Opinion: Long Beach missed a chance to kick the oil habit

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by 2nd District Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

This past Tuesday, the Long Beach City Council heard a presentation from Clean Power Alliance (the Los Angeles and Ventura County Community Choice Aggregation comprised of 29 cities and unincorporated land in Los Angeles County). Our city was discussing whether to remain Southern California Edison’s largest electrical energy customer and maintain the status quo with SCE’s energy portfolio or join up with the 19, yes 19, other CCAs that are now up and running in California and move toward clean renewable energy for our great city.

Our climate crisis is all around us and we must act fast as though our lives depend on it — from the 500 statewide fires, to the increased impacts of pollution on the people of color, expectant mothers, not to mention coronavirus victims; to the fact that Black and Brown people are dying at a higher rate than White people as a result of living near freeways, landfills, ports; in other words the high pollutant areas ever present in our great city. You can cross reference the city demographics with air pollution and life expectancy to see the direct correlation.

We had a chance to take a step forward to help change these realities at city council on Tuesday. The city of Long Beach’s staff presentation was a forceful show of misconceptions. Not surprising, as staff has traditionally been unwilling to meaningfully engage and acknowledge on any level what Community Choice Energy has brought for all the other cities utilizing it: reduced electricity rates, clean energy, long term planning and stability of energy markets and reinvestment of rate proceeds back in their own communities.

Perplexing, until one asks the right questions: Who loses out if Long Beach becomes or joins an existing Community Choice Aggregator? The oil industry, and in alignment with the city’s ownership of the Wilmington oil fields, the city has a perception that we would then miss out if the city phased out oil too quickly. We own the Wilmington oil field and are in fact not a partner to the oil industry, but in fact we are “the Oil Industry.” Smart oil companies are actually investing in renewable resources.

Why isn’t Long Beach ready? It seems our council is ready, yet the staff presentation on Community Choice Aggregation was originally led by the head of Energy Resource Department. If we are going to live up to the aspirations of the mayor and some of the council, does it make sense to have an oil executive as the head of the “energy” department? Yes, our director is still listed as a VP