San Luis Obispo County Says No to Phillips 66 Oil Trains

SLO Clean Energy Crossroads March and Rally March 13, 2017
SLO Clean Energy Crossroads March and Rally in San Luis Obispo, CA on March 13, 2017

On March 14, 2017, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted to protect public health and safety by rejecting a Phillips 66 oil-by-rail project.

This is a big win for San Luis Obispo County residents and millions of Californians who live near the railroad tracks that crisscross the state. It shows that “We the People” can influence our elected officials. This is activism 101 in action.

Oil trains already travel around California and some to the Phillips 66 refinery in San Luis Obispo County. So what is the big deal about one oil-by-rail project?

Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery Proposed Rail Spur Extension Project

The following description is intended to give you the gist of the proposed project.

Background

In 1955, when Union Oil built the Santa Maria Refinery in Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo County, in the Central Coast region of California, they also owned most of the oil extraction rights in the area. Now, Phillips 66 owns the refinery, but other companies own all the Central Coast oil extraction rights.

The Santa Maria Refinery was designed to process the heavy crude oil that is prevalent in the region around its location. The refinery receives most of its crude oil via pipeline from extraction sites. Once the heavy crude oil is semi-refined, Phillips 66 sends it via pipeline to its refinery in Rodeo, CA, in the San Francisco Bay Area. There it is processed into finished petroleum products for sale.

Heavy crude oil extraction in the Central Coast region and other areas of California is declining while production in other parts of North America is rising.

Project Justification

Phillips 66 claims that to remain competitive in the petroleum marketplace they need to able to obtain heavy crude oil from outside of the Central Coast and California. To do this Phillips 66 states that oil trains are the most economically feasible solution for them.

Project Proposal

Currently, a Union Pacific-owned rail line crosses the Santa Maria Refinery property and there is an existing rail spur. However, in order to supply the refinery mostly by oil trains the rail spur would need to be extended and expanded and unloading facilities, pipelines, and storage tanks would need to be built. This would also require changes to refinery operations, which are currently based on receiving most crude oil via pipeline.

Phillips 66’s proposal is to bring five trains consisting of 80 tanker cars carrying heavy crude oil into the Santa Maria Refinery each week. These trains would originate outside California and travel north or south on existing rail lines through California to reach the refinery. Once the project is permitted and built, it is possible that more trains would be added to the schedule.

Oil-by-Rail Opposition

The main opposition to the oil-by-rail project has been focused on the danger to public health and safety.

Heavy crude oil is viscous and highly flammable. An oil train spill could have devastating environmental impacts on people and wildlife and an explosion could be deadly. If an accident occurred in a densely populated area, it could be horrific. Bringing five 1.5 mile-long trains carrying 2.5 million gallons of flammable heavy crude oil up and down California each week increases the risk of a catastrophe.

There is also the long-term danger to public health and safety that we face by continuing to burn oil and other fossil fuels. Why build more oil infrastructure when we need to be reducing oil use and building renewable energy facilities.

Stop Oil Trains Campaign

People from all across California came together to block this oil-by-rail project and we succeeded!

During the past three years, many people have contributed their time and energy to the Stop Oil Trains campaign. People organized events and actions, wrote letters to the editor, created flyers and yard signs, read and commented on the environmental impact report, attended and spoke at public agency meetings, posted on social media, and contacted their local, state, and national elected officials.

I played a tiny part by participating in a rally and a march through downtown San Luis Obispo on March 13, 2017, encouraging the Supervisors to turn down the oil-by-rail project. (If you look closely at the photo above in the middle, under the tree, you can just see my white 350.org baseball cap and the gray “Stop Oil Trains Now” sign I carried around San Luis Obispo).

The point is that you, too, can participate in safeguarding your community or work on issues at the regional, state, national, and even global level.

The amount of time people have available to engage in activism varies widely but almost everyone can carve out time to do something.

Do your kids like making arts and crafts projects? Spend time with your children making signs and posters for a cause you support. Is there an office supply store or printing shop near where you work? Volunteer to get flyers printed during your lunch hour. Are you a whiz at social media? Help set up a Facebook page for an upcoming event. Do you have a cell phone? During a break at work, call one of your elected officials and share your thoughts on an issue that is important to you. Is your schedule open the day of a march or rally? Show up and bring a sign or carry one made by someone else.

Pick a cause you care about and do something in service of that cause.

Inspire other people by sharing your own activism story.

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” —Edward Everett Hale

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A Nun on the Bus – Book Review

A Nun on the Bus Book CoverA Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community by Sister Simone Campbell is a book for “We the People,” meaning everyone.

After watching twelve hours of video from the 2015 Bioneers conference, a talk by Sister Simone Campbell stayed with me.

I had expected her stories to be heartbreaking and they were. I thought she would probably have a compelling message about building community to solve problems and she did. What I did not expect was that she would be funny and she was.

I wished I could have been at the conference in person so I could have met Sister Simone and talked with her. Since that did not happen, I was excited to discover that she had written A Nun on the Bus and I selected it as my book to read in honor of Women’s History Month this year.

Book Review

A Nun on the Bus is an interesting and sometimes surprising book to read.

Readers will follow Sister Simone as she recounts her life story from her Catholic upbringing in Long Beach, CA to becoming a social justice lobbyist in Washington, D.C. She tells her narrative through the lens of her faith. Along the twists and turns of the journey, readers will gain insight into several major U.S. political issues.

National Health-Care Reform

Find out how Sister Simone and other Catholic sisters influenced the national dialogue around health care reform and contributed to the U.S. Congress passing the Affordable Care Act.

