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Communities for a Better Environment (CBE)

Phasing Out Fossil Fuels: A Just Transition in the Oil & Gas Drilling and Refining Sectors

Letter to Contra Costa County, California on Just Transition from Fossil Fuels

By staff - Sunflower Alliance, November 20, 2020

Just weeks after Contra Costa County’s Board of Supervisors declared a climate emergency, a diverse group of environmental, labor, and public health advocates sent a letter to the Board calling for a planned and equitable transition away from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy, in what many are calling a “just transition” that supports refinery workers and frontline communities.

“We applaud your recent Declaration of a Climate Emergency in Contra Costa County, which underlines the need to ‘plan for a ‘just transition’ away from a fossil-fuel dependent economy.’  In furtherance of this goal, we seek your immediate action to ensure just transitions for workers and communities threatened with sudden abandonment by refineries located in the County.  We believe climate protection must go hand in hand with environmental and economic justice,”  reads the letter’s opening paragraph.  See the full letter here.

The letter highlights concerns over recent news regarding changes to traditional refinery operations in Contra Costa County—including Marathon’s announcement of a permanent end to crude oil processing at its Martinez refinery, and Phillips 66’s notice of an impending partial closure of its San Francisco Refinery facilities in Rodeo, Franklin Canyon, and Arroyo Grande.

Both companies have proposed changes that would significantly decrease the production of non-petroleum fuels, which will involve shuttering large portions of the refinery.  Neither company has identified plans for full cleanups of their industrial sites, nor have they made adequate commitments to support the wages, health care, or pensions of workers whose jobs are threatened by these changes.

“The large oil companies who have for so long made their profits in Contra Costa County’s local communities ought to be the ones to pay the steep cost associated with their departure,”  the letter states.

The letter also identifies how the communities facing shuttered refinery operations are ultimately at risk for future prospects for environmentally healthy and economically sustainable development.

Decommissioning California Refineries and Beyond Workshop

Bay Area activists respond to Phillips 66's renewable diesel announcement

By Janet Pyegeorge, Shoshana Wechsler, Matt Krogh - Stand.Earth, August 20, 2020

Protect the Bay coalition calls the move ‘another example of what will likely happen in an unmanaged transition off fossil fuels’

RODEO, CALIFORNIA — Bay Area activists are responding to Phillips 66’s announcement made last Thursday, August 13, that the company would close its Santa Maria refining facility, its carbon plant in Rodeo, and convert its 122,000 bpd Rodeo petroleum refinery to a 42,000 bpd renewable diesel facility by 2024, saying this abrupt revelation — which joins the recent announcement of the idling of the Marathon Martinez refinery — is another example of what will likely happen in an unmanaged transition off of fossil fuels. Phillips 66 made the announcement without advanced warning to Contra Costa County decision makers and without community involvement.

Members of the Protect the Bay coalition, which was formed in 2019 to prevent the expansion of the Phillips 66 refinery and marine terminal in Rodeo, expressed the following concerns and questions in response to Phillips 66’s announcement:

Shoshana Wechsler, Sunflower Alliance: "We congratulate Phillips 66 on its long overdue admission that refining petroleum is toxic and harmful. But becoming the world’s largest supplier of biodiesel by merely recycling used cooking oil doesn’t quite compute. That’s a whole lot of freedom fries. Let’s face it — refining and burning 'renewable' transportation fuels is only a first step towards genuine sustainability.”

Wilder Zeiser, Stand.earth: “On the face of it, reducing Phillips 66’s refining capacity could be a positive step, in alignment with CBE’s recent report, “Decommissioning California Refineries.” But to understand the details — local pollution shifts, where the feedstock will come from, how many millions of acres could be needed for soy and palm trees — there must be a full scale environmental review combined with a 180 degree shift away from their planned tar sands expansion.”

Nancy Rieser, Crockett Rodeo United to Defend the Environment (CRUDE): "We need to be mindful of 'greenwashing' during these times when refineries look for ways to prolong their life cycles while the world moves toward solar energy and electrified transportation. This project, in particular, bears closer scrutiny. The first press release about this project stated that used cooking oil would be the primary feedstock and was silent about the need to turn millions of acres into soybean production. It also suggested that less harmful emissions will be coming out of the stacks."

Gary Hughes, Biofuelwatch: “The false promises of biofuels are being leveraged by Phillips 66 to hide their ambition to stay locked in on fossil fuel energy far into the future. Our organization stands with the residents and working people throughout the North Bay refinery corridor that are organizing for a just transition and demanding an end to the treatment of their communities as sacrifice zones.”

Janet Pygeorge, President, Rodeo Citizens Association: "Our vision for Rodeo does not include Phillips 66. How dare they use our community name in their project of fake promises. Read between the lines: What kind of feedstocks? There is no mention of scrubbers to prevent toxic emissions into the atmosphere. In Rodeo, our families live every day knowing the toxic air we breathe destroys our immune system and is a silent killer 365 days a year, 24/7. A few of us left to continue our fight to save lives. BAAQMD, listen to our plea to live. You must protect the people.”

