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With a wide-open field of contenders in the Democratic Presidential Primary and with California’s Primary Election moved up to March 3 (with mail in voting as of February 3), California has a meaningful role to play in choosing who will face Trump in November. The stakes could not be higher for Santa Barbara County. In addition to president, the county supervisor race will determine whether we protect our lands and waters and pursue a renewable energy future, or reverse course and double-down on increasingly risky and unregulated fossil fuel development.
Thus far, Santa Barbara County has resisted the Trump administration’s plans to open a million acres of public lands in Santa Barbara and surrounding counties to fracking and drilling despite 16,000 comments of opposition on the faulty environmental report. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is managing the give-away, is being run by anti-federal government lands zealot William Pendley, who moved BLM’s offices from D.C. to the Chevron Corp office building in Grand Junction, Colorado. Another plan to open ocean waters of the Santa Barbara Channel to oil leases is pending release. The Trump administration has already eliminated safety measures instituted after the 210 million-gallon Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the gulf, eliminated water protections, and disallowed climate considerations from development.
This county’s resistance would fade if Bruce Porter succeeds in his effort to unseat 3rd District County Supervisor Joan Hartmann. With a history of taking tens of thousands of dollars at a time from oil PACs, Porter advocates for what he terms, “locally-sourced farm-to-table petroleum.” In reality, the kind of tar-sands oil development proposed here is the worst, most polluting kind of oil in the world with emissions twice that of conventional oil and a greater risk of spills. Fields using cyclic steam have been shut down in Kern County after massive spills.
The proposed Cat Canyon projects would access oil so thick they have to truck lighter oil in to put down the hole and then truck the combined oil back out again. The steam engines used to melt the heavy oil would be powered by fracked gas from Texas and the resulting oil would be trucked to refineries elsewhere. Every month 13 million barrels of fuel oil and other petroleum products are exported from the West Coast.
Porter could be expected to green light pending projects in the county and welcome the new federal leases, locking in projects for the next 40-50 years and representing a bet against meeting global climate goals. To this end, Porter has been accused of running a fraudulent voter suppression effort in Isla Vista to depress the student vote.
We need not become a fossil-fuel sacrifice zone. California’s goal of 100 percent renewable energy and millions of electric vehicles is on track, and Santa Barbara County is leading the way with a wide range of active projects, including the Strauss Wind project, the Tajiguas Resource Recovery project, converting waste into renewable energy, a number of large battery storage projects, a new solar ordinance, community choice energy, county building renewable projects, and the electrification of the county’s fleet of cars. These will create hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars of tax revenue. Critical to this is maintaining the environmental leadership of Supervisors Das Williams and Joan Hartmann, both instrumental to this progress, both endorsed by the Sierra Club, and both up for re-election on March 3, with mail in ballots dropping in early February.
This year, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which took place in the wake of the first massive oil spill in Santa Barbara. It comes after the hottest decade on record, when consensus on the need to act on climate is so high the Oxford dictionary chose “climate emergency” as the 2019 word of the year, and at a time when a nationwide public opinion poll by the Washington Post finds 8 in 10 Americans oppose increased drilling.
Vote on March 3 to ensure that Santa Barbara County is not left behind. Let’s be part of the solution to climate change and not the problem.
Katie Davis is chair of the Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter for Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.