see more of the Refugio-type of oil spill disasters in the future.

During the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative process from 2004 to 2012, state officials and corporate "environmental" NGOs made sure that Big Oil and other corporate polluters weren't impacted by the creation of alleged "marine protected areas" along the California coast. The MLPA Initiative, a controversial "public-private partnership" between the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation (RLFF), was supposed to create a network of "marine protected areas" along the California coast.

In an article published widely in June 2010, I warned that the "marine protected areas" created under the MLPA Initiative don't protect the ocean from oil spills and pollution. (http://yubanet.com/...)

"These marine protected areas, as currently designed, don't protect against oil spills," said Sara Randall, then the program director of the Institute for Fishery Resources and Commercial Fishermen of America. "What's the point of developing marine protected areas if they don't protect the resources?"

MLPA Initiative advocates claimed that other state and federal laws and administrative actions "protect" the ocean from oil spills and new offshore oil drilling, so there was no need for specific bans or restrictions on oil industry activities in and near "marine protected areas."  

In violation of the provisions of the landmark Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) of 1999, the "marine protected areas" failed to protect the ocean from oil spills, oil drilling, pollution, military testing, corporate aquaculture, military testing and all human impacts on the ocean other than fishing and gathering.  

Of course, MLPA Initiative advocates neglected to address why Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association in Sacramento, was allowed to CHAIR the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast and to sit on the task forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast, as well as on a NOAA federal marine protected areas panel. (http://www.dfg.ca.gov/...)

They dismissed any questioning of why a Big Oil lobbyist was allowed to oversee "marine protection" in California as "wild conspiracy theories."

To make matters even worse, the WSPA President's husband, James Boyd, served on the California Energy Commission from 2002 to 2012. From 2007 to 2012, he served as the Commission's Vice Chair, the second most powerful position on the Commission! (http://www.energy.ca.gov/...)  

However, as we can see from the current oil spill disaster off the coast of Santa Barbara, the state and federal regulatory agencies and the MLPA Initiative's so-called "marine protected areas" weren't able to prevent a big oil spill like the one now taking place from occurring - and the fishermen, Tribal members and grassroots environmentalists who criticized oil industry lobbyist oversight of the MLPA Initiative process were absolutely right about their fears that the new "Yosemites of the Sea" wouldn't protect the ocean.

Warning from My Future Self (Jean Tepperman and Alfred Twu)

By Jean Tepperman and Alfred Twu - Sunflower Alliance, 2015

In this 34-page comic book for both youth and adults, 16-year-old Gabe Sanchez of East Oakland tells the story of how he and his grandfather time-travel 50 years into the future. His 60-year-old self tells him the story of how climate change has shaped his life: the superstorm that destroyed his home and livelihood, the collapse of California agriculture, and more. But 60-year-old Gabe also shows the many ways people today are fighting to stop fossil fuels and build a green economy. Gabe and Grandpa return to 2016 determined to join the movement for climate justice.

Read the report (PDF).

Activists 'Shut Down' Nestlé Water Bottling Plant in Sacramento

By Dan Bacher - Indybay, March 27, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Environmental and human rights activists, holding plastic “torches” and “pitchforks,” formed human barricades at both entrances to the Nestlé Waters bottling plant in Sacramento at 5:00 a.m. on Friday, March 20, effectively shutting down the company's operations for the day.

Members of the “Crunch Nestlé Alliance" shouted out a number of chants, including ”We got to fight for our right to water,” “Nestlé, Stop It, Water Not For Profit," and “¿Agua Para Quien? Para Nuestra Gente.”

The protesters stayed until about 1 pm, but there were no arrests.

Representatives of the alliance said the company is draining up to 80 million gallons of water a year from Sacramento aquifers during a record drought. They claim Sacramento City Hall has made it possible through a "corporate welfare giveaway."

“This corporate welfare giveaway is an outrage and warrants a major investigation,” Coalition spokesperson Andy Conn said. “For more than five months we have requested data on Nestlé water use. City Hall has not complied with our request, or given any indication that it will. Sacramentans deserve to know how their money is being spent and what they’re getting for it. In this case, they’re getting ripped off.”

Lola Ellis of 99 Rise Sacramento, who spoke on the bullhorn at the protest, said, “Nestlé’s bottling of water in Sacramento is unsustainable in the current state of drought. We really don’t’ know how much water they are taking from the aquifer and that is a scary thing.”

