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Fossil Refusal: Local Models Not Global Markets

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Despite the difficult picture painted by the news, there is hope for our planet.

On this episode of Making Contact, we look at the ways people have already been organizing and what sort of new energy solutions exist for the future. We hear about two grassroots fights against the fossil fuel industry – one in Tacoma, Washington, where residents are fighting a natural gas facility called LNG, the other in Rodeo, California where people are fighting the expansion of a Phillip’s 66 refinery which is vying to accept tar sands oil.

We also take you to the shutdowns and protests at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, to understand why carbon market’s aren’t automatically a good solution to our global climate crisis. And we take a look at two projects, called CCAs and microgrids, in order to understand why hyper-local, community controlled energy is perhaps a better option.

Special Thanks to Cloud Mountain Foundation for supporting our environmental coverage.

Transcript below.

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Featuring:

  • Nadia Khastagir, It Takes Roots Delegation
  • Thanu Yakupitiyage, 350.org
  • Dipti Bhatnagar, Friends of the Earth International
  • Tamra Gilbertsen, Carbon Pricing Team, Indigenous Environmental Network
  • Shina Robinson, Asian Pacific Environmental Network
  • Jessica Tovar, Local Clean Energy Alliance
  • Isabella Zizi, Stand. Earth and Idle No More SF
  • Cedar George Parker, Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance
  • Ann Punch, Sunflower Alliance
  • Andres Soto, Communities for a Better Environment
  • Nanette  Reetz, Redefine Tacoma
  • Steve Storms, Redefine Tacoma, Retired Chemical Engineer
  • Lou Paulsen, Director, Strategic Operations Projects and Risk Management, Port of Tacoma
  • Clare Petrich, Port of Tacoma, Port Commissioner
  • Claudia Riedener, Co-Founder Redefine Tacoma
  • Tarika Powell, Sightline Institute, researcher
  • Sandra Steingraber, Biologist, Author and Anti-Fracking Activist
  • Todd Hay, Data Team Lead for the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Member of the Sustainable Tacoma Commission

Credits:

  • Host: Salima Hamirani
  • Guest Producer: Barbara Bernstein
  • Producers: Anita Johnson, Monica Lopez, Salima Hamirani
  • Executive Director: Lisa Rudman
  • Audience Engagement Director/Web Editor: Sabine Blaizin
  • Outreach and Distribution Assistant: Dylan Heuer 

Music:

  • Little Glass Men – Modulation of the Spirit
  • Ghostly Dust Machine – Ode To A Baby Snowstorm
  • Broke For Free – 01 – Night Owl
  • Dialect – Loose Blooms – Dawn Simulator
  • Dialect – Loose Blooms – Fissures
  • Dailect – Loose Blooms – Three Sisters Theme
  • Chris Zabriskie – Divider – Divider

 

Fossil Refusal: Local Models not Global Markets 

TRANSCRIPT

 

News VOICES: The melting polar ice. The drought. The mega storms.

 

SALIMA HAMIRANI: The news and scientific reports tell us that we’ve reached a tipping point in climate change.

 

News VOICES:  It’s not positive. It just keeps getting worse.

 

SALIMA: And that the situation is really bad.

 

News VOICES: If we fail to meet the challenge, all our other challenges will just become greater, and threatento swallow us.

 

SALIMA: The news can feel overwhelming. I’ve definitely felt overwhelmed.  But the thing is, people are fighting climate change.

 

VOICES IN STREET

 

SALIMA: That’s news too. And that’s where we find hope. Today, on Making Contact, we look at resistance and solutions. Including a new model of community energy, a fight to stop a refinery expansion.  To start, we take you to the streets where people are fighting cap and trade.

 

SALIMA: We’re here at this massive march where thousands of people are protesting the Global Climate Action Summit. VOICES IN STREET  The Summit was advertised as a follow-up to the Paris Climate Conference in 2015. The official 2018 gathering featured business leaders and politicians and was called for by California Governor Jerry Brown.

 

CA Governor JERRY BROWN: Look it’s up to you and it’s up to me and tens of millions of other people to get it together and roll back the forces of carbonization.

