Tag Archives: alternatives

Some Things to Consider in Beyond Chron Analysis of Measure H

Disclaimer: I do some work for Measure H, but my opinion on this issue was decided before I took the job.

In today’s Beyond Chron, author and activist Randy Shaw talks about Measure H. While I totally respect that there are opposing points of view on Measure H, and respect Randy personally, as you read the article it’s important to make note of a few things that Mr. Shaw missed that are important when talking about the true impact of Measure H.

For example, when discussing the Board of Supervisors’ new ability to issue revenue bonds, without a vote of the people, the provision is referred to as innocuous, when in fact the measure, as written, allows the board to issue revenue bonds to take over any utility, not just a power utility.

That means that without any oversight by citizens, the Board could vote to issue bonds to seize Comcast cable television, build a wifi network, etc. None of this has anything to do with the goals of clean energy – but it’s all legal under Measure H.

More importantly, at a time when San Francisco’s affordable housing stock is in short supply, we need to ask ourselves if San Francisco needs to be getting into the power, cable television, and WiFi business. Surely affordable housing (which is also on the ballot) is of more immediate concern to San Francisco’s residents at this time.

Also, while the article gives one account of past public power initiatives, it does not mention Sup. Mirkarimi’s role as campaign manager for the last public power measure before voters in 2001. This is a significant point to remember when reading Mirkarimi’s analysis and motivations to put Measure H before the voters.

As a past manager of the 2001 public power measure, he’s got plenty of reasons to want a re-match years later on behalf of public power. And as a potential mayoral candidate running on the left side of the San Francisco political spectrum, he needs to once again prove his bona fides vis a vis public power in order to secure a Guardian endorsement.

None of these reasons match up with the urgent priorities for San Francisco at this time. Measure H wraps an old idea in a new, misleading wrapper, and it’s important to keep this in mind as one reads the Beyond Chron article.

Skelton: Let Go of the Future and Start Drilling

Brian mentioned this in the open thread, but it really deserves its own post, it’s such a ridiculous column. George Skelton today made a full-throated but deeply flawed argument for offshore drilling that as far as I can tell boils down to “well we did it in the past, and it’s not going to help in the future…so why not?!” and winds up arguing that we should sacrifice the future for hardly anything in return. The column doesn’t start off on a promising note:

On some beaches around Santa Barbara, you could feel the oozing tar between your toes — and that was long before a Union Oil platform five miles offshore spilled crud all over 20 miles of coast in 1969. For centuries, the tar naturally had seeped up through the sand, providing the native Chumash with caulking for their canoes.

Calling it “crud” is deliberately misleading readers about what actually happened in 1969. From UCSB:

Animals that depended on the sea were hard hit. Incoming tides brought the corpses of dead seals and dolphins. Oil had clogged the blowholes of the dolphins, causing massive lung hemorrhages. Animals that ingested the oil were poisoned. In the months that followed, gray whales migrating to their calving and breeding grounds in Baja California avoided the channel -their main route south.

The oil took its toll on the seabird population. Shorebirds like plovers, godwits and willets which feed on sand creatures fled the area. But diving birds which must get their nourishment from the waters themselves became soaked with tar….

Grebes, cormorants and other seabirds were so sick, their feathers so soaked in oil that they were not difficult to catch. Birds were bathed in Polycomplex A-11, medicated, and placed under heat lamps to stave off pneumonia. The survival rate was less than 30 percent for birds that were treated. Many more died on the beaches where they had formerly sought their livelihoods. Those who had managed to avoid the oil were threatened by the detergents used to disperse the oil slick. The chemicals robbed feathers of the natural waterproofing used to keep seabirds afloat.

In all 3686 birds were estimated to have died because of contact with oil. Aerial surveys a year later found only 200 grebes in an area that had previously drawn 4000 to 7000.

Skelton’s blithe dismissal of the ecological consequences of drilling is appalling. It’s not as if our oceans are healthy – oceans face crippling ecological crises and they’re in no position to withstand drilling.

Skelton goes on to turn “Big Oil” into a nostalgia piece (I’m guessing someone didn’t see There Will Be Blood):

Oh, another thing: My dad was an oil field roustabout, or driller or whatever job he could fill on a given shift. So were his dad, brother and cousins. They left their Tennessee farms and followed the migration to California for the 1920s oil boom.

My first summer job out of high school was in a Ventura oil field, an experience guaranteed to prod a kid into college if nothing else would. (But the oil job paid better than newspaper work, I soon discovered.)

