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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Resources

Deep Ecology Collaboratory – Join the Movement

Ecologistics Deep Ecology Collaboratory Topic Leaders on October 23, 2016 - Photo Ecologistics From left to right: Derrick Jensen, Joe Bish, Dave Foreman, Eileen Crist, Stephanie Mills, Bill Ryerson
Ecologistics Deep Ecology Collaboratory Topic Leaders on October 23, 2016 – Photo Catie Michel
From left to right: Derrick Jensen, Joe Bish, Dave Foreman, Eileen Crist, Stephanie Mills, Bill Ryerson

If you are concerned about the future of life on Earth, consider joining the deep ecology movement which embraces all living things, not just people.

Participants at the Ecologistics Deep Ecology Collaboratory held in San Luis Obispo, CA October 21-23, 2016, had the opportunity to meet and work with local and national environmental leaders in a small group setting while addressing environmental issues through the lens of deep ecology.

A fusion of “collaboration” and “laboratory”, a collaboratory is an open creative process where a group of people works together to generate solutions to complex problems.

So, what is Deep Ecology?

Deep Ecology Overview

During the 1970’s, Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer Arne Naess introduced the phrases “shallow ecology” and “deep ecology” to the environmental movement.

He described shallow ecology as short-term thinking and taking shallow actions to address environmental issues without fundamentally changing our values or the way we live. This includes actions like recycling, driving electric vehicles, and buying energy efficient consumer products. While these approaches do some good, they allow us to continue with our human-centric, fossil fuel dependent, consumer-oriented lifestyles with little inconvenience to ourselves and not much thought to all the other life forms on Earth.

Deep ecology recognizes the inherent value of all living things. It involves deep questioning and acknowledging that tweaking our “business as usual” approach is not working. Global climate change, the collapse of biodiversity, the extinction crisis, environmental degradation, and overpopulation are enormous problems. Deep ecology requires us to change our basic values and practices; to use a long-range deep approach to addressing environmental issues and preserving the diversity and beauty of the Earth we all rely on for life.

Deep Ecology Collaboratory

Throughout the Deep Ecology Collaboratory topic leaders and attendees grappled with topics such as the biodiversity crisis, overpopulation, globalization, psychological barriers to addressing climate change, and grassroots activism.

In between presentations and brainstorming sessions, collaborators dined on delicious omnivore, vegetarian, and vegan food prepared by Linnaea’s Café enjoyed listening to music at an outdoor concert and breathed in the brisk fall air on a Sunday morning nature hike.

During the Collaboratory brainstorming sessions, participants began working on the Deep Ecology Manifesto for Preserving Our Planetary Commons, an action plan for addressing Earth’s climate change and biodiversity crisis on political, social, and scientific levels.

Ecologistics is forming a Loomio group for people who participated in the Collaboratory and people who did not attend but want to join the group to work on creating the Manifesto and to collaborate on other actions. Loomio is an online conversation, collaboration, and decision-making tool.

Pay-What-You-Can Registration

The environmental movement needs everyone’s voice, not just those who can afford conference and event registration fees.

To make the Collaboratory accessible to anyone who had the desire and time to participate, Ecologistics offered pay-what-you-can registration allowing each person to determine what she or he could afford.

This philosophy likely contributed to bringing together a diverse group of attendees including educators, business professionals, retirees, nonprofit representatives, students, environmentalists, and activists.

Topic Leaders

The Collaboratory gave participants a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet and collaborate with environmental leaders and experts.

  • Kelly Sorenson – Executive Director of Ventana Wildlife Society
  • Dave Foreman – activist, author, and co-founder of Earth First! and Director of The Rewilding Institute
  • Robert Gifford – professor at University of Victoria, BC, Canada, environmental psychology
  • Bill Ryerson – founder and President of Population Media Center
  • Joe Bish – Director of Issue Advocacy at Population Media Center
  • Eileen Crist – educator and editor of Gaia in Turmoil: Climate Change
  • Stephanie Mills – lecturer, activist, and author of Whatever Happened to Ecology?
  • Matt Ritter – author, editor, and professor of botany at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA
  • Derrick Jensen – radical activist and author of Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet

Surprise guest, Roberto Monge, gave a firsthand account of his experiences at the Dakota Access Pipeline protest taking place on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota.