 

SALIMA:  “Fighting carbonization”, as Governor Jerry Brown calls it, sounds like a great idea…

 

JERRY BROWN: That’s why we’re having the Climate Action Summit in San Francisco.

 

SALIMA:  ..So it might seem a bit weird that environmental activists hounded the climate summit all week.

 

[VOICES IN STREET]

In fact, that was also the sentiment of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

 

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Only in America could you have environmentalists protesting an environmental conference.

 

Nadia Khastagir: We’re here to protest Jerry Brown’s climate summit to say that his actions are too much wrapped up in corporations. And that the real solutions come from the grassroots.

 

Thanu Yakupitiyage: Buying and selling our air is not a feasible solution. So we’re going to do it on the local level because we believe that we can actually make change happen from the grassroots in a wave of resistance.

 

SALIMA: On the one hand, there’s a market approach to climate change mainly through something called cap and trade. On the other hand, we have small-scale solutions, locally controlled and not totally market-based.

 

KANDI: So what if the industries don’t make money? At least we won’t die. We’re talking about the very survival of humanity here.

 

SALIMA: How we decide to fight climate change, through corporations or through grassroots efforts, will have massive ramifications for the future.

 

[VOICES IN STREET]

 

CARBON MARKETS  

 

SALIMA: Throughout the weeklong protests of the Global Climate Action Summit, activists targeted what they called a false solution to climate change.

 

VOICE: No climate capitalism. It’s a myth, it’s a lie. It’s a non-solution, it’s a false solution.

 

SALIMA: So what are they talking about and why is it a false solution?  Carbon markets are one of the main ways that governments and corporations want to tackle climate change…

 

CA Governor JERRY BROWN: The cap and trade program is the most efficient, the most elegant, to get the job done.

 

SALIMA: …They’ve been around for a while. But they became especially embraced after the Paris climate summit to limit warming to 2 degrees. Which, at the time, scientists thought was safe.

 

VOICE: An additional 2 degrees Celsius.

 

TAMRA GILBERTSEN: There are few different types of carbon pricing. It’s a big umbrella term that includes cap and trade, carbon taxes, REDD offsets, forest offsets, agriculture offsets. All of it.

 

SALIMA: That was Tamra Gilbertsenfrom Indigenous Environmental Network. And with her help, we’re going to explain how a carbon market works.

 

In a carbon market, governments decide how much carbon industries all over the world can admit. How did they decide and how much?

 

TAMRA:They estimate basically. And then collectively, these installations are supposed to start ramping down.

 

SALIMA:That’s the cap part of cap and trade. And that’s not really controversial. Most activists agree we need a cap on emissions. But here’s where things get a little bit more controversial. Basically each ton of carbon equals one carbon permit. And every installation starts off with a certain number of permits.

 

TAMRA:Those permits or allowances are basically given to them for free.  They’re actually money. And they can then trade between them on a market.

 

SALIMA: That’s the trading part. And it seems to make sense. As long as there’s a cap, why not let corporations trade their credits. Together we’re staying below the cap, right?

 

TAMRA:It doesn’t work that way. Capitalism doesn’t work that way. What we see happening, and what we know is going to happen, is that every single cap and trade system that has ever been set up has failed.

 

SALIMA: So why is a market system so unreliable? For one thing, on an open market, the price of credits will fluctuate, like in any other market.

 

TAMRA:For example the, European Union Emissions Trading System, the EUETS, is the largest cap and trade system in the world. It includes over 12000 installations. And somewhere around 2013, the entire market was so over-allocated it just crashed.

 

SALIMA: But an unstable and volatile market isn’t the only problem. There’s been problems with the permits themselves. They haven’t been well tracked.

 

TAMRA: This is carbon fraud. One of my favorite subjects. Carbon fraud is rife. What we’ve seen is that some of those permits are used, and then used again. They’re just not retired. They’re in the market, and then they’re resold to act as a compensation for another installation.

 

SALIMA: It’s like a bad tracking system?

 

TAMRA: Yeah, the monitoring, the verification, all of it.