So “Big Oil” never has been a big bugaboo for me. It was the producer of a vital commodity and provider of working-class jobs. Although oil derricks annoy many people as unsightly, I’ve always marveled at how they work, especially all lighted up at night.

Nostalgic memories do not count as a sound basis for public policy – unless of course he thinks we should go back to the days before OSHA, dump our toxic waste into the drinking water supply, and drive without seatbelts.

Worse is the conflation of Big Oil with working-class prosperity. Perhaps at some moment in the past this was true, but Skelton here merely reveals that he, like all the High Broderists, does not live in the 21st century, instead assuming that the conditions of the 1970s remain true today. They don’t.

Here in the 21st century Big Oil sucks precious income away form working-class families while returning hardly any in the form of jobs, taxes, or anything else resembling prosperity. And as anyone living near the Torrance refinery knows, they tend to actually have rather debilitating effect on working-class communities.

More below…

Skelton’s main thrust of the article is some weird attempt to argue that offshore drilling will actually produce self-sufficiency – since California uses so much gas, shouldn’t we drill offshore for more?

This argument has numerous flaws. First, Californians are reducing their gas consumption which has been relatively flat over the last 8 or 9 years. Conservation, not wasteful and useless drilling, is what brought prices back from the brink of $5 earlier this summer, and it alone is what will produce long-term savings.

Skelton tries to dismiss the correct argument that drilling now won’t produce usable oil for at least ten years:

Offshore exploration opponents point out that if the federal drilling ban were lifted today, there’d be no immediate effect on gasoline prices. It could take 10 years to get any crude to the gas pump. Fine. Most people driving today still will be 10 years from now.

This is a statement deeply ignorant of how oil works today. He is assuming that the supply of oil and the demand for oil will remain static so that in 10 years, the oil we drill off our coast will make it to the pump and reduce prices.

He is wrong.

The fact is that the demand for oil is soaring around the world, and it is becoming difficult if not impossible to increase production to match it. That is the phenomenon of peak oil at work and that is why gas prices have climbed by 30% every year since 2002. Supply can’t match ever-rising demand. The oil off American shores is so small an amount as to not be able to dent oil prices that, ten years from now, are very likely to be much higher than they are today. As demand rises around the world, oil companies will sell the oil we drill off our coast on a global market. The chances it will bring down the price of gas here in CA is next to none.

The only thing offshore drilling will accomplish is fouling our already suffering oceans and wildlife while lining the pockets of oil companies that sell the oil to China and India. How is that useful again?

Skelton does deal with the argument that lifting the drilling ban detracts us from the necessary long-term investment in alternatives – by dismissing it almost entirely:

Alan Salzman, founder of VantagePoint Venture Partners…adds, “The car industry is going to switch over to electric, and that’s a certainty. Hundreds of thousands of electric cars will be on the road in 2011.”

Let me know when one is affordable, practical and in the showroom.

People didn’t give up their horse and buggy until Henry Ford began making affordable cars. We’re anxiously awaiting our next transportation mode. Meanwhile, we’ll need to keep pumping gas — some of it from the Santa Barbara Channel.

Skelton needs to get out of the LA Times offices and take a look at the city around him. He might be surprised at what he finds. Hundreds of thousands of his fellow Angelenos have found alternatives to driving. That’s what enabled them to reduce their gas consumption and in turn bring down prices, albeit slightly. They bike. They walk.

His own paper reported on Metro Rail’s soaring ridership and again on Metrolink’s soaring ridership. Nowhere in Skelton’s drilling article is the MTA sales tax discussed, which would have the Subway to the Sea open by the time the first oil from the Santa Barbara Channel reaches Chinese gas pumps. Nor is high speed rail discussed, or clean bus technology, or greater urban density, or any other alternative to oil that is ready to go, right now, stalled merely for lack of political will that is currently being wasted on drilling.

Al Gore said it best at the TED Conference here in Monterey last March: drilling is “like a junkie looking for veins in his toes so he can get one last fix.” Drilling distracts us from the real problems our state faces, and for absolutely nothing in return.

Skelton doesn’t have to live in a future where the oil runs out and Californians, instead of building alternatives when we had the time and money to do so, are left with no viable alternative to oil. Unfortunately the rest of us do.

His plan for more drilling isn’t letting go of the past, it’s clinging desperately to the past in a blind refusal to accept the need to change in order to produce a better future. Just as California has failed its offspring by kicking the tax and deficit issues into the future, so too will it fail the future by drilling instead of developing alternatives.

If Skelton wants to live in the past, he’s welcome to do so. But he should not condemn the rest of us to do as well. California must change if we are to have a prosperous future.