Songwriting Contest and Concert

Music and art are essential mediums for connecting people and ideas while spreading beauty and joy. To this end, Ecologistics hosted a songwriting contest and concert as part of the Collaboratory.

Songwriters of all ages across California responded to the call for an original song about the impacts of climate change, habitat loss, extinction, or overpopulation on our planet, animals, and ecosystems and on humans. Ecologistics received 37 song submittals. Ranchers for Peace and the three contest winners performed at an outdoor concert on Saturday evening.

If you would like to learn more about the Deep Ecology Collaboratory topic leaders, listen to the songwriting contest songs, or join the Loomio group, please visit the Ecologistics website.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” —John Muir

Note to readers. At the time of this writing, I am a member of the Ecologistics Board of Directors.

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Breast Cancer Awareness Month – Our Environment

Farm Worker Spraying Pesticide on Lettuce and Cabbage Crops

Imagine preventing the people we love and ourselves from getting breast cancer by ensuring our environment is clean and healthy. Expand that vision to all cancers.

This October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I propose we look beyond the pink ribbons and feel good activities. Let us talk about the pink elephant in the room, the possible link between our environment and cancer.

Breast Cancer Risk

Throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there is a deluge of articles and blog posts written to help you evaluate your breast cancer risk mostly by reviewing your genetics, family cancer history, and lifestyle choices (often referred to as environmental factors). Competing for space are advertisements for pink merchandise and reports on efforts to find a cure for cancer.

I am not against learning about breast cancer and ways to reduce risk, or pink ribbons (I am wearing one as I write this), or research to help people with cancer live happy and fulfilling lives. What bothers me is the emphasis on preventing cancer through personal choices.

“A person’s cancer risk can be reduced with healthy choices like avoiding tobacco, limiting alcohol use, protecting your skin from the sun and avoiding indoor tanning, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, keeping a healthy weight, and being physically active.” —Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This is good advice—for everyone.

Breast Cancer and the Environment

The thing is, while you are busy living your healthy lifestyle (which I am definitely for) you may be missing a crucial piece of the cancer causation puzzle—the environment. You, me, everyone is part of the environment and we depend on it for oxygen, water, food; a place to live, work, and play; for beauty and spirituality.

How does breathing polluted air, drinking contaminated water, eating food doused in pesticides; living, working, and playing in spaces made with and filled with toxic materials and being exposed to carcinogens just by walking around contribute to you or your loved ones getting cancer?

It is a complex issue requiring a lot more research. However, lack of research does not necessarily mean there is no problem.

  • Has anyone ever proven that spraying poison on food in the form of pesticides and herbicides is good for people’s health?
  • Has there been a scientific study showing that emissions from coal-burning power plants improve the condition of people’s lungs?
  • Is there peer-reviewed research demonstrating that the unpronounceable ingredients in cosmetics are safe and improve life expectancy?

It seems to me that a clean and healthy environment on planet Earth is crucial for each one of us to be healthy, happy, and cancer free.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month – Call to Action

Okay, so now perhaps you are willing to consider that our environment may be contributing to the possibility of you and / or your loved ones getting cancer. So what can you do about it?

Take action.

First, eat your fruits and vegetables, be physically active, and get enough sleep. There is no downside to living a healthy lifestyle!

Become Informed

Read the ingredients on your favorite snack package or preferred shampoo brand bottle. Then go look up the ingredients on the Internet. Do you still want to eat that or wash your hair with it? Do this repeatedly. Involve your kids and everyone can learn something.

Make your Voice Heard

Write a letter or e-mail to your congressperson, the mayor of your town, or the President of the United States letting him or her know you are concerned about cancer and how our environment might be contributing to it. Government agencies track issues of concern to their constituencies and data can be a powerful tool.

Hit the Streets

Join a group of people in your community who are working on something important to you. Do you worry about pesticide residue on the lettuce you buy at the grocery market? Are you losing sleep over the expansion of a natural gas fracking operation near your home or your child’s school? Are you concerned about pollution in a favorite stream or lake? Locate a group via your friends, family, coworkers, web browser or social media.

For my action, I am doing some research.

In his, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, 2016 Presidential Proclamation, President Obama announced the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force, which is striving to make a decade’s worth of progress in preventing, diagnosing, and treating cancer in just 5 years. I want to find out if and how the environment is being included in this national cancer research project.

What are you doing? Share your Breast Cancer Awareness Month action with other readers.

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