By Roy L Hales
On June 1, 2016, the Governors of Washington, Oregon and California joined British Columbia’s Environment Minister and representatives from six West Coast cities, in the Borgia Room of San Francisco’s Westin St. Francis Hotel, to sign what history may show was a key milestone in the struggle to mount a concerted defence against the ravages of global temperature rise. The 2016 Pacific Coast Climate Leadership Action Plan has a strong emphasis on issues like ocean acidification; the integration of clean energy into the power grid; “support for efforts by the insurance industry and regulatory system to highlight the economic costs of climate change; and so-called “super pollutants” (also known as short-lived climate pollutants).” This sounds good, but do the Pacific Coast’s “Climate Leaders” mean business?
Do The Pacific Coast’s Climate Leaders Mean Business?
For state/province leaders, this new plan builds upon previous commitments such as the 2008 Pacific Coast Collaborative Agreement, in which these three states and the province of British Columbia first joined together, the 2013 Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy and the Under2MOU.
California Governor Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown, Jr. refers to their organization as part of “a worldwide movement of states and provinces that have committed themselves to combating climate change.”
The mayors of Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, Oakland, and Vancouver are all part of what Portland Mayor Charles Hales calls the West Coast’s Green Wall. They are also members of the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance.
The cities and states/province’s joint press release describes the key provisions of the agreement:
- implementing energy data reporting and benchmarking for at least 75 percent of eligible large building square footage;
- expanding consumer, municipal, utility, and private sector adoption of zero-emission vehicles and development of a Pacific Coast electric vehicle charging network from Southern California to British Columbia;
- accelerating the deployment of distributed, community-scale renewable energy, integrated into the grid, including lowering the carbon intensity of heating fuels in commercial and residential buildings; and
- reducing carbon emissions from the food waste stream by preventing and recovering organic waste and promoting composting.
“This is a great step, for our elected leaders on the West Coast, to recognize the importance of the role this part of the world plays in developing our Green energy economy. What I don’t see, on the part of these (state) leaders is a strong statement to address fossil fuels locally: proposed coal port terminals; LNG terminals; oil export terminals. These are projects that are proposed in many of the homes states and that is not something these leaders have taken a position on,” said Jasmine Zimmer-Stuckey, Senior Organizer with Columbia Riverkeeper. 
Much of what she said also applies to BC, which has made LNG development a central platform of their administration.
Another criticism, raised against all the Governors and Premier Pacific Coast Collaborative , is that they have not protected the old growth forests from clearcutting. (This will be discussed further in the sections dealing with British Columbia and Oregon.)
The West Coast’s Green Wall
These criticisms do not seem as applicable to the six mayors.
At a time when most of North America’s greenhouse gas emissions are higher than the 1990 benchmark set by the Kyoto Accord, Portland’s are 21% beneath it. This month Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability should bring forward code language that will make it possible to ban any new major fossil fuel infrastructure projects within city limits. My source could not comment on an associated resolution, seeking to ban oil-by-rail traffic, because that originates with a different office.
According to Chief Sustainability Officer Matt Petersen, “As of 2013 Los Angeles reduced its’ emissions by 20% below 1990 levels.” This is largely because, prior to becoming its’ own utility, 50% of the city’s power came from coal. They have currently reduced the coal-fired input to about 25% and hope to totally eradicate it by 2025. Los Angeles adopted a target of recouping 15% of the electricity that would have been used through energy efficiency measures and plans to install 900 to 1500 Megawatts of solar capacity.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who hosted the meeting where this agreement was signed, issued a press statement, “San Francisco is pleased to host the 7th Annual Clean Energy Ministerial, and showcase our City’s commitment to providing real solutions to climate change and pushing a climate action agenda that helps San Francisco reach our ambitious goals for a more sustainable future. These actions cannot wait; San Francisco and cities worldwide must continue to lead by taking bold actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately.”