 

SALIMA: In fact, just this year, 36 people who ran a carbon fraud scheme went to trial in Paris. They managed to swindle 1.6 billion Euros to the market. So far, it’s not looking so good. But the biggest problem with the carbon market, the fact that has angered a lot of people around the world, is something called carbon offsets. And to explain offsets, we go back to the streets.

 

R.E.D.D.  

 

[Singing, chants, and the indigenous women warriors song]

 

SALIMA: We’re in front of the Parc 55 Hotel in San Francisco. A crowd has gathered to protest a meeting happening inside a meeting of the governor’s Climate and Forest Task Force.  They’re meeting to discuss something called REDD.

 

DIPTI:REDD is Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation – REDD.

 

SALIMA: REDD is one of the offset mechanisms as part of cap and trade. And here’s how it works.  Say you’ve used up all of your carbon credits and you need more. You can “protect” a bunch of forests in the global South. Foreststhatare in danger of being cut down.

 

Cutting down forests is bad because it’s a carbon sink.

 

DIPTI BHATNAGAR: Carbon sinks is a way of saying that trees naturally hold carbon dioxide. Because, as we learned in basic biology class, trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen and that’s how you know you and I are able to breathe.

 

SALIMA: That’s Dipti Bhatnagar, from Friends of the Earth International. Because you’re protecting forests, which actively pull carbon from the air, you get an offset. You get an extra carbon credit. Deforestation is a major driver of climate change. So stopping it is good, right?

 

DIPTI: Whereas it’s actually not. What REDD does is encourage, in the global North, factories and refineries to continue burning fossil fuelswhile they pretend to save forests somewhere else in the world. And that act of compensation or offset is what is meant to be OK for the refinery here to continue polluting.

 

SALIMA: Then there’s this question of what protecting a forest even means.

 

DIPTI:  REDD is actually driving land-grabbing and forest-grabbing and resource-grabbing in southern countries.  Because there were forests that local communities indigenous people used to live by for many years. And all of a sudden, now there’s a fence around it. They’re getting fines for going in to cut a tree, to repair their houses. And why is that? Because there has to be this pretense of saving that forest to be able to say that it compensates for fossil fuel activity in the North.  Legally and morally, it’s the rich countries that have the historical responsibility for climate change and need to be the ones that are stepping up.

 

CCAs

 SALIMA: You’ve heard about the problems with carbon markets and REDD and cap and trade. Now let’s look at solutions. While each community will have its own answer to the climate crisis, there’s one solution I heard over and over again. And energy transition isn’t simply about renewables.

 

SHINA:It’s about making sure that those who have been burdened at the intersection of poverty and pollution and environmental racism are actually first in line to benefit from the renewable energy economy. It means creating pathways and opportunities for the workers whose livelihoods have been linked to the extractive economy and find them a place to thrive in a new economy.

 

SALIMA:That was Shina Robinson from the Asian Pacific Environmental Network.

 

SHINA: That means smaller scale solar projects or other renewable projects. What we really want to see is more local and community-owned energy resources.

 

SALIMA:Small scale solar and local and community owned, as Shina says. Together these ideas could revolutionize how we consume energy.

 

The first ingredient:community owned.

 

Usually the power companies buy energy from power plants or solar farms and thensell that energy. But there’s a way that we can buy the energy ourselves through something called CCA.

 

JESSICA TOVAR: CCA stands for Community Choice Aggregation

 

SALIMA: That’s Jessica Tovar from a Local Clean Energy Alliance.

 

JESSICA: A less fany word would be “pooling”  — like when you carpool.

 

SALIMA: People get together and act as their own company. Then you can choose where to buy energy. Don’t want dirty energy? Don’t buy it. You can buy clean energy instead. In a CCA, you get to choose. This model has already started in Alameda County, in northern California.

 

JESSICA: They did an early launch this summer and a full launch this fall. They will provide Alameda County with different levels of green energy. It’s a certain percentage, all the way up to 100 percent renewable energy.

 

SALIMA: Here’s the second ingredient: locally produced. You’ve got the buying power. Now where do you find the energy? What about those big solar panel farms out in the desert where no one lives?

