As you may or may not know… I am one of 5 planning commissioners for the County of San Luis Obispo. Today was the 8th meeting on a whether or not the Planning Commission should allow a Phillips 66 oil terminal rail project. After extensive discussion and closing statements by all commissioners I called for a motion to deny this project… and that motion passed. I cannot express how happy I am about this.
Below is the text of my closing argument:
Energy is the power realized from the utilization of a physical resource.
Carbon based organisms have existed on earth for Billions of years.
The “Fossils” in Fossil Fuels took 2.5 billions years to accumulate. They were primarily microscopic organisms that decayed and sank to the bottom of the oceans over millennia and their ensuing sediments were cooked by the pressures and temperatures within the planet until they became the hydrocarbons they are today.
We humans, over the course of the last couple of hundred years, have taken the billions of years of stored carbon energy from deep in the planet… and used it to power our industrial and technological revolutions. This has been really great. I love driving my car… I love my computer etc.
The successful use of stored hydrocarbons, along with the invention of farming allowed humans to transition from a primarily hunter gatherer society, to an agrarian society, to an industrial society, to a technological society.
Each of these transitions… has meant greater and greater efficiencies in the utilization of energy. Each of these efficiencies has meant we humans could utilize smaller and smaller land areas to support larger and larger populations.
The density of humans per acre on the planet has increased exponentially over the last few hundred years in particular. The density of new ideas has also increased proportionally to the increase in new humans.
This acceleration of knowledge and ideas can be seen in the rapid move from an agrarian, to an industrial, and to a technologically based society. The evolution of mankind has been turbocharged by oil. No one doubts that the burning of fossil fuels has allowed mankind to radically increase his knowledge and intellect. The vast majority of us here in this room would not be able to live here without oil.
However… the burning of fossil fuels used to create the industrial revolution has placed massive additional amounts of carbon into the atmosphere in a short period of time.
Simultaneous to that… deforestation around the world over the last few hundred years has dramatically lowered the planet’s ability to re-absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
SO we are in a situation where we are putting a lot more carbon into the atmosphere than the planet is used to… and we are also reducing it’s ability to remove it.
And we as a species have created a population that is addicted to the success that the burning of all that carbon has created.
We are also beginning to realize that the usage of all this oil to turbocharge our success as a species has had side effects….
One of the great new ideas created by all these great new human minds… was the concept of renewable energy… which is the natural evolution of efficiency in the way we use energy. It is simply of greater benefit to humanity to utilize sustainable renewable energy than it is to continue to utilize fossil fuels. There is no argument over this. Sustainable renewable energy will wipe out the use of fossil fuels.
The disagreement is only really over how and when to nurse ourselves off the fossil fuel addiction that we have become so enamored of…. And convert our technologies to the next level… to renewables.
I understand that it seems hypocritical to those who don’t see the hurry to make the switch… for others to say we should end the addiction to oil right this second. They see that the current addiction has had many positive benefits to society… They are not wrong.
To others… the side effects of the oil addiction are growing more and more important and that they cannot be ignored… they believe that the current usage levels will lead to massive planetary changes. They are not wrong.
We are at a crossroads of sorts… there are alternatives coming on line… some people are ready to cross… and some are not. This is the way of the world.
Almost every decision I have made as a planning commissioner involves two parties that each believe they are in the right position… and that the other side really has no idea what they are talking about. And almost always… neither side is entirely wrong.
Every one of us has levels of risk we are willing to tolerate… each of us has things we do that annoy others.
The challenge of being in this Planning Commissioner seat… involves understanding a given project in detail… and then with total knowledge of the subject of that project… trying to understand the risks and benefits to society as a whole. Interpreting the public’s opinion of those risk and benefits is a big part of the equation.
Sometimes “public” is a special interest group with an agenda. Sometimes the “public” is a group of neighbors. Sometimes the “public” is just that. The public.
I try and understand whether a given speaker is a neighbor, or a special interest group, or are just a general concerned citizen…. so that I might better understand where they are coming from in their testimony.
We have heard from neighbors … who have their concerns… we had heard from special interest groups too on both sides… and in this case we have heard from an amazing number of concerned citizens statewide.
The concerned citizens in my opinion are the most powerful in this case. In this case we have the supervisors of seven neighboring counties… representing over 10 million people… all telling us to NOT approve this project. We have the city councils of dozens of cities. Along with this we have teachers unions, student bodies, health professional associations, etc., etc… all asking us to vote no. Not one of these entities asked us to vote yes.
These are not nimbys… these are not special interest groups. These are our fellow Californians.
In my 9 years as a planning commissioner the people who commented on this project outnumber all other projects I have ever considered added together by far.
I have read each and every one of the more than 21,000 comments submitted to this commission… and after tossing out the special interest group form letters and the nimbys… what remains is the balance of the citizens of this county who are not special interests… nor nimbys. They… and the people of the counties and cities represented by the letters we received from city councils and supervisors all up and down the Union Pacific line. Of those last letters… The vast majority… I’d say at least 96%… including ALL of the letters from city councils and Supervisors asked us to vote against this project.
I cannot see how any commissioner from this county… who’s district may cover approx. one fifth of this county… (so approx. 50,000 people)… I don’t see how that commissioner can sit here and say that the opinion of that small constituency he says he represents… is more important than the wishes of the representatives of the 10 million people up and down the tracks. IF these commissioners represent so many people who are for this project… WHERE ARE THOSE PEOPLE? WHY ARE THEY NOT HERE IN GREAT DROVES?
How can you ignore the actual pleas our neighboring representatives… who represent over 10 million neighbors… asking us to not endanger their citizens…
How can you say that the the profit of one multinational corporation… and the supposed creation of 12 jobs outweighs the possibility of just one death… one burn victim… one person who loses their spouse or child? This project will not change the trajectory of oil in this nation… whether or not this refinery gets oil by train or not will have ZERO effect on the supply of gasoline in this nation. So why do you vote against all of your neighboring cities and counties? We have been told that the likely hood of a wreck does exist… albeit small… and you have decided that, for you, this is an acceptable risk. You are willing to accept the possibility of 1 death… or 20… or 100…
Yet the representatives of every county and city around you have said it is not ok. You are basically saying that the taxpayers and property owners of this state should accept the risk to their pocketbooks and to their property… so that this oil company can achieve a higher margin… and that that margin is more important. You are saying that the taxpayers and property owners who are represented by the supervisors and city councils of every jurisdiction up and down the track are wrong… and that your opinion is correct.
I strongly disagree.
I live by a simple rule in my life: Do unto others… as you would have them do unto you.
I vote against this project.