A spokesperson explained why this association of mayors and Governors is so important to the city of Vancouver, B.C.:
“Vancouver is looking forward to leveraging the Pacific Coast Collaboration to build on our existing relationships with West Coast cities and the Province of British Columbia and to also begin new relationships with the states of Washington, Oregon and California. While cities can accomplish many sustainability goals independently there are some important outcomes that can only be reached with the right partners. For example, electric and hydrogen charging stations are much more effective at supporting the uptake of alternative fueled vehicles if there is a comprehensive network of filling stations over long distances. We’ve committed to working together to ensure this happens from BC to California.
“We’ve already started sharing information about district energy and greener buildings codes and while cities can be a great testing ground for these changes it really requires adoption at a state and provincial level to be effective both from a climate change point of view but also from an economic point of view to ensure economies of scale.
“While Vancouver and BC have accomplished some important actions to mitigate climate change we’re looking to our partners to the south for their leadership and we hope emulate them in many areas. For example Portland is a leader in N. America on building deconstruction and recycling and Vancouver is hoping to learn from them. For many years California has had a Zero Emission Vehicle requirement for automobile sales and BC has committed to a similar requirement. San Francisco recently converted all of their transit bus fleet to renewable diesel and we’re meeting with them to learn what it’ll take to do this in Vancouver. Even on a community level Cascadia residents have shown amazing resolve in their to fight to stop the expansion of coal exports that are a last gasp of a dying industry that has caused much of our climate change and air pollution.
“One of the principal benefits of this collaboration is the message it sends to green businesses. This collaboration represents the world’s 5th largest economy at USD $2.8 trillion and we’re saying we’re open for business for green building designers and builders, we’re telling automotive manufacturers that if they want to sell electric vehicles, we’re ready and we’re supportive of businesses who focus on people and the environment as well as the bottom line. Sustainability and economic growth are not at odds with each other; Vancouver has increase its jobs by 28% since 1990 and has reduced our ghg emissions by 7% over that same time. In fact we believe you won’t have economic growth in the future unless you do it a way that is sustainable and responsive to climate change.”
Washington’s “Green” Governor
Washington’s Jay Inslee, has the reputation of being a “Green” Governor. In April 2014, he signed the Executive Order which brought Washington’s Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce into being. When the legislature did not move forward, he directed the Dept. of Ecology to develop a regulatory cap on carbon emissions.
“This is not the comprehensive approach we could have had with legislative action, But Senate Republicans and the oil industry have made it clear that they will not accede to any meaningful action on carbon pollution so I will use my authority under the state Clean Air Act to take these meaningful first steps,” he said in a press release.
Inslee did this because, “Carbon pollution and the climate change it causes pose a very real and existential threat to our state. Farmers in the Yakima Valley know this. Shellfish growers on the coast know this. Firefighters battling Eastern Washington blazes know this. And children suffering from asthma know this all too well and are right to question why Washington hasn’t acted to protect them.”
Through House bill 1449, extended the existing barrel tax already being charged on oil transported by water to railroads. The money raised through this is being used to help pay for oil spill response. This bill also requires railroads to provide weekly notice to first responders of the type and volume of oil shipped, so they will be better prepared in the advent of a spill.
The largest proposed oil terminal in North America, Tesoro Savage, and the largest proposed coal terminals, Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview, are both in Washington state.
“We are still working hard to ensure that these fossil fuel plants to not get hold of our local economy and it is a huge struggle,” said Jasmine Zimmer-Stuckey, from Columbia Riverkeeper.
“Governor Inslee will make the final decision on the Tesoro Savage proposal for Vancouver (WA) and we are hoping he is watching the process very closely on this and sees the opposition is from a coalition of unions, environmental groups, faith leaders, doctors and over 100 small businesses. His work with the Pacific Coast Collaborative will not erase a bad decision, if allows Vancouver to become home to the largest oil terminal in North America.”
“Similarly, we hope he directs the Department of Ecology to take a very close look at Millennium Terminals. This project is the equivalent of five coal-fired plants, at a time when Washington and Oregon are shutting down our only coal fired power plant. It doesn’t meet Washington’s standards to build the largest coal port in North America.”
As a result of some very forward thinking legislation passed in 2007, Oregon has reduced its’ emissions 30%. Three months ago, Governor Kate Brown signed a new bill that will totally phase of coal-fired power by 2035 and require the state to obtain 50% of its’ electricity from renewable sources by 2040. Yet, according to Nick Cady from Cascade Wildlands,
“Despite many good stuffs that have been made on the climate front, as far as natural resource extraction is concerned our state is archaic and way behind.”
