In 1969, a coastal California city about 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles was beset by one of the worst oil spills in U.S. history.
A blowout on a Unocal rig cracked the sea floor and uncorked 3 million barrels of oil off the Santa Barbara shoreline.
The spill spurred the first celebration of Earth Day the following year. The city had helped give birth to the modern environmental movement.
But now Santa Barbara, popular today with tourists for its breezy beaches and Mediterranean flair, is reeling from another crisis exacerbated by the oil business: extreme climate change.
The coastal region that runs south from Santa Barbara through Los Angeles to the Mexican border is warming at double the rate of the continental United States, according to the latest installment in a Washington Post series on global hot spots that have warmed more than 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels around the globe.
Since 1895, the average temperature in Santa Barbara County has gone up by 2.3 degrees Celsius. Neighboring Ventura County has warmed up by 2.6 degrees Celsius since preindustrial times, making it the fastest-warming county in the Lower 48 states.
The result, as The Post’s Scott Wilson reports, is an eroding bluffside beachfront that has led to the condemnation of apartment buildings, wildfires that have forced thousands to evacuate and heat waves that have scorched orchards and killed livestock.
In a sign of how hard it is for communities of any political stripe to confront the challenge, many residents of even this liberal city are resisting efforts to reduce its own contributions to the changing climate around them.
The birthplace of the modern environmental movement is rich in oil. And the petroleum industry still has clout here.
"In 2014, it spent big to defeat a county referendum that would have banned 'high-intensive' drilling operations such as fracking and steam injection," Wilson writes. "And county officials are actively considering a proposal to allow a major drilling expansion in the north, a move environmentalists say would directly contradict their climate goals."
But it's automobiles that are the biggest contributor to Santa Barbara County’s greenhouse gas emissions. So local environmentalists have also campaigned to replace free public parking downtown with housing to curb traffic.
But that lobbying effort has yet to move city officials. Another industry interest — not Big Oil, but downtown retailers and restaurants — worry fewer parking spots for their patrons will hurt their bottom lines.
“Parking is the third rail of Santa Barbara politics,” Michael Chiacos, a Santa Barbara native with the nonprofit group Community Environmental Council, told Wilson.
That local political fight is part of a broader reckoning within California when it comes to cars and climate change.
Leaders of the car-crazy state desperately want to cut emissions from the transportation sector. So they brokered a deal with the Obama administration and car companies to set tighter fuel-efficiency standards on cars and trucks through 2025.
But the Trump administration upended that deal and revoked California’s long-standing authority to set its own tailpipe pollution standards. Now California and 22 other states have sued to block the move.
Read the entire story here:
— Another climate protest in Washington: A coalition of climate change protesters is planning to surround the World Bank and may block the Friday morning commute, starting at University Yard at George Washington University and marching toward the bank’s headquarters.
- Deja vu: “The rally will be led by the same coalition that organized a September event in which protesters set up blockades at 15 downtown intersections throughout the morning and chained themselves to the hull of a boat blocks from the White House — ultimately culminating in 32 arrests,” The Post’s Marissa J. Lang reports.
- What the groups want: Nick Brana, spokesman for the coalition Shut Down D.C. said it wants the World Bank to “fully divest from fossil fuels immediately.” The demonstration is part of the national Youth Climate Strike and also coincides with the weekly Fire Drill Friday demonstration led by actress Jane Fonda.
— EPA watchdog says agency didn’t conduct analyses for glider truck rule: The Environmental Protection Agency’s internal watchdog says the agency did not conduct necessary analyses in the effort to repeal Obama-era emissions standards for glider trucks. According to the agency inspector general’s report, then-EPA chief Scott Pruitt “directed that the Glider Repeal Rule be promulgated as quickly as possible.” It added that the “lack of analyses caused the public to not be informed of the proposed rule’s benefits, costs, potential alternatives and impacts on children’s health during the public comment period.” Gliders use older engines that emit more soot and contaminants compared to newer trucks.
- The status of the proposal: “The agency’s proposal to repeal the glider kit requirements has sat dormant for more than two years now. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s first act as head of the agency was to walk back a move from Pruitt to temporarily relieve glider-kit makers from the requirements,” the Washington Examiner reports. “ … It isn’t clear whether the EPA would still pursue a full repeal.”