 

JESSICA: But people do live in the desert, and there’s wildlife, flora and fauna. You’re still destroying that ecosystem. We’re trying to really emphasize that local is better. We need to start doing that now.

 

SALIMA: “Local is better.”  In this case, we mean locally-produced energy, through solar panels hooked to something called a micro-grid. A micro-grid uses the infrastructure already in the ground. You do have to pay a small fee to use it. But your micro-grid is autonomous and can be turned on and off without affecting the whole municipal system.

 

Wall Street, for example, has its own generators, and during Hurricane Sandy…

 

JESSICA: …when the power went out in New York,Wall Street stayed in business. Kept their lights on. That’s the kind of resiliency we need for our communities. Forget Wall Street, right?  If there’s a disaster like that, we need that kind of infrastructure here.

 

SHINA: We’re pushing for a micro-grid in Chinatown,which is an evacuation site for downtown. But it’s not grid-resilient yet. There are community health clinics, elementary schools and libraries that could be real community centers in the case of a climate disaster.

 

SALIMA: And this hyper-local model could create new jobs.

 

JESSICA: In my mind, imagine Alameda County, or whatever county you live in, and imagine all the commercial buildings, municipal buildings, housing and multifamily buildingssolarized. When you look at solar that way, that’s a large project. That’s a long-term job. This kind of vision, this kind of model, it’s the first of its kind. And it’s because of organizing.

 

SALIMA: It is visionary. And the model is in its testing phase. And there are some potential issues.  Corruption is a possibility. But advocates say that can be avoided when people get involved with their CCAs to make sure they’re democratic and transparent. The larger problem, they say, is that the utility companies aren’t exactly happy about CCAs, or community choice aggregation.

 

JESSICA: Every year dealing with the legislature, there’s always a bill and there’s always some kind of gut-and-amend and sneaky language that gets thrown in that hinders, or attempts to hinder, community choice programs.

 

SALIMA: Currently in northern and central California, Pacific Gas & Electric is trying to raise the exit fee. That’s a fee you pay if you leave their system. If they raise it enough, most people can’t afford to leave PG&Ein order to join a CCA. But the fight isn’t over. Community controlled clean energy is a growing movement all across theUS. And we’ll be keeping an eye on its progress here at Making Contact.

 

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SALIMA: You’re listening to Making Contact. To listen to any past shows, visit www.radioproject.org. Subscribe to our podcast, get our updates and support our work at radioproject.org.

 

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SALIMA:A controversy is brewing in northern California regarding the expansion of the Phillips 66 refinery, the oldest in the Bay Area. While the refinery has been in operation since the mid ’50s, new concerns have been prompted by plans to bring in even more oil and crude shipments — including tar sands, called by some the “dirtiest crude oil on the planet.”

 

Anita Johnson has our report.

 

ANITA JOHNSON: Twenty-five miles north of San Francisco, in the small town of Rodeo, California, a group of community activists gathered to protest the proposed expansion of the Phillips 66 refinery. The Houston-based oil giant wants to increase productivity of gas oil. But concern about the impact on the environment and the community’s help has prompted opposition from local residents and environmental justice advocates. Rodeo residents like Ann Punch believe that the expansion will severely hurt her community.

 

ANN PUNCH:  Everyday we live with fear of what’s going on at the refinery. We know that the refinery isn’t honest with us. We’re really trying hard to organize on the groundhere and have some voice in what’s happening in our lives.

 

ANITA: In August of this year, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District granted permission for the facility to start processing 69,000 barrels. That’s 4,000 more than the previous year. AndresSoto, an organizer with the Richmond-based group, Communities for a Better Environment, explains.

 

ANDRES SOTO: That permit is for what they call a catalytic cracker unit. This is the unit in the refinery where they heat up the crude oil, infuseit with chemicals like sulfuric acid and hydrogen to break the molecules of the crude oil that then have different weights, and they siphon off those gases to make the various products.

 

This is part of a piecemeal expansion of the general Phillips 66 Rodeo refinery operation. We are making the case that they are illegally piece-mealing by one application for the work, one application for the cracker unit; one application for the Selbyslag heap activity. When, in fact, this should all be taken into account under one larger environmental impact report and a land use permit process through Contra Costa County.

