Stopping the Tar-Sands Invasion
East Bay groups are attempting to prevent the region from playing a major role in a climate disaster.
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File Photo By Ariel Nava
Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan is a vocal proponent of refinery emissions caps.
The coalition that supports the caps also has shown signs of fraying. At the Feb. 1 air district meeting, United Steelworkers Local 5 California field representative Ron Espinoza announced that the union’s position had “evolved.”
“For now, we urge the board to pump the breaks on [Rule] 12-16 until the concerns of [air district executive staff] have been addressed,” he said.
Ultimately, the 24 county supervisors and city council members who comprise the Bay Area Air Quality Management District board of directors will decide the caps’ fate at their May meeting. The board represents nine counties, ranging from Santa Clara County in the south to Napa and Sonoma counties in the north.
Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, one of the air district board’s most vocal emissions-caps advocates, said the proposal gives local elected officials a rare opportunity to make a significant contribution to counteracting the climate crisis, while also fulfilling the district’s mandate to protect local air quality. “The emissions caps are a prime example of how a Bay Area regional government body can advance a progressive agenda amid the Trump administration’s efforts to take us backward,” said Kaplan, who also helped lead the Oakland City Council’s opposition to a proposed Oakland coal terminal. Kaplan has served as Alameda County’s municipal representative on the air district board since April 2016 and is the first city of Oakland representative on the board since the early ’90s.
One of the air district board’s most influential directors is Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, a fourth-term Democrat who represents the county’s westernmost urban region, including Richmond. He also serves as the Bay Area representative on the California Air Resources Board. He has taken a wait-and-see approach on Rule 12-16. “The main point is that we need to keep the pressure on to keep reducing criteria pollutants, toxic pollutants, and greenhouse gases,” he said in an interview last year. “Whatever the board ends up adopting will be the most far-reaching regulation at a local air district of greenhouse gas emissions, and I think that’s important to acknowledge.”
Contra Costa County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff has expressed skepticism concerning the caps’ effectiveness. “I’m a process-oriented person, and I’m waiting to see the final environmental impact report before I make up my mind,” she said. “But so far, I haven’t been convinced that capping emissions in this one industry alone would be beneficial to the health of people in the Bay Area.”
In the meantime, advocates of the caps have been lining up political support for them, having secured backing from a dozen Bay Area city councils—including those in Richmond, San Pablo, Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville, and Hayward. They’re calling for a big turnout at the May 17 air district board meeting, as well as persistent advocacy leading up to it.
Karras said he’s confident that air district board members will adopt the caps—but only “if the word gets out” about the issue they are voting on.
This report appears in the April edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.
Published online on April 10, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.