September 23, 2020

By Ramona du Houx

Fifteen nations including Norway, France and the UK, already have adopted bans on new internal combustion engine cars, with various targets from 2025 to 2040. California is the first American state to join them.

While deadly fires were still raging in California, Governor Gavin Newsom announced the state’s new electric vehicles (EV) sales goal as part of an executive order to curb climate change. Hence, every new passenger car and truck sold in the state has to be electric by 2035. Still, the order does not prevent Californians from owning gas-powered cars, selling used cars with internal-combustion engines or buying them outside the state.

A 15-year timeline isn’t groundbreaking. The Union of Concerned Scientists calculated that under Newsom’s plan, gas-fueled vehicles could still make up almost half the cars on the road in 2035.

While California accounts for about half of the EVs on American roads, they are still fewer than two percent of the nearly 30 million cars and light trucks in California. Despite state and federal subsidies, they represent a fraction of the state’s current goal of having 1.5 million in use by 2025.

However, California can drive nationwide changes as it still is the fifth largest economy in the world. Fourteen states follow California’s clean-car rules, eleven of which also follow the state’s zero emission vehicles program. Combined, they make up nearly a third of the market for new car sales.

But over 300 elected officials and numerous environmental groups weren’t that enthusiastic about Newsom announcement as the state remains a top oil producer.

“We applaud Governor Newson for his leadership on electric vehicles. It is a needed step to move us into a prosperous clean energy economy. However, allowing permits to extract the dirtiest oil in the U.S. is fueling the fires of climate change,” said Elected Officials to Protect California President, former Marine veteran and State Legislator Alex Cornell du Houx. “We cannot protect our health, and prosperity without phasing out fossil fuel extraction. Let’s lead the world and sign executive actions that remove this blight on our health and California’s leadership.” 

The Center for Biological Diversity made it clear that the directives on fracking were rhetoric rather than real action.

“Newsom can’t claim climate leadership while handing out permits to oil companies to drill and frack. He has the power to protect Californians from oil industry pollution, and he needs to use it, not pass the buck,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.

The EOPCA group expressed that they understand the governor’s market effort to lessen the demand for gas at the pumps, thereby diminishing production but say it not a responsible plan to phase out oil and gas drilling or stop the state from refining oil from outside sources.

“It’s a tactic that is not comprehensive enough,” added Cornell du Houx

California remains one of America’s largest crude oil producers, which is  the dirtiest oil in the United States. A NRDC analysis of oil and gas development in California shows that approximately 5.4 million people of the state’s population live within a mile of one of more than 84,000 existing oil and gas wells — many suffer from lifelong illnesses like asthma and cancer because of their proximity.

Dirty tar sand crude oil is shipped into the state from Canada to refineries. On its journey there have been notable spills, and the refinery process has proven deadly to communities that live near the refineries.

For these communities, oil and gas wells and fracking operations phasing out gasoline cars won’t do much to improve their lives. Every day, they suffer from dirty air pollution while living under the threat of a probable spill. These refineries are largely located in communities of color furthering systemic racism and environmental injustice.

California is the nation’s top third refinery.

In 2017, about 38 percent of California’s oil is produced in state, 12 percent comes from Alaska and 50 percent comes from Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, Iraq, Mexico and other countries.

Tar sands are different. Refineries that accept tar sands crude oil from Canada pollute to a higher degree. Refining tar sands poses serious health threats. These include increased levels of highly toxic fugitive emissions; heavy emissions of particulate, metals, and benzene; higher risk of refinery accidents; and the accumulation of petroleum coke (a coal-like, dusty byproduct of heavy oil refining linked to severe respiratory impacts).

The Chevron oil refinery in Richmond is located just 15 miles from San Francisco. On the evening of August 6, 2012, a fire broke out in one of the facility’s towers and spread to at least three units used to cool water, tens of thousands suffered respiratory illnesses. Chevron paid out $2 million in damages.

The Bay Area is home to five major oil refineries located in the cities of Richmond, Rodeo, Benicia and Martinez. These refineries produce about 800,000 barrels a day of gasoline from crude oil and represent about a quarter of California’s total refining capacity.

According to the National Resource Defense Council, California’s 17 operating oil refineries currently process 1.9 million barrels of tar sands crude oil per day. Many California refineries have the capacity to process much larger volumes of heavy tar sands crude. Based on analysis by the Borealis Centre, the amount of tar sands refined in California could grow by 650,000 bpd by 2040. If this occurs, communities like Richmond, Martinez, Rodeo, Benecia, Wilmington, and Long Beach will be forced to confront the harmful effects of increased tar sands refining.

These refineries also produce jet fuel, diesel, lube oil, wax and other chemicals. They receive oil delivered in three ways: by tanker through marine terminals, from pipelines originating in the Central Valley and by rail from tar sand mines in Canada. There have been leaks, and the constant threat of a rail accident is palpable.

In the coming years it is anticipated that Canada will send tankers and barges loaded with this tar sands crude to San Francisco Bay or the Los Angeles area.

2014 Natural Resources Defense Council study found that crude-by-rail imports to California increased more than 100 times between 2009 and 2013. It also identified that 152,000 people and more than 90 schools in the Bay Area would be at risk from proposed rail projects as they are located within one mile of crude-by-rail routes.

EOPCA believe it is imperative for the safety of state and nation to phase out all fossil fuel production in the state immediately with firm deadlines. They say just needs the “political will.” They’ve already called on him to take immediate action.

“Even though the governor has publicly stated, ‘we’re in a climate emergency.’ He has not answered our call to declare a state of emergency for the climate crisis which would give him broader powers to take immediate action,” said Meghan Sahli-Wells former Culver City Mayor, and current Council Member, Elected Officials to Protect California Co-Chair. “The people that over 315 of us represent, are the same people Governor Newsom represents. They need him to act now — before the flames of climate change can’t be contained. This fire season, and the pandemic are clear results of humans disrupting the environment — it’s time our governor took real action. When is he going to see he’s fueling the fires that have caused this climate emergency? I’m proud to serve as Co-Chair of Elected Officials to Protect California, we’re standing up for our communities, for all Californians. With one stroke of the pen, issuing a state of emergency for the climate crisis, the governor could begin to phase out all fossil fuel production — to match the urgency of the climate crisis we are living in.”

The Elected officials to Protect California are waiting to hear if Gov. Newsom will meet with him about the issues, they want addressed outlined in their letter.