— John F. Kerry endorses Biden: The former secretary of state is throwing his support behind Joe Biden. “The world is broken. Our politics are broken. The country faces extraordinary challenges. And I believe very deeply that Joe Biden’s character, his ability to persevere, his decency and the experiences that he brings to the table are critical to the moment,” Kerry told The Post in an interview.
- What Biden says: The former vice president told reporters in Iowa that he “called Kerry a good friend who, like himself, had important relationships with world leaders and with whom he had worked closely with on climate change issues,” the Boston Globe reports. Kerry also recently launched a star-studded new climate coalition.
- More to know: “Kerry was secretary of state in 2014 when Biden’s son Hunter joined the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. At the time, Biden was the point person leading an effort, backed by U.S. allies, to fire the Ukrainian prosecutor, who was regarded as an obstacle to attacking corruption in the country,” The Post’s Dan Balz writes. “While there has been no proof of wrongdoing by the Bidens, Trump and his loyalists have seized on their actions; the president’s demand that Ukraine’s new leader investigate the Bidens has formed the nucleus of the ongoing House impeachment inquiry.”
— A new policy to protect Golden State homeowners in fire-prone regions: A new California policy prohibits insurance companies from canceling people’s policies in fire-prone parts of the state. The policy “imposes a one-year moratorium, preventing insurers from dropping customers in or alongside ZIP codes struck by recent wildfires. The moratorium covers at least 800,000 homes around the state,” the New York Times reports. “The state has also asked insurers to voluntarily stop dropping customers anywhere in California because of fire risk for one year.” Insurers in the state are facing a particularly difficult task preparing for the risks associated with accelerating climate change.
— These local California leaders want to buy out PG&E: A coalition of 114 elected leaders from 58 cities and 10 counties in the Golden State are supporting a plan led by San Jose’s Democratic Mayor Sam Liccardo to turn Pacific Gas & Electric into a customer-owned utility. Now those behind the plan — which has seen support increase fivefold since the leaders first sent a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission last month — have released a set of guidelines for how such a public utility would run. “With these principles, we’ve presented a framework for a viable customer-owned PG&E that will be transparent, accountable, and equitable,” Liccardo said in a statement.
- The details: The seven “operating principles” includes guidelines for transparency, ensures no regions are cut from PG&E’s current service area and preserves “existing PG&E labor contracts and preserve the existing skilled workforce.”
— Hub for electric vehicles in Ohio: General Motors and South Korea-based LG Chem are planning to build an electric battery operation in Ohio as they ramp up electric vehicle development. The companies will spend a total of $2.3 billion on the factory that is set to be built near Lordstown, Ohio and will employee more than 1,100 workers, The Post’s Faiz Siddiqui reports. “The joint venture, coupled with the sale to Lordstown Motors, ‘positions Northeast Ohio and the Mahoning Valley as a major hub for technology and electric vehicle manufacturing,’ GM said in a news release,” Siddiqui writes. “…[GM chief executive Mary Barra] said the combined expertise of the companies could accelerate electric vehicle adoption and leadership, as GM seeks to add 20 electric vehicle models to its fleet by 2023.”
— Saudi Aramco watch: The state-owned oil giant set a final price for its shares, valuing the company at $1.7 trillion. It’s officially the world’s largest IPO. “The deal ended up being a very different one from what was originally envisaged. Aramco offered just 1.5% of its shares and Saudi Arabia had to trim its ambitions after global investors balked at the kingdom’s hopes of valuing the company at $2 trillion,” Bloomberg News reports. “Instead, Aramco relied heavily on Saudi investors. In the retail offering, 4.9 million people applied for shares.”
- Duke University and RTI International hosts an event on “Using Data Analytics to Accelerate Global Energy Access.”
- The Dialogue hosts an event on issues facing Mexico’s energy sector on Dec. 11.
— For snow lovers in the Washington area: It's time to put your thinking caps on. Let The Post's Capital Weather Gang know how much snow you think will fall this winter.