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Latest Oil-Based Catastrophe Shaping Up in California

Even as the oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster is washing ashore in Louisiana, another oil-based catastrophe is shaping up in California. Opponents of CA’s landmark global warming legislation AB32 – led by Texas oil giant Valero and other out-of-state oil interests – recently spent nearly $2 million dollars in a successful bid to put an initiative on the November ballot that would suspend AB32 from taking effect.

The so-called “California Jobs Initiative” would effectively kill the bill by requiring unemployment in the state to drop below 5.5% for 4 consecutive quarters before being implemented – historically low unemployment levels that are utterly unrealistic in the current economy. Supporters of the bill argue that climate change legislation will cost the state too much in a time of recession. The irony, of course, is that while investing in a cleaner economy is not at all what caused this recession, it is our best hope for getting out of it.

To pit the economy against the environment is a false choice that misses two underlying realities. First, the economy is wholly dependent on the environment: without clean air, fresh water and healthy soil, there would be no economy. And the cost of repairing and replacing these basic services is far higher than the cost of preserving them in the first place, as we are just beginning to witness with the impending collapse of a multi-billion dollar fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico.

Second, clean and green technologies are not a burden on the economy – they are the key to economic growth and job creation. And while it will take an investment to reap these rewards, that cost will be much smaller than the costs of sticking to our current system. The choice this November is not between creating jobs or losing jobs – but about shifting to better jobs. As the recent tragic deaths of coal miners, power plant workers, and offshore oil riggers reminds us, no paycheck is worth a human life.

Legislation requiring cleaner cars, better lighting, and building-efficiency standards will spur industry and create jobs that don’t involve high risk and horrible fatalities. Transitioning to local, renewable sources of power will create a much more stable energy market – something businesses everywhere depend on. Increasing the efficiency of homes and businesses is the most cost-effective way to offset rising energy costs. As a Californian, I have seen what it means to be dependent on foreign sources of power during both the Oil Embargo and Enron scandals. Making our own clean power instead of buying dirty power from the Persian Gulf or the Gulf of Mexico will also help business by keeping more of the dollars we spend on energy right here in California. And this, of course, is a major reason that Valero, and other out-of-state energy companies are funding opposition to the bill.

But there is more at stake here than just the energy market in California alone. The reason that national energy companies and anti-tax groups have rallied against AB32 is because California is a bellwether for the nation on environmental regulation. As we’ve heard repeatedly since the Deep Horizon spill in the Gulf, it was the Santa Barbara oil spill forty years ago that started the national environmental movement. More recently, it was California’s successful suit against the EPA over stricter fuel emissions standards, that preceded the Obama administration increasing national fuel-efficiency standards.

California is also a bellwether for technology. Remember that solar panels and modern wind turbines were developed right here in California. When Reagan took the panels off the White House and ushered in the age of the SUV, those industries – and the jobs and revenue they created – went to Europe and Asia. The only way to get those jobs back now is to do it again. Retaking our lead as the world’s best innovators is a much safer path to economic growth, energy security, and environmental health than “Drill, Baby Drill.”

Right now, California’s universities, laboratories and green tech entrepreneurs are creating the energy and communication technologies of tomorrow. Electric car makers Coda, and BYD (“Build Your Dream”) both announced recently they are opening factories in Los Angeles to capitalize on California’s commitment to clean tech innovation. We must enforce these commitments in order to create more good jobs, not abandon our principles in the face of high unemployment.

Because regardless of what happens in California, the world is quickly going about the business of transitioning toward more sustainable ways of producing and consuming energy. We all know fossil fuels are becoming scarcer, more costly, and more environmentally damaging to produce.

And this is the real reason the oil giants are fighting AB32: because clean, green growth is the future, not only for California, but for the nation, and the world. So it makes sense that the people fighting this change the hardest are the ones making record profits by keeping us hooked on dirty, dangerous fossil fuels.
And there’s an irony in this as well, because there is lots of money to be made in the new energy economy – and they know it. Remember that BP was attempting to rebrand as “Beyond Petroleum” before Deepwater Horizon left us all “Bathing in Petroleum.” Even Republican supporters of offshore drilling and nuclear power have adopted an “all of the above” approach to energy, because it is clear that efficiency and renewables are here to stay.