 

By expanding the fluid catalytic cracker unit by a 4,000-barrel capacity, it meansthey’re going to be able to process more crude. It’s not a significant expansion, but the fact that it’s any expansion — as opposed to reduction — means moving in the wrong direction.

 

ANITA: The Phillips 66 proposal is set to more than double ship deliveries of crude and gas per year. The potential impacts on the environment and communities near the refinery could prove catastrophic.

 

ANDRES: With these kinds of projects, specifically with Phillips 66, there are a number of predictable impacts. One is that because it is, in effect, a refinery expansion and they want to use tar sands, we know there will be more greenhouse gas emissions, which will continue to destroy the atmosphere. It also means there’ll be more fine particulate matter fall out. Just as an atomic bomb leaves fallout that people who are not necessarily directly impacted by the explosion suffer, there’s illness from particulate matter ingested through breathing. Same thing happens with refineries. The fallout from refinery expansion and the use of dirtier crude will result in more people in Rodeo, Crocket and Vallejo,and especially South Vallejo, getting sick from ingesting fallout.

 

We saw in December 2016 when there was a fuel oil leak at the Phillips wharf in Rodeo, the impact was over 100 people in South Vallejo — not Rodeo/Crockett, went to the hospital because of ingesting fumes. It closed off the Marina in Glen Cove.  And it closed off the Marina in Benicia because of the oil slick it created.

 

This is not something new. From spills at the wharf itself, from production and processing, and any fires that may occur, we can predict that the people who live closest — the fenceline communities — will be the ones most directly impacted.

 

ANITA: Isabella Zizi,with the environmental group Idle No More Bay SFBay,believes the Bay Area is sitting on its very own Standing Rock with the expansion.

 

ISABELLA ZIZI:It’s really shining a light in our own communities that battles like that are happening literally in our own backyards. Even if you don’t live in the Rodeo /Crocket area, this is still going to impact you. Because you live here. Because you depend on the air and water surrounding it. We need to make that a Standing Rock issue. We need to come together as a community to support those who feel they’re being silenced. To support those who feel like the fossil fuel industry is ruling over their own health.

 

ANITA: The struggle to curb refinery expansion in Rodeo and surrounding cities is not new. Five years ago, Phillips 66 approached the Bay Area Air Quality Management District with expansion plans. At the time, the permit was granted. However, due to community protests and mounting pressure from environmental experts, the expansion proposal was halted in 2016. The air district board even passed a resolution condemning the Keystone XL pipeline. But today, the existing narrative has Phillips 66 moving towards expansion, while indigenous activists like Cedar George Parker are looking to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels by investing in the renewable energy market.

 

CEDAR GEORGE PARKER: As of 2014, there are more renewable energy jobs than the oil industry. Per million dollars invested, you get more jobs in wind turbine and solar energy. Oil is a thing of the past. You can also see that the tech industry makes more money for investments. Before it used to be the oil industry. Right now we’re in that transition. We teach our young peoplethat this is the trend. This is where we have to go to have a safe and secure future. You can invest your money in the tech industry, into the solar panel industry. It makes more jobs. What we’re talking about — jobs.

 

ANITA: Today, the state of California is seen as a leader in reducing carbon emissions. And its governor is praised as a progressive climate advocate. How is it, some ask, that a proposal to increase fossil fuel production is not dead in the water? The answer, for some observers, is the great challenge for the future of California, the country and even the world. How to align environmental justice theory with this practice, in the real world, of politics and conflicting economic interests?

 

For Making Contact, I’m Anita Johnson, reporting in Rodeo California.


SALIMA: And speaking of environmental justice in action, up next we have a special preview of a documentary we’re working on with Barbara Bernstein about the fight to stop a natural gas facility in Tacoma, Washington.

 

 Nanette Reetz, with Redefine Tacoma:  The Puyallup tribe has done maps of the community to show the one, two and three mile blast zones from the facility. And I’m in that. My home and all my friends and family are in that blast zone

Steve Storms, retired chemical engineer, Redefine Tacoma I  sure know that if this plant is built, I will sell my house and move. I don’t want to.

