Local Action for a Better World
With the New Year almost upon us, now is a good time to look back at the successes and challenges of 2022. But first, here’s this month’s “new news” about CARB and rooftop solar.
CARB scoping plan: it’s final
On December 16, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) voted to adopt the 2022 Scoping Plan, meant to lay out the policies and actions that will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and get us to carbon neutrality by 2045 or earlier.
As this analysis by the Climate Center explains, despite some improvements made to the draft plan, this final version is flawed: it relies too heavily on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology.
A setback for rooftop solar
On December 14, the California Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved new rules for the way investor-owned utilities like PG&E deal with rooftop solar customers. Those who go solar after April 1 will be compensated 75 percent less for the solar energy they share with the grid.
According to the Solar Rights Alliance, “States and localities that have made similar changes saw solar adoptions drop by half or more.” California should be increasing incentives for going solar, not reducing them.
Looking back at 2022
In late February, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned, as reported in this Guardian piece, “Climate breakdown is accelerating rapidly, many of the impacts will be more severe than predicted, and there is only a narrow chance left of avoiding its worst ravages.” In October, more reports by scientists at key UN agencies issued even stronger warnings of global catastrophes to come.
Nevertheless, November’s COP 27 conference at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, failed to even mention eliminating fossil fuels as an energy source in its final decision text.
Although the crisis of climate change is planetary in scope, efforts at the international level are not adequate to address it. National, regional, and local efforts around the world are absolutely essential.
A look back at the federal level
In June, in an effort to speed the transition to renewable energy sources, President Biden issued several presidential determinations. These executive actions are accelerating production of five key energy technologies, including solar power and heat pumps.
On June 30, the US Supreme Court dealt the climate a serious blow. Their ruling in West Virginia vs EPA severely limits the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate carbon emissions from power plants.
In August, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), pledging $369 billion for clean energy and energy security over the next ten years. However, the IRA came with some big downsides: it mandates more leases for oil and gas exploration, and it centers the carbon-capture technologies favored by Big Oil. Fortunately, funding for one of its worst provisions, the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline, was later dropped, and subsequent attempts to attach funding for the pipeline to other bills failed.
An eventful year in California
This year brought a host of climate bills to Sacramento. As reported in this CalMatters article, “…Governor Gavin Newsom’s last-minute legislative plan for tackling the climate crisis was largely victorious as lawmakers approved laws to set interim targets for 100% clean energy, regulate projects to remove carbon from the atmosphere and smokestacks, and end new oil drilling near communities.”
Newsom failed to convince the Assembly to pass AB 2133, which would have accelerated the target rate of greenhouse gas reduction.
On September 16, Governor Newsom signed more than 40 climate bills into law and announced his California Climate Commitment, allocating $54 billion over the next 20 years to dramatically reduce use of fossil fuels and cut air pollution. Although the governor’s plans unwisely rely on carbon-capture technology, the Climate Commitment is a big step forward.
One disappointment was the governor’s veto of AB 2146, authored by East Bay assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan. This bill would have banned non-agricultural use of powerful neurotoxic insecticides called neonics.
Setback law in limbo
On the plus side was the governor’s support of SB 1137, which requires a 3,200-foot health and safety setback not only for new oil wells, but also for any proposed reworking of existing wells within a kilometer of homes, schools, or hospitals.
But an oil industry group calling itself Stop the Energy Shutdown filed a referendum with the CA Attorney General’s office and started collecting signatures to get the law on the ballot. Now, they claim to have well over the 630,000 signatures needed. if the Secretary of State’s office certifies enough of these signatures, the referendum will qualify for the 2024 ballot, and SB 1137 will not become law in January.
However, as this AP article details, widespread reports of signature gatherers using false information have called the petition’s validity into question. The Secretary of State’s office has received several complaints but has not yet announced an official investigation.
Scrutinizing oil profits
It’s news to no one that Californians suffered record increases in the price of gas last year. On November 30, Governor Newsom issued a proclamation convening a special session of the legislature to address this issue. When lawmakers get back to work in January, they will look at ways to deter price gouging, increase oversight of the industry, and impose penalties for exceeding a cap on profit margins.
2022 in Contra Costa County
Here in our county, the year brought real progress in efforts to keep fossil fuels in the ground. In January, the Antioch City Council passed a ban on oil and gas drilling; in April, the Brentwood City Council called a moratorium on new oil and gas development while it looks at effects of a permanent ban.
And it was a big year for building electrification. In January, the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance banning natural gas fittings in many types of new construction in unincorporated areas. This fall, Martinez and El Cerrito followed suit, raising to four the number of Contra Costa cities with bans on new natural gas fittings.
November city council elections brought victory for climate leaders in Concord, Orinda, Pinole, and Richmond.
The news about our county’s oil refineries is less good. In May, the Board of Supervisors approved plans for two local refineries—Marathon in Martinez and Phillips 66 in Rodeo—to convert their operations from refining petroleum to producing biofuels made from animal fats and vegetable oils.
The refineries claim their plans are an environmentally sound way to transition away from fossil fuels while preserving refinery jobs. But recent scientific studies show that biofuel production generates about the samegreenhouse gas emissions as refining petroleum.
Fortunately, the folks at Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) teamed up with Communities for a Better Environment to file a lawsuit challenging the biofuels projects on the basis of “incomplete and misleading environmental reviews.” This informative CBD press release lays out the major problems with biofuel production.
The year ahead
Now, at the start of 2023, the need for real climate action is more obvious—and more critical— than ever. There’s so much to do in the coming year, both in Sacramento and here in Contra Costa. Here’s the most important New Year’s resolution of all: for each of us to do what we can to bring in the healthy, just, ecologically wise future we all hope for.