Rail spur hazard for this county, others

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published in the Santa Maria Times on November 13, 2014: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/rail-spur-hazard-for-this-county-others/article_6cff43f5-fb11-5e4b-b222-898be4c94b2b.html.

For months now, columns and letters on this page have debated the wisdom of drilling for onshore oil in Santa Barbara County. Awareness of the issues within our county is acute.

Now, just across the county boundary in San Luis Obispo County, the proposal for a rail-spur extension at the Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery in the Nipomo Dunes is taking center stage.

At a recent public workshop in Arroyo Grande, residents raised many concerns about the project and its draft environmental impact report (DEIR), which discusses impacts on the refinery property, as well as impacts that might occur along the Union Pacific mainline, especially between the project and two rail hubs, one in Southern California and one in Northern California.

San Luis Obispo County has the authority to require mitigations to impacts on the property as part of its project approval authority, but is likely kept from imposing mitigations for the Union Pacific mainline impacts, because those fall under federal regulations.

As confirmed at that meeting, the county can deny the project based on significant impacts that cannot be mitigated, whether on site or on the mainline.

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Transformative change to renewable energy

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Santa Maria Times on Oct. 10, 2014: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/commentary/looking-forward/transformative-change-to-renewable-energy/article_ad285ae2-bf76-54ff-bc3e-bfcd0341b3f8.html

Energy from fossil fuels powered economic growth in the U.S. for decades, radically changing our society.

Today, we face different challenges, especially from human-created climate change.

According to the 700-page “Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change,” a 2006 United Kingdom Treasury report, if action is not taken, the overall costs of climate change on water resources, food production, health and the environment will be equivalent to losing at least 5 percent of gross domestic product on the world economy each year, indefinitely. Including a wider range of risks and impacts could increase this to 20 percent of GDP or more each year.

On the other hand, mitigating the worst impacts could be only 1-2 percent of annual GDP — if action is taken early.

We must conserve and move quickly to renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, wave and biomass.

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Benefits of a switch to renewable energy

This "Forward View" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Lompoc Record on Sept. 24, 2014:  http://lompocrecord.com/news/opinion/editorial/columnist/benefits-of-a-switch-to-renewable-energy/article_dfc5884b-f35a-5d40-8897-9c958d41bd88.html

Fossil fuels provided the energy that turned the U.S. into an economic powerhouse for many decades.

Today, we are transitioning to cleaner, renewable sources of energy that will power our future, especially solar, wind, wave and biofuels.

Scientific evidence reveals the fact that humans have brought on a change in climate that will have devastating effects if it is not reversed.

Younger people understand this. They will be living with the consequences the older generation has brought upon them for the rest of their lives. They are seeking changes that will make their world better, even though it may not be as good as the one today’s seniors remember growing up in. But they will do their best, and we owe it to them to make real changes now.

The good news is these changes don’t have to hurt. They provide environmental improvements and economic benefits.

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Mapping Santa Maria's petroleum ordinance

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published in the Santa Maria Times on Sept. 11, 2014:  http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/columnist/mapping-santa-maria-s-petroleum-ordinance/article_9e4d2070-1806-5651-ab30-765baa401f28.html

Hopefully, all of the dialog about Measure P raises awareness about risks associated with petroleum production near our water resources and cities.

Measure P would restrict high-intensity oil production in the unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County. It would not change the rules within the boundaries of the cities.

There is an excellent map produced by Santa Barbara County’s Planning and Development Department, showing there are two cities with active, state-designated oil or gas production fields — Goleta’s Elwood field, with a couple of active wells and one or two dozen inactive wells, some on-shore, some off-shore, in Goleta; and Santa Maria, the Santa Maria Valley field, with a couple of active wells and more than 300 inactive wells within city limits.

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Measure P about protecting water resources

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published in the Santa Maria Times on August 8, 2014: http://santamariatimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/columnist/measure-p-about-protecting-water-resources/article_52384a7d-6e0c-50fe-a3d2-8d6286837eff.html

At the July 29 Board of Supervisors hearing on Measure P, several speakers stated that if the measure is approved in November, the oil industry in Santa Barbara County would be shut down.