BARBARA BERNSTEIN:  A 14-story storage tank is being built at the Port of Tacoma, Washington by a private utility called Puget Sound Energy. It will hold 8 million gallons of liquid natural gas, on LNG. Proponents of the LNG facility — including elected officials, some environmental groups and the Port of Tacoma — believe that LNG is a cleaner option than other fossil fuels.

Lou Paulsen, Port of Tacoma: I’m not a fan of fracking. Fracking is going on. We’re in an industry that is trying to move away from fossil fuels. There is no immediate solution. Shouldn’t we put the best available fuel and deploy that, until we come up with something better?

Clare Petrich, Port of Tacoma Commissioner: If you look at the reality of LNG, even though it’s a fossil fuel, it is a cleaner one. That’s one of the steps in the direction of moving away from fossil fuels.

BARBARA (producer of documentary in progress): Environmental activists who oppose this project point to numerous safety and climate concerns, including that much of the gas stored inside the tank would come from fracking.

Claudia Riedener, co-founder Redefine Tacoma We had been asking the city to Portland it on energy many times just exactly where the gas was coming from. We know it’s piped in via pipelines. But what we’ve learned just recently is said all the gas for this LNG refinery would come straight from BC.

Tarika Powell, Sightline Institute Researcher:   50 percent of the natural gas produced in Canada is fracked. That number is expected to go up to 80 percent within 10 years. At least half the gas we receive is fracked. Most likely more.

 SANDRA STEINGRABBER Where does the gas go after it comes out of the ground?There’s a massive amount of infrastructure involved to take that oil and gas from the point of its extraction to wherever the burner is. That takes the form of pipelines and compressor stations and hundreds of underground and aboveground gas and oil storage facilities. And here in the Northwest, LNG facilities (there are) methane leaks at every step of this process. From the moment the drill bit goes into the ground and contacts the shale, methane is pouring out of the hole. Methane is being loaded into the atmosphere. Eighty-six times more powerful than carbon dioxide at being able to trap heat in our atmosphere.

Tarika Powell, Sightline Institute Researcher When you have a proposal for a fossil fuel facility,it has to undergo what we call an environmental analysis. This produces a document called an environmental impact statement (EIS) that isthen used by many different local and state level organizations to issue permits. An EIS has to be done thoroughly and well, because every permit issued for the facility is going to be based on it. When it’s not done well, as was the case in Tacoma, permits are based on false information or misrepresentations or inaccuracies. That documentation needs to be thorough and accurate in order to protect people

Todd Hay, Data Team Lead for the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Member of the Sustainable Tacoma Commission  The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, which is responsible for issuing an air operating permit, determined that the final environmental impact statement was insufficient in terms of its greenhouse gas analysis. It didn’t include all those emissions that would happen upstream from the plant or downstream from the plant itself.

Claudia Riedener:   The Air Agency will make Puget Sound Energy account for all the fugitive emissions at the well, beginning with fracking all the way through the refining process and all of the actual burning of it.

Todd Hay: There’ll certainly be a public hearing and  public comments. They could go one of two routes. They could require some sort of mitigation for the greenhouse gases emitted. Or they could potentially shut down the plant as well, if there was really no way to mitigate it. It’s obvious that there’s probably just too much political pressure to actually shut down the plant.

CHANTING

Barbara Bernstein On October 8, the draft supplemental environmental impact statement was released. It concluded that using LNG produced by the plant would result in an overall decrease in emissions, compared with not building the plant. But climate activists and opponents of the LNG facility in Tacoma point to many flaws and bad suppositions in this document. They hope their comments at the upcoming public hearing on October 30th can have a bearing on the clean energy agency’s review of the draft statement. They’ve already been fighting fossil fuel projects at the Port of Tacoma for three years, and they see a long fight ahead.

For Making Contact, this is Barbara Bernstein.


SALIMA: And stay tuned: The documentary about the fight against the LNG facility in Tacoma will be ready within the next six months.

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