Unfortunately, unless we provide strong legislation to the contrary, fossil-fuel companies will keep mining, drilling, burning and polluting before they make any meaningful investment in cleaner forms of power. Inevitably, this also means that further deadly and costly accidents are only a matter of time.

So the choice facing California – and the nation – is whether to pass laws which make the fossil-fuel industry use its wealth and technology to help build a cleaner, safer future for all of us, or to let them use their money and influence to confuse the issues, buy elections and keep stalling. The choice is ours.

Andy Mannle is a writer and consultant dedicated to exploring sustainable policy, innovations, and solutions. He is the Education Director for West Coast Green, and an adviser to New Leaf America, UrbanGreen, Adam Capital and others.

Andy Mannle
Andy Mannle is a writer and consultant dedicated to exploring sustainable policy, innovations, and solutions. He is the Education Director for West Coast Green, and an adviser to New Leaf America, UrbanGreen, Adam Capital and others.
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11 thoughts on “Latest Oil-Based Catastrophe Shaping Up in California

  1. Congratulation for this clean point of view. For me, living in Europe (Spain) I understand the unknown californian policy and image. I would like to keep in touch and try to import, some good news and not only ideas.

  2. Wouldn’t “clean” energy sources cause accidental deaths, too? What about all those mines required to get the metals and materials for solar panels? What about construction workers falling off giant windmills?

  3. NO on AB 2289 (Eng) unless amended


    CBS5 TV’s Jeffrey Schaub reports: “30% of the cars in California are over 12 years old but they account for 75% of state’s pollution.” CBS video with Tom Cackette of CARB talking about the smog check program





    If an elected official would request a copy of the Sierra Research SR 2007-04-01 report and all communication about the report from CCEEB, CED, CARB, DCA/BAR, IMRC, Parsons, SGS Testcom, ESP & Sierra Research it might help improve performance of Smog Check….


    A random ‘Smog Check’ inspection & repair ‘secret shopper’ audit, ethanol cap and elimination of dual fuel CAFE credit can cut California car impact over 50% in 2010.(Prevent Over 2000 tons per day of sulfur, PM, HC, O3, NOx, CO & CO2.) Improved performance of AB32 at reduced cost.(support H.R. 1207)

  4. Holly,

    Although you are technically correct that clean energy sources would also be involved with accidental deaths, that observation alone rather misses the point.

    Deaths are increasing in the “dirty” energy industries of coal mining, oil drilling, etc. Why? Because as the easier-to-exploit sources of these things are used up, we are forced to exploit more difficult sources. Ever deeper coal mines. Oil rigs being forced to drill offshore instead. Drilling in the arctic regions. And so on.

    These more difficult to exploit sources are associated with greater risks of cave-ins, explosions, pipeline breaks, offshore storm events, etc., etc. And so more people die per unit of resource extracted. And more oil spills. And so on.

    But with “clean” energy resources, there are no such increasingly difficult hurdles to be faced, at any point in the future, for as long ahead as we can forecast. Need more wind power? Put up a few more windmills of the same variety as those already existing. More solar? Add acreage to your existing solar farms. And offshore wind farms do not represent an exception to this, since they are already being pursued. They are not some future switch to a more difficult option that will be pursued simply because on-shore wind resources are exhausted – they are already in the mix for other reasons.

  5. Loved this op piece and i will be sharing it with LOTS of people! It makes me proud and happy to live in a state that is leading in so many ways, and yet also shows how education on these issues is going to be a major challenge when voting time comes around! We need to work together to ensure that CA voters know what is behind all of this, and that jobs WILL come out of it.

  6. Thanks for the comments everybody!

    Doug, I think you make a valid response to Holly’s legitimate point that any job has potential risks to employees. But fossil-fuel extraction has many more risks as well including pollution, ecosystem destruction, and the very costly disruption of other local industries like fishing and tourism. If a wind turbine or solar panel breaks, they can be fixed without risk of leaks, explosions, fires, or terrorist attack.

    Leilani – thanks for sharing the piece. We’ve already seen Gov Schwarzenegger reject proposals to increase offshore drilling in CA, and West Coast Senators banding together against offshore drilling. If BP had spent the billions of dollars the Deepwater Disaster will cost them on building wind and solar farms, we’d all be better off.