“Oregon has some of the worst timber laws in the country. Not only is this industry not fairly taxed, there are no regulations protecting rivers or clean water. Timber companies have the legal right to clear-cut up to neighbourhood boundaries and to aerially spray pesticides. They can trap out bears and cougars and anything that might damage planted tree saplings,” he said.
“One of the things they are overlooking is that these forests are the greatest carbon sinks in the country. They have a great potential to factor into a world scheme for carbon storage. This is being completely ignored in order to facilitate short term profits for timber companies, who (appear to) own our state legislators and successfully fought any reforms for the past 30 years.”
Though the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) denied the highly controversial Jordan Cove LNG Project a permit, stating there was no evidence of need, Governor Brown will soon make the final decision. The properties belonging to approximately 650 Oregon residents would need to be expropriated so that a 232-mile-long pipeline could be built to transport Canadian natural gas.
“This huge fossil fuel infrastructure will produce nothing for the state of Oregon. It’s just being built here, emitting greenhouse gases here (estimated 2,166,000 tons of CO2e annually2), but the facility will ship Canadian gas to China,” said Francis Eatherington, of Cascade Wildlands.
“Ninety percent of landowners rejected Jordan Cove’s offers of a easement purchase, including for land I’m part-owner of.”
California Has Two Faces
California has two faces. Most of the World knows this state for Climate legislation like SB 350, which calls for 50% of its’ electricity to be obtained from renewable sources by 2030. AB 32, that calls on California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. California leads the nations in the adaption of solar, with 13,243 MW of installed capacity. More than a third of America’s plug-in electric vehicles are in California, where Governor Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr set a goal of having 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the roads by 2025. However some Californian activists call their Governor names like “Big Oil Brown.”
It is no secret that the oil industry is the largest lobby group in California. A report from the American Lung Association in California, they spent $22 million last year. Roughly half of that came from the Western States Petroleum Association.
According to the Oil Change International, oil companies like Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, Southern California Edison, Valero Energy, Tesoro Corp, Plains Exploration & Production, Venoco, Conoco Phillips, and Aera Energy (owned jointly by Shell and ExxonMobil) contributed more than $2 million to Brown’s campaign chest between 2006 and 2014.
The big question is what did the oil companies get for that money? Were they simply ensuring that the “right” politicians were elected? Or was more involved?
As Dan Bacher wrote, after California’s proposed moratorium on fracking was defeated in the senate:
“State Senators voting ‘NO’ on the fracking moratorium bill on Thursday, May 29 (2014) received 14 times as much money from the oil and gas industry, on average ($25,227), as senators voting ‘YES’ ($1,772) from January 1, 2009 to December 21, 2012, according to MapLight, a non profit organization revealing money’s influence on politics.”
How can politicians who need huge sums of money to run their campaigns not feel a sense of gratitude/obligation to the companies and organizations that made their election possible?
Meanwhile, Southern California marine waters were fracked more than 200 times prior to 2013. Much of that fracking took place in special “marine protected areas” set up by the special Blue Ribbon Task Force chaired by Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association.
On May 27, 2016, the US Government decided that this has “no significant impact” and oil companies may soon be allowed to resume operations in the Santa Barbara Channel.
Though this process involves huge amounts of water and 50 – 60% of the new oil wells are in Kern county – one of the most drought afflicted areas of California.
This is not the only demand upon the water resources of the San Joaquin Valley, where Kern, Fresno, Stanislaus, Merced and Madera are located. While Governor Brown was calling upon the people California to curtail their water usage, the states almond growers were allowed to bring another 60,000 acres under cultivation.
“Does it make sense to be planting thousands of acres of almond trees, in a portion of the Central Valley that is practically a desert, when we know we are a state that has these cycles of drought? This should be a zone where you plant annual crops. Then in drought years you either let the land go fallow or plant less water-reliant crops. You don’t have that choice when you are talking about a permanent crop of trees,” said Earthjustice attorney Trent Orr.
Though California’s agricultural sector only accounts for 1.5% to 2% of the state’s economy, it consumes 80% of the state’s water.
“Which view of Jerry Brown’s environmental record is more accurate? Should he be praised as an environmental visionary who’s been largely successful in translating that vision into state policy? Or is his environmental legacy mixed at best, with criticism warranted for a number of the Governor’s policies?” asks Dr. Richard Frank, from UC Davis.
“I’m here to praise Governor Brown’s environmental record, and believe that Jerry Brown 2.0 (i.e., in his third and fourth gubernatorial terms, 2011-present) will go down in history as California’s “greenest” chief executive. He’s fully deserving of the considerable praise he’s received on the drought response and climate change fronts, along with such other cutting-edge policies as energy efficiency standards, renewable energy siting and transportation (including High Speed Rail).”
“For his unprecedented war on fish, water and the environment as he poses as a ‘Green Governor’ promoting ‘green energy’ and addressing ‘climate change,’ Brown receives the ‘Cold, Dead Fish Award‘ for the fourth year in a row,” counters Dan Bacher.
I am inclined to think they are both right.
British Columbia Likes To Portray Itself As A Climate Leader
British Columbia likes to portray itself as a climate leader, but the province’s most recognized accomplishment is the carbon tax that was passed in 2008.
“Since taking over the premier’s office in 2011, (Christy) Clark’s lack of action on the climate file has taken the province in the wrong direction. In 2013, Clark froze B.C.’s internationally lauded carbon tax for five years. She continues to champion the development of a liquefied natural gas industry in the province that will make meeting these targets more difficult if not impossible,” wrote Stephen Hui of the Pembina Institute.
Peter McCartney, of the Wilderness Committee, finds it ironic that British Columbia is one of the signatories of the Pacific Coast Collaborative.
“The Governors should be challenging her on the fact she wants to build a fossil fuel industry at the same time that she is talking about reducing our emissions. We’ve seen that B.C. is going to completely blow its’ 2020 emissions target and has no plan to make it’s new ones for 2030. They won’t even implement the bare minimum that their own Climate Leadership Team recommended,” he said. 
A spokesperson for the province’s Ministry of the Environment emailed, “The (province’s) Climate Leadership Team’s report showed we can have an LNG industry while achieving our GHG reduction goals.”
To which Matt Horne, a member of the Climate Leadership Team, replied, “The main issue I have with the comments is that the BC government has not acted on the Climate Leadership Team’s recommendations. The modelling underpinning our work did include some LNG development proceeding and it showed that it was possible to get back on track for the province’s climate targets if they implemented the full package of recommendations we provided. To date, they haven’t moved on any of those recommendations and as a result carbon pollution is rising and projected to continue rising based on the current policies in place.”
More than 90 climate change experts have written the Prime Minister of Canada to protest the proposed LNG terminal on Lelu Island.
“The environmental assessment that would form the basis for a decision concerning this LNG project is incomplete and superficial. For this reason alone the proposal should be rejected outright,” wrote Dr. Danny Harvey, a lead author with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In addition to LNG, British Columbia is also enlarging its’ coal terminal capacity so that it can receive the coal that Washington and Oregon are refusing. Neptune Terminals, in North Vancouver, has been expanded and a coal port facility was approved for Fraser Surrey Docks.
The ECOreport asked B.C.’s Ministry of the Environment about the emissions created by when the coal is transported through British Columbia’s most populated area (by rail) and then loading it on to ships that will take it to Asia.
A Ministry spokesperson replied, “B.C. is following the international reporting protocols set out by the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). Fuel-related emissions are attributed to the jurisdiction in which combustion takes place (i.e., where the power plant is). These protocols do not allow for inclusion of emissions associated with fuel combusted in the country to which it is exported in the exporting jurisdiction’s inventory.”
If Sierra Club BC’s calculations are correct, the provincial government is attributing over 40 million tons of GHG emissions to the Asian “jurisdictions” that receive our coal and gas exports. However actual coal dust and emissions will stay in the province.
“Thankfully coal prices are in such rough shape that I doubt any of these projects will move forward,” said McCartney.
Another Wilderness Committee campaigner, Torrance Coste, said, “The real elephant in the room, when it comes to ‘Climate Leadership,’ is clearcutting thousand year old trees on Vancouver Island. The B.C. Government just denies there is any crises with Old Growth, though science shows that the rainforests in the Pacific Northwest are manning the most effective carbon sinks in the world and continuing to liquidate them in places like the Walbran Valley, or East Creek – that’s not climate leadership, that’s the opposite.”
Personally I believe the biggest and not so silent “elephant” is the controversial Site C, where the province is destroying approximately 15,000 acres of boreal forest to build a dam that will produce electricity will not be needed before 2029 (if ever). Few outside of B.C. Hydro and Premier Clark’s government understand why.
“There’s a whole bunch of unanswered questions, some of which would be markedly advanced by waiting three or four years,” Harry Swain, who chaired the joint Federal-Provincial Review of this project, told Emma Gilchrist of DeSmog Canada.
More than 250 Canadian scientists have written a public letter of protest, which states, “Our assessment is that this process did not accord with the commitments of both the provincial and federal governments to reconciliation with and legal obligations to First Nations, protection of the environment, and evidence-based decision-making with scientific integrity.”
British Columbia admitted it will not meet it’s legislated emissions target for 2020, 43.5 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. According to the latest projections from Environment and Climate Change Canada, the province’s emissions should reach 72 megatonnes.
Two of the biggest threats to concerted action against climate change, from California to British Columbia, appear to be an onslaught of mega-sized fossil fuel fossil fuel projects ( proposed coal, LNG and oil export terminals) and deforestation.
So far, none the four state/provincial governments that signed the 2016 Pacific Coast Climate Leadership Action Plan have shown a determination to face these issues.
While it is difficult to have any faith in the present government of British Columbia, there is an election coming in 2017. Hopefully a New Democratic Party Premier will do better.
Governors Jay Inslee and Kate Brown have already made important climate decisions and there is reason to hope they may support the people of their state’s who are resisting the imposition of fossil fuel projects.
Some of the West Coast’s cities have taken a lead in this fight. The City of Vancouver has been a determined ‘opponent of the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion, which would bring a sevenfold increase of tanker traffic through its’ waters. Portland will set an important precedent if it succeeds in banning new oil-by-rail shipments and fossil fuel infrastructure from its’ city limits. Los Angeles’ successes in moving e away from coal fired generation serve as an inspiration for other communities.
The coming together of cities and states/provinces to sign the 2016 Pacific Coast Climate Leadership Action Plan is a positive action, even if it only fans the spark of recognition. We need to take determined action, to have any hope of limiting the rise of global temperatures to 2 degrees C. In the months and years to come, we may find that it was a key milestone on the way to a more sustainable future.
Top Photo: Signing the West Coast Climate Agreement (l to r) Oregon Governor Kate Brown; Washington Governor Jay Inslee; B’C’s Minister of the Environment, Mary Polak; California Governor Jerry Brown; San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee; Oakland Mayor Libby Schaal – Courtesy Joe McHugh, California Highway Patrol
-  Roy L Hales interview with Jasmine Zimmer Stuckly, Senior Organizer with Columbia Riverkeeper.
-  Roy L Hales interview with spokesperson from the Mayor of Portland’s Office.
-  Roy L Hales interview with Matt Petersen, Chief Sustainability Officer for Los Angeles.
-  email from spokesperson from the city of Vancouver
-  Roy L Hales interview with Nick Cady, of Cascade Wildlands
-  Roy L Hales interview with Francis Eatherington, of Cascade Wildlands]
-  Roy L Hales interview with Earthjustice attorney Trent Orr
-  Roy L Hales interview with Peter McCartney, Climate Campaigner with the Wilderness Committee.
-  Email from spokesperson, BC’s Ministry of Environment.
-  Email from Matt Horne, Associate Regional Director, British Columbia, the Pembina Institute & a member of B.C.’s Climate Leadership Team]
-  Email from spokesperson, BC’s Ministry of Environment
-  Roy L Hales interview with Torrance Coste, Climate campaigner with the Wilderness Committee.