There has been a bevy of positive environmental events taking place in Santa Barbara County this fall.

These included sheep mitigating against wildfires; steelhead trout being given water to survive; wind power coming online; ExxonMobil stopped from trucking oil on our highways; and, most important, Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, reintroducing legislation to stop carbon from overheating our atmosphere.

As we know, wildfires are a signature of climate change. You might not think of sheep helping to mitigate against them, but that is what’s happening in the San Marcos Foothills Preserve.

Grazing sheep create a buffer that, as we learned in the 2019 Cave Fire, help keep wildfire from devastating neighborhoods. Kudos to Channel Islands Restoration for using the sheep.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of water to ensure the survival of steelhead trout. The trout were represented by Los Padres Forest Watch, Environmental Defense Center and San Luis Coastkeeper. These organizations correctly argued it was necessary to keep water in the Cuyama River east of Santa Maria.

While we have had water wars for a long time, climate change has exacerbated drought, causing water shortages.

The trout are an essential part of the river’s ecosystem. Their survival was essential not only for the species but to the vitality of the river. Kudos to the environmental organizations that kept the trout in the river.

Wind energy will begin being produced in Santa Barbara County this month. The Strauss Wind Energy project near Lompoc will produce 98 megawatts of clean energy, enough to power more than 40,000 homes.

While wind and solar energy, replacing fossil fuel energy, are essential in the fight against climate change, there is a cost to this transition.

The San Miguelito Hills, where the Strauss project turbines are placed, are habitat for golden eagles, a federally protected species.

While there is no comparison to the deaths and damage caused to species worldwide by fossil fuel emissions, this project will cause the deaths of a number of eagles.

BayWa r.e. Wind LLC cooperated with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to mitigate eagle deaths.

There is no question that Santa Barbara County — and the nation, for that matter — needs wind power. Kudos to the county for approving wind energy.

However, it is sad and ironic that at the same time we are protecting steelhead trout there will be golden eagle deaths. 

A federal judge ruled that the county Board of Supervisors did not abuse its discretion in denying ExxonMobil’s request to truck oil from its Santa Ynez processing plant to a refinery in Kern County. This was a significant victory for the county and the environment.

The court found that the 70 truck trips a day the oil company wanted to take posed a significant risk of accidental spillage along Highway 166, which runs along the Cuyama River (a 2020 tanker wreck spilled 4,500 gallons of oil into the river, 20 miles east of Santa Maria).

The importance of this ruling goes far beyond the threat of an accidental spill. Stopping fossil fuel emissions is essential if we are to ever get climate change and its devastating consequences under control.

This is not over. What ExxonMobil really wants is to reopen its offshore oil platform, and the trucking proposal is a stop gap measure to that end.

In this regard, ExxonMobil has sued the Board of Supervisors for an unlawful taking. Nevertheless, kudos to the supervisors for voting 3-2 to deny the bid to truck the oil. And kudos to the federal court for upholding the ruling.

While all of the above are significant environmental occurrences, the most important actually happened in late September when Carbajal, reintroduced the “Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act” in Congress.

This bill would charge carbon producers an escalating fee for every ton of carbon they put into the atmosphere, along with creating a dividend that would be sent to U.S. citizens. If passed, it would help the United States meet its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

Carbon energy has the highest carbon footprint of all energy types. Indirect greenhouse gas emissions from carbon operations include both carbon dioxide and methane emissions.

These emissions, not even factoring in the burning of fossil fuels through transportation (50% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions), include producing, refining and transporting the fossil fuels. Collectively this accounts for 90% of our emissions nationally.

Kudos to Carbajal for reintroducing the act, and to groups like Citizens’ Climate Lobby-Santa Barbara Chapter for taking the lead on this issue.

Environmental lawyer Robert Sulnick represented the community of Casmalia in litigation against the Casmalia Resources Hazardous Waste Landfill, co-founded the American Oceans Campaign with Ted Danson, and is a partner in the Santa Barbara environmental consulting firm Environmental Problem Solving Enterprises. The opinions expressed are his own.