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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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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5 Must-See Films about Food, Health, and the Environment

Empty Shopping Cart in Grocery Market Aisle

What you don’t know about food can harm you and others. These informative and sometimes troubling films may motivate you to change what you and your family eat.

The industrialized food industry and our own government have been quite successful in convincing us that the food we buy is safe and okay for us to eat as long as we get enough exercise.

However, the increasing rates of obesity, diabetes and other chronic health problems seem to be telling a different story. The wellbeing of the people growing, harvesting, and processing our food is largely ignored as is the harm that is being inflicted on our planet.

We can change the food system by first learning about how our food choices affect our own health, the wellbeing of others, and the condition of our environment and then taking action.

Over the past several years, I have read books and articles and watched films to educate myself about the relationship between the food industry, health, and the environment. I am recommending these five films because they provide a good overview of various food related topics.

After you watch these movies, I hope at least one thing will have sparked your interest and will inspire you to take action.

Food Chains

Imagine you are driving to work and see a group of people standing on the sidewalk holding signs that say things like “I am human too” or “I go hungry today so my children can eat tomorrow.”

This is an actual scene in the movie Food Chains showing a group of tomato pickers and their supporters on a 6-day hunger strike outside a Publix corporate building. They were asking the giant grocery market chain to pay one penny more per pound of tomatoes.

The film tells the story of how the pickers formed the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and founded the Fair Food Program to improve working conditions and wages for farm laborers. Their story is heartbreaking, yet hopeful demonstrating what a small group of people on a mission can accomplish.

Watch Food Chains because the people who harvest our food deserve a dignified life with adequate pay.

Food Choices

Food Choices chronicles filmmaker Michal Siewierski’s three-year journey across the country exploring how our food choices affect not only our own health but also the health of the planet and other living species. His focus is on eating a plant-based diet, however; the film addresses a wide range of topics from eating carbohydrates to organic food.

Watch Food Choices because, in addition to explaining the health and environmental benefits of eating a plant-based diet, it covers other food topics in short easy-to-understand segments.

Food, Inc.

The United States produces more food and sells is at a cheaper price than any other country in the world. But, at what cost to the environment, the animals we raise and kill for food, and the people who grow, harvest, and process our food? Is our highly mechanized and seemingly efficient agricultural industry actually producing healthy and nutritious food? Who controls this vast food system?

To answer these questions and more, Food, Inc. goes behind the scenes and exposes the hidden world of industrialized agriculture that big Ag does not want you to see.

Watch Food, Inc. because it is an eye-opening disturbing film and sometimes that is what we need to propel us to take action.

Sugar Coated

Sugar Coated explores the question, “Is sugar the new tobacco?” meaning a toxic product marketed to us as safe by a powerful industry.

Dr. Cristin Kearns is a dentist who became concerned about how the ever-increasing amount of sugar used in processed foods was affecting her patients’ health. While researching sugar, Dr. Kearns stumbled across the records of a now defunct sugar company documenting how the sugar industry orchestrated a nationwide public relations program during the 1960s and 1970s to assure legislators and the public that sugar was safe and did not cause any health problems.

Watch Sugar Coated for two reasons. First, because we should be concerned about how much sugar we eat and feed our families. Second, it behooves us to remember that sometimes the government does not fulfill its responsibility to protect the wellbeing of its citizens unless we demand it.

Super Size Me

Super Size Me is a film about how the fast food industry influences our eating habits and therefore our health.

After hearing about two teenagers who had attempted to sue McDonald’s for causing their obesity, Morgan Spurlock was inspired to investigate how eating fast food affects physical and psychological wellbeing. Using himself as a guinea pig, he ate only food from McDonald’s for one month and accepted the suggestion to “super size” whenever it was offered. The results were shocking!

Watch Super Size Me because it gives you an opportunity to look at what fast food really is when you are not hungry and waiting in line at the drive-through window.

Please share your thoughts on these films with other readers and let us know if you have any recommendations for other food related films we should watch.

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Books and Films

  • Appetite for Profit (book)
  • Fast Food Nation (book)
  • Fed Up (film)
  • Food Politics (book)
  • Hungry for Change (film)
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma (book)