Culver City Takes Historic Steps to End Neighborhood Oil Drilling

By staff - Sierra Club, August 14, 2020

CULVER CITY, CA—Last night, Culver City councilmembers took the first necessary steps to phase out oil extraction in the city’s 78-acre portion of the Inglewood Oil Field. After a presentation on the amortization study commissioned by the Oil Subcommittee, and virtual public testimony, the council unanimously directed staff to develop a framework and timeline for the phase out of active wells. Diverse stakeholders gave testimony in favor of the motion from labor unions including United Steelworkers Local 675, California Nurses Association, and Jobs to Move America, environmental organizations from Sierra Club, NRDC, Food & Water Action, Center for Biological Diversity and renewable energy advocates including GRID Alternatives and the Clean Power Alliance in addition to many local residents and medical professionals.

Urban oil extraction and production have long exposed Los Angeles residents to toxic emissions and dangerous chemicals in their own neighborhoods. Oil production sites use and emit known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, like benzene and formaldehyde, fine and ultra-fine particulate matter, and hydrogen sulfide. All of these chemicals have proven records of toxicity and are known to cause health impacts ranging from nosebleeds to chronic headaches, increased risks of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, and increased risk of cancer.

“Every day nurses across California treat children with asthma and we see firsthand the connection between environmental and public health,” said Tveen Kirkpatrick, R.N. wth California Nurses Association/ National Nurses United. “We are proud to stand with the communities closest to toxic operations in Culver City and call for a shutdown of the Inglewood Oil Field. California should look beyond fossils to a future where workers and communities don’t pay the price for the oil industry’s pollution with their bodies.”

Over one million people live within five miles of the massive Inglewood Oil Field, the largest urban oilfield in the nation, sprawled across Culver City and the historically African American neighborhood of Baldwin Hills. For decades, residents have called on local and state elected officials to strengthen health and safety protections from industrial oil operations near their homes, schools and parks. With Culver City now advancing plans to phase out existing oil wells, local environmental justice, labor and health advocates are urging councilmembers to seize this opportunity to model a Just Transition. They have sent multiple letters to Heather Baker, Assistant City Attorney, calling for the city to hold oil operators responsible for cleanup costs, and ensure that a properly trained and local unionized workforce is paid a living wage for the remediation of wells. 

Toxic Relationship: How refineries affect climate change and racial and economic injustice

By Jean Tepperman - East Bay Express - July 22, 2020

California should begin gradually reducing output from its oil refineries in order to avoid climate catastrophe and to make the transition to clean energy as equitable as possible. That's the conclusion of a major new report released July 6 by Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), endorsed by more than 40 environmental and social justice organizations.

While most people agree on the need to use less fossil fuel, many fear that requiring refineries to reduce production could lead to higher gasoline prices and a big economic hit for workers and communities that depend on refineries for income. Report-author Greg Karras responded, "If we start now, doing it gradually, it will give us the time to replace refinery-dependent economics." The report calls for cutting production 4 to 7 percent a year, starting in 2021.

California has set targets for cutting carbon emissions between now and 2050: the state's share of global cuts needed to keep temperature increases below catastrophic levels. Because the carbon that causes climate change builds up in the atmosphere, California has a carbon "budget"—the total amount it can emit from now until 2050. According to Decommissioning California Refineries, California will have to refine much less oil per year to avoid blowing through this carbon "budget" by about 2037.

"California is the biggest oil-refining center in Western North America," Karras said. "Oil refined here emits more carbon than all other activities in the state combined." Even if all other sources of carbon are reduced on schedule, Karras said, "we must refine much less oil if we hope to meet the state's carbon limit."

"We have to break free from our toxic relationship with oil before it takes us over a cliff," Karras said. "When you're in a car heading toward a cliff, it matters when you start putting on the brakes."

The sooner we start, the more likely we are to escape the worst impacts of climate change.

The issue is not just climate, said Andres Soto of CBE. He pointed out that refinery pollution is concentrated in communities like Richmond, centers of racial and economic injustice.

"Only 20 percent of Richmond is Euro-American," he said.

And the health consequences of having a refinery as a neighbor are severe.

Rodeo, another Contra Costa refinery town, "is in the 98th percentile for asthma," said resident Maureen Brennan, and it has high rates of skin disease, autoimmune disease and cancer—all linked to refinery-generated pollution.

Retired refinery worker Steve Garey, past president of a United Steelworkers local in Washington state, said starting now to plan for reduced refinery production could actually benefit refinery workers, since "the movement away from fossil fuels and toward renewables is going to accelerate. It's an economic reality. Renewables are cheaper than fossil fuel and getting cheaper all the time."

Recently when the pandemic cut demand for gasoline, Garey said, the Marathon refinery in Martinez shut down, leaving the workers and community stranded.

The current drop in oil use, Karras said, gives us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to turn away from the cliff and build a cleaner and more equitable recovery.

Decommissioning California Refineries: Climate and Health Paths in an Oil State

By Greg Karras - Communities for a Better Environment, July 2020

Machines that burn oil are going away. We will burn much less oil, either to prevent the increasing accumulation of pollution impacts that could cause the collapse of human societies as we know them, or as a footnote to the collapse of our societies and economies on which the petroleum fuel chain now feeds. Which path we take matters.