“The water needs to be used for the local community. If there is not enough water for the local community, the Nestlé corporation should not be making a profit,” she emphasized.

The coalition protested what they call Nestlé's “virtually unlimited use of water” while Sacramentans (like other Californians) who use a mere 7 to 10 percent of total water used in the State of California, have had severe restrictions and limitations forced upon them.

The coalition is calling on Nestlé to pay rates commensurate with its enormous profit, or voluntarily close down.

Labor Movement Malpractice: Relinquishing the Fight for Workplace Health and Safety

By Garrett Brown - Portside, January 28, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

An underlying theme of California's most prominent union organizing campaigns in recent years-among warehouse workers east of Los Angeles, carwasheros in Los Angeles proper, and recycling workers in Oakland and southern California-has been worker concerns about unsafe and unhealthy conditions at work.  As labor visionaries like Tony Mazzocchi predicted, workers are deeply concerned about and can be successfully organized around workplace health and safety issues.  Rank-and-file concerns about health and safety, however, have not been taken up by union officials or lobbyists who view health and safety as a lower priority than labor legislation or gubernatorial appointees.

As a result, labor officials in California have passively watched as Democratic Governor Jerry Brown put California's state workplace health and safety agency-Cal/OSHA or DOSH-on a starvation diet. Since 2011, the agency has employed fewer field inspectors and has counted on lesser enforcement resources than under Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The unions also stood quietly by (with a couple of notable exceptions) when Ellen Widess, appointed as chief of Cal/OSHA in April 2011, was forced to resign in September 2013 following an intense employer campaign against her.

Cal/OSHA under Widess worked with Warehouse Workers United to identify the many hazards facing warehouse workers (heat, forklifts, falls) and to cite both the warehouse operators and the temporary staffing agencies as the workers' employers.  Cal/OSHA seriously investigated hotel workers' ergonomic complaints (UNITE HERE); health care workers' concerns about workplace violence and assaults (SEIU and CNA); and recycling workers' exposure to chemicals, biological, and mechanical hazards in the "green" industry (Longshore and Teamsters unions).  Yet the state's labor officials' and lobbyists' strategy of maintaining access and friendly relations with Brown and his appointees-at all costs-has undermined the resources at Cal/OSHA and led to the weakening of enforcement and worker protections.

Chevron and big ag are irrigating crops with oil wastewater: Oil company says the ‘recycled’ waste is perfectly safe. When have we heard that before?

By Marc Norton - 48 Hills Online, February 3, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In this ad, Chevron brags about sending oil wastewater to farmersThe San Francisco Chronicle ran a major investigative story on Sunday outlining how nasty waste from the oil industry winds up in Central Valley aquifers.

The story by David R. Baker detailed how state regulators have allowed oil companies in California, particularly in Kern County, to pump wastewater containing “a blend of briny water, hydrocarbons and trace chemicals” into underground water supplies, potentially contaminating water that could be used for drinking and irrigation

But if people in the Bay Area think that this is an issue only for farmers and residents in the hinterlands where oil production takes place, they need to think again.

The toxic effects of the disposal of oil production wastewater may be as near to you as the supermarket or your corner grocery. Here’s why: It’s an open secret that the big corporate agriculture landlords in Kern County are irrigating their crops with wastewater from oil production supplied to them by Chevron.

Do you eat potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, onions or bell peppers?  Do you like almonds or pistachios?  How about oranges, grapes or pomegranates?  Put a little honey in your tea?

Eat any wheat products?

These are all crops that are grown in Kern County, in the southern part of the San Joaquin Valley.

Do you eat beef?  Eggs?  Got milk?  These are also big Kern County agricultural products.

There is a lot of cotton grown in Kern County.  Do you wear any cotton clothes?

And they grow roses.  Makes a nice gift for your sweetie, don’t you think?

In total, Kern County produces over $3.5 billion worth of agricultural products every year, much of it irrigated by wastewater from Chevron’s oil well wells.

Chevron insists that that recycled water is safe, and in fact brags about how wastewater from oil development helps agriculture.

But farmers who live and work in the area aren’t so sure. And given the history of the oil and chemical industry’s environmental safety claims, there’s reason for at least concern.

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