The Federal Budget

Learn about how cuts to social programs in the proposed 2012 federal budget led to the “Nuns on the Bus” tour, which garnered national media attention putting the spotlight on the plight of the working poor and the people who help them.

Immigration Reform

Read about how Sister Simone and other nuns set off on the bus again, this time to bring attention to the difficulties faced by undocumented immigrants (especially children) and to share ideas for comprehensive immigration reform.

Civil Obligations

In the final pages of the book, Sister Simone calls us to action.

“Civil obligations call each of us to participate out of concern and commitment for the whole. Civil obligations call us to vote, to inform ourselves about the issues of the day, to engage in serious conversations about our nation’s future and learn to listen to various perspectives. To live our civil obligations means that everyone needs to be involved and that there needs to be room for everyone to exercise this involvement. This is the other side of civil rights. We all need our civil rights so that we can all exercise our civil obligations.”

The Bottom Line

Sister Simone Campbell is a Catholic nun, a member of the Sisters of Social Service community, a lawyer, an activist, and the executive director of NETWORK, a nonprofit Catholic social justice lobby in Washington, D.C.

She has spent her life in the service of others and has been an outspoken advocate for economically disadvantaged people across the country.

I enjoyed reading A Nun on the Bus. It is a wonderful true-life story filled with joy and pain and humor. While reading the book, I occasionally ran across references or words that I did not understand. For instance, I did not know anything about Vatican II until I googled it and I had to look up the word encyclical in my Webster’s dictionary.

Throughout A Nun on the Bus, Sister Simone emphasizes the importance of including everyone in the conversation and building community for the 100%, not just the 99%. She is about inclusion and working on problems together.

“No one is left behind. That sums it up for me.” —Sister Simone Campbell

This is a good philosophy for confronting social justice issues as well as global warming. After all, we are all living on the same planet.

I recommend A Nun on the Bus because it is a good story and we could probably learn a thing or two from Sister Simone about political action strategy.

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Safely Disposing of Expired and Leftover Medications is Easy

Medicine Cabinet with Over-the-Counter and Prescription Medicines

Is your medicine cabinet crammed with expired over-the-counter medications and leftover prescription drugs? If so, it is easy to dispose of them safely.

Recently, as part of my household decluttering and minimizing project, I cleared out and then cleaned our bathroom medicine cabinets, drawers, and cupboards. During this process, I used a cardboard box to collect expired over-the-counter medications like cough syrup and allergy pills and prescription drugs left over from my treatment for breast cancer.

Flushing these medications down the toilet or tossing them in the trash did not seem like an environmentally friendly disposal method so I searched online for a solution.

I learned about how keeping expired and unneeded medications on hand can be dangerous for people in your household and how flushing medications down the toilet can contaminate water and harm aquatic wildlife.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I could safely dispose of my unwanted medications at the pharmacy in the small town where I live, so that is what I did.

It was easy. I took my cardboard medication collection box to the pharmacy, gave it to one of the store clerks, and she dumped it in the medication disposal kiosk.

You too can keep yourself and your family (including pets) safe by periodically clearing out your medicine cabinet of expired and leftover medications and disposing of them in a safe and environmentally friendly way.

Why Should You Get Rid of Expired and Leftover Medications?

It may seem like having expired and leftover medications in your medicine cabinet in no big deal. However, it could be.

Here are some reasons for getting rid of unneeded medications.

  • Taking someone else’s medication on purpose or accidentally ingesting it can lead to overdose, poisoning, and even death (even things like cough syrup can be abused). Anyone with access to your medicine cabinet including visitors can take your medications.
  • Unintentionally taking expired medications or mixing incompatible medications can be harmful.
  • A cluttered medicine cabinet makes it more difficult to find the current and correct medications you may need.

Why not Flush Medications down the Toilet or Toss them in the Trash?

You may not realize that wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to remove pharmaceuticals flushed down the toilet or drain. These substances can pass through the water treatment process and end up in lakes, streams, oceans, aquifers, and groundwater. Traces of painkillers, antibiotics, hormones, anti-depressants, and other drugs can harm aquatic wildlife and even end up in your drinking water.

Medications tossed in the trash can present problems too. People and pets can retrieve them either on purpose or accidentally. Medications that are sent landfills can leach into the soil and cause contamination.

With a little effort, you can get rid of your unwanted medications without flushing them down the toilet or tossing them in the trash.

Medication Disposal Programs

Although, there is no national medication disposal program, there are programs all across the country. Partnerships between pharmacies, municipal waste management authorities, and law enforcement agencies make these programs possible.

Medicine Disposal Kiosk at Cambria Drug & Gift Pharmacy
Medicine Disposal Kiosk at Cambria Drug & Gift Pharmacy

This is how they work.

Programs do vary by municipality, county, or state but usually involve going to a pharmacy, police station, or other location and putting your medications in a collection kiosk or obtaining a special envelope and mailing them to a collection facility.

There may be special handling requirements for disposing of controlled substances (medications that require a paper prescription, like Vicodin).

After being collected through these various programs, unwanted medications are picked up and transported to waste facilities where they are destroyed, often by being incinerated.

National Take-Back Initiative

The DEA Diversion Control Division offers periodic take-back events where you can drop off your medications at a designated location on a specific day.

The next national event is scheduled for Saturday, April 29, 2017, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

After April 1, you can visit the National Take-Back Initiative website to search for a drop-off location near you.

I hope that you are convinced that clearing out your medicine cabinet and getting rid of expired and leftover medications is a good idea and that disposing of them in an environmentally safe manner is worth a little extra effort.

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