Sustainable energy technologies that are proven, available now, and obviously more economic than societal collapse could replace oil and other fossil fuels. But critical oil infrastructure, permitted mainly in working class communities and communities of color, is still growing. Environmental, economic, and racial injustice weaken societal capacity to break free of this toxic path. Societal capacity to organize—political feasibility—has emerged as the primary barrier to solving our existential pollution crisis.

California has this problem. It hosts the largest oil refining center in western North America. It has the worst air pollution in the nation, and yet it has allowed its oil sector’s critical infrastructure to grow in low-income communities of color, where this pollution is disparately severe compared with the state average. It uses pollution trading—the exchange of money for permits to pollute—leaving communities largely on our own to fight refinery and oil terminal expansion projects.

Communities rose up to stop tar sands projects in many inspiring efforts that for a decade have held to a trickle the flood of cheaper, dirtier oil that refiners sought. But some projects slipped through. The petroleum fuel chain emits more carbon from extracting, refining, and burning fuels made from the oil refined in California than all other activities in the state combined, and as other emissions have begun to decline, its emissions have not.

In fact its emissions increased from 2013–2017 as refiners here increased production for exports that sold for more money than the entire oil sector spent on permits to emit under the state’s carbon trading scheme. They could do that because no refiner faced any limit on carbon emissions from its plant. They still can because politicians caved in to their demand to make carbon trading the only curb on those emissions. Since 2017, state law has prohibited state air officials from setting a carbon-cutting limit on any oil refining plant under this carbon trading scheme.

Governor Brown argued this law was the best “compromise” that was politically feasible. Yet state climate policy has ignored the need, first voiced by the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union decades ago, for a mandate that assures workers a just transition. Equally important to political feasibility, communities must predict how fast to transition their job and tax bases from oil to sustainable alternatives. But by letting any polluter delay emission cuts at any time, pollution trading makes it harder to make this very prediction.

Read the report (PDF).

Future Beyond Fossil Fuels: California’s Just Transition

By staff - Sunrise Movement, May 1, 2020

You may have heard the term ‘Just transition’ floating around, but what does it mean? This webinar will focus on what a just transition means for workers in California, and how the vision of a Green New Deal can guide the much-needed economic recovery from the COVID crisis.

This video features IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus cofounder, Steve Ongerth, speaking on workers, unions, and just transition in Northern California.

The Sky’s Limit California: why the Paris Climate Goals demand that California lead in a managed decline of oil extraction

By Kelly Trout, et. al. - Oil Change International, May 22, 2018

This study examines the implications of the Paris Agreement goals for oil production and climate leadership in California.

California’s leaders, including Governor Jerry Brown, have been vocal supporters of the Paris Agreement. Yet, California presently has no plan to phase out its oil and gas production in line with Paris-compliant carbon budgets. Under the Brown administration, the state has permitted the drilling of more than 20,000 new wells, including extraction and injection wells.

We provide new data findings related to:

  • The climate implications of ongoing permitting of new oil wells in California;
  • The ways that a managed decline of existing wells can prioritize health and equity; and
  • Elements of a just transition for affected workers and communities.

We recommend that the state take the following actions:

  • Cease issuing permits for new oil and gas extraction wells;
  • Implement a 2,500-foot health buffer zone around homes, schools, and hospitals where production must phase out;
  • Develop a plan for the managed decline of California’s entire fossil fuel sector to maximize the effectiveness of the state’s climate policies; and
  • Develop a transition plan that protects people whose livelihoods are affected by the economic shift, including raising dedicated funds via a Just Transition Fee on oil production.

As a wealthy oil producer, California is well positioned to take more ambitious action to proactively phase out its fossil fuel production and has a responsibility to do so in order to fulfill its commitment
to climate leadership. By taking these steps, California would become the first significant oil and gas producer globally to chart a path off fossil fuel production in line with climate limits.

Download (PDF).

State Weighs in For Caps on Bay Area Refinery Toxic and Climate Pollution

By Andrés Soto and Greg Karras, Communities for a Better Environment; Ratha Lai, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, and Luis Amuezca, Sierra Club Bay Chapter - April 16, 2017 [Press Release]

Reversing regional of ficials who sided with refiners to claim pollution trading policies force them to allow increasing refinery pollution, the State Air Resources Board supports pollution limits to “cap” increasing particulate and greenhouse gas air pollution from five Bay Ar ea refineries in a letter to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District sent late yesterday.

Oil companies seek to process lower quality grades of oil that could increase refinery emission intensity and refinery mass emissions.  Caps on emission intensi ty and mass work together to protect against those health and climate threats.  The State’s letter supports both protections, finding they work together with its state climate program. That finding contradicts the refiners’ argument that Air District Rule 12 - 16, which sets mass caps, conflicts with the State’s cap - and - trade pollution trading scheme.  Air District staff joined the refiners to make this claim against its own proposal in workshops last week.

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