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Friday, February 15 , 2019, 9:57 pm | Overcast 49º


Karen Telleen-Lawton: Breaking Up with Oil

The Community Environmental Council is running a campaign to “Break Up with Oil.” But you drive a car, don’t you? How can you “break up” with oil?

All of us trying to do our part for the health of the planet can seem like hypocrites the minute we flip on our lights in the morning, juice our cell phones or jump into our motorized vehicles. Cold turkey isn’t the point. We just have to improve each day: Get better at conservation, at choosing alternatives and at reducing our addiction to oil.

Plains All American Pipeline nicely provided us a reminder and a stark incentive. As a result of the Plains oil spill, local collective action is brewing in some important areas.

One is a Change.org petition that began circulating June 11 by Max Golding, co-founder of the local climate justice group 350 Santa Barbara. The petition asks Mayor Helene Schneider and the City Council to pass a resolution supporting state divestment from oil investments.

It reads in part, “This is our community’s responsibility to take a stand against the industry that brings us coastal destruction, poisoned water from fracking, exploding oil trains, and the exacerbation of climate change. We call on you to stand with us in support of divestment from fossil fuels — an action that, while unlikely to bankrupt the industry financially, will help to bankrupt it morally and, eventually, politically.”

The CEC has been working since 2007 to bring real alternative energy choice to all Santa Barbara. A huge step toward Community Choice Energy came last week when the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted to fund $400,000 toward a feasibility study. Combined with $50,000 approved by the Santa Barbara City Council on June 1 and $50,000 that the CEC will secure from donors, this will allow the county to move forward with exploring the Community Choice Energy tool, designed to offer local control of our energy and a choice for cleaner electricity at competitive rates.

The spill also prompted Yardi, a local software company, to offer matching funds for the CEC’s “Break Up with Oil” campaign. During the month of June, Yardi is matching donations to the campaign up to $25,000. As of last week, they had raised close to half that amount.

How far can the spill backlash take us? Back in 2009, then-Assemblyman Pedro Nava wrote legislation to allow California to join the rest of the top oil-producing states by requiring the oil industry to pay its “fair share” — a percentage of the value of the oil it extracts from our state. At the time, an oil severance tax of 10 percent was projected to add $1.5 billion annually for education, public safety, human services and so forth.

But the bill didn’t fly, and we remain the only one of the top 10 — including Alaska, Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Kansas, North Dakota and Montana — to give away our oil without charging a severance tax.

Maybe this bill can be reawakened?

Pay attention and participate in local efforts to make incremental and enormous change. Let’s make sure the deaths of birds, fish, marine mammals and other marine organisms stand for a reawakened environmental movement. We can do better, Santa Barbara.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton’s column is a mélange of observations spanning sustainability from the environment to finance, economics and justice issues. She is a fee-only financial advisor (www.DecisivePath.com) and a freelance writer (www.CanyonVoices.com). Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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