    Arguments for drilling are always economic. But when you compare the amount of free solar energy falling on our heads every day against the increasingly scarce oil reserves created hundreds of millions of years ago, the economics become clear: We’re letting untapped income go to waste, while we spend money digging up our savings and using it to destroy our home and our future.

    Yes, it will take an investment to make the most of renewable energy. But once we do, it’ll be a cleaner, more efficient way to get energy, which will create safer, better jobs, and leave our skies, forests, and oceans intact for all to enjoy and prosper from.

  7. Why is it the discussion about oil and renewable energy that there is a constant mixing of apples and oranges? Petro liquids and petro coke make up about 1% of the source of US electric generation. Coal (48%), natural gas (21%) and nuclear (20%) account for about 89% of the electric generation in the US. See http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/table1_1.html

    I’ve been promotting renewable energy for electric power generation and sustainability for 20+ years. Electric generation from oil is not the issue.

    Gasoline consumption from motor vehicles drives the need for oil. To reduce the need for oil we must change our transportation vehicles and systems. Saying “If BP had spent the billions of dollars the Deepwater Disaster will cost them on building wind and solar farms, we’d all be better off.” confuses the issues. More wind and solar changes the power mix only slightly and does little to impact the need for oil for gasoline.

  8. Jim,

    I disagree with your post.

    First off, the term “fossil fuels” encompasses both coal and natural gas. Together, those two alone represent 69% of the electric generation in the US. So anything that gets us off the fossil fuel wagon has immediate implications for electricity generation.

    Second, the story quote “Opponents of CA’s landmark global warming legislation AB32 – led by Texas oil giant Valero and other out-of-state oil interests – recently spent nearly $2 million dollars …” shows that oil companies themselves are getting involved with legislation that regulates electricity generation. Clearly these oil companies do not see that there are separate apples and oranges in the basket of issues.

    Third, the likely change from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles in the transportation sector also effectively links transportation, and its fuel use, to the electricity generation sector and its fuel use (renewable or fossil fuel based).

    I conclude that there is little mixing of apples and oranges here. And I agree that “If BP had spent the billions of dollars the Deepwater Disaster will cost them on building wind and solar farms, we’d all be better off”. Far from confusing the issue, that statement puts a spotlight on the future links between transportation energy use and electricity generation.

  9. I guess we have a “chicken, or the egg” issue and maybe not “apples and oranges”. The point of my post was to put a spotlight on the term “oil”. Oil is what BP was drilling for with the Deepwater Horizon. Not natural gas. Not coal. Oil that would be refined to produce diesel, gasoline and jet fuel; all used for transportation. My point is that to reduce the need for drilling for oil, we must focus our efforts on making our current primary form of transportation, the internal combustion engine, more efficient and less polluting. We also need to change our transportation systems and we must strive for something radically differnt than just replacing engines that burn fosil fuel with motors that use electricity.

    Regarding AB32, it limits the greenhouse gas emissions that Valero, a refiner of oil in California, is allowed to emit. AB32 does not “regulate electric generation”. The process for refining oil produces several differnt types of green house gas emissions. The refineries don’t like AB32 for a variety of reasons, but primarily because it would require them to have to massively change their refinery operations in order to meet the green house gas emission limits their refineries will have, which would cost them millions of dollars.

    Given enough time and money, anything is possible. We don’t have either. Let’s put our limited resources where they can have the biggest impact on reducing our need for oil, now and in the near future. I would conclude that bringing 5,000 MW of wind and solar power on line in California in the next five years would not impact the amount of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel consumed in the state. What it would do is change the power mix for the state and reduce the amount of power generated from coal and natural gas. And that is great, it just doesn’t change the need for oil, if we don’t make radical changes to our transportation systems.

  10. At this point, we are probably agreeing more than not. However, I’ll just point out that putting all our resources on reducing the demand for oil will also not significantly impact the amount of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel consumed in the state during the next five years. ANY infrastructure change significant enough to influence that will take more than 5 years.

    5,ooo MW of wind and solar will, over more than a five year span, will influcence oil consumption by replacement of internal combustion engines with electric motors.

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