A recent guest commentary in the Santa Maria Times said the same, and on July 27 the Times expressed the belief the sponsors of Measure P want to "kill the local oil business."

To be sure, some individuals no doubt would like to see the local oil industry shuttered. But most who support the measure recognize we all use oil, and clean energy alternatives won’t be sufficiently developed for some years, in spite of our advocacy for them. Many of us support the measure because of our concerns about water resources.

Last month in this space, Jerry Connor wrote about how the rock strata on the Central Coast "are not neatly horizontal, but are instead tortuously bent, folded, rotated and faulted due to very active plate tectonics." He worries that oil, gas and produced water could therefore follow unintended paths, perhaps into our aquifers.

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Geology and unconventional oil extraction

Most of us use all manner of petroleum products. I am grateful for the opportunities and materials provided by petroleum.

At the same time, I want to preserve our water quality and avoid the irreversible hazards that would result from contaminated water escaping from deep rock formations into the groundwater.

During intensive oil removal processes, steam or water mixed with chemicals and sand are injected deep into the ground under high pressure.

Both Santa Barbara County Action Network and the local chapter of the Sierra Club support a reasonable and safe increase of already approved oil extraction, to generate tax revenues and increase the volume of cash flow to well-paid workers and into the local economy.

Favoring caution and restraint, however, both organizations support the initiative to ban fracking, which is to be decided by the voters in the November election.

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Local oil's value not worth risks

By Janet Blevins, SB CAN Board Member

for the Lompoc Record

May 29, 2014

Boosters and speculators have been heralding the potential of shale oil in California, and the jobs and tax revenues it could bring.

While federal energy authorities have just drastically reduced their estimates of recoverable oil here, there's no doubt production has been ramping up in our area, with Santa Maria Energy's 136 wells approved last fall, PetroRock's 56 wells approved in March, and investments pouring in, such as the $665 million from Beijing-based Chinese Goldleaf Jewelry Co. Thousands of potential new wells have been identified.

The downside is that this unconventional oil can only be extracted through water-intensive, high-emissions processes like fracking and steam injection.

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Inner-city park really needs your help

Which is the oldest park in Santa Maria? Do you know how it started and why it spurred incorporation of the city?

Here is a hint. It has to do with the Minerva Club, the Morrison family and it was a gathering place for May Day and July 4th celebrations in the 1890s and early 1900s. The 4.03-acre park has a Camp Fire Cabin, a playground, horseshoe pits, barbecue pits, basketball courts and picnic tables. Tall eucalyptus trees shade one area. There are some older shade trees and several young trees that will provide shade in the future.

It is west of the Santa Maria Inn, north of Santa Maria High School and the Fairpark, and east of the Good Samaritan Shelter. Its address is 800 S. Pine Street.

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Democratizing wealth, building an economy

Do you feel like you’re working harder than ever, but have less to show for it? Does it seem like corporations are running the world, and there’s nothing you can do? Would you like to have more say in how your community develops in terms of housing, food production, energy and transportation? Would you like to have more influence at work?

You’re not alone. The economy and power structures have changed, leaving less wealth and influence for the average person, while catapulting a select few into extreme wealth and power.

“The richest 400 Americans now own more wealth than the bottom 180 million taken together,” said Gar Alperovitz, professor of political economy at the University of Maryland.

They are worth just over $2 trillion collectively, an average of $5 billion each, according to Forbes.

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Unanswered questions regarding ICE facility

Although more than 1,000 people came to Santa Maria City Hall recently to urge the City Council not to change the zoning of a small parcel of land at McCoy and Depot in Santa Maria, they did.

The zoning change was designed to accommodate a new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility. Councilwoman Terri Zuniga was the only one to vote against it both times it came before the council.

Two weeks later, nearly 3,000 people came to the Fairpark to urge the Planning Commission not to approve a permit for construction of the facility. Yet they did.

When this many people are opposed, why move forward with these changes? Why not conclude that this use is incompatible with the neighborhood? Why not get answers to all the many questions before taking action?

We had a lot of questions then, and do now.

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Santa Barbara County Action Network
Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN) works to promote social and economic justice, to preserve our environmental and agricultural resources, and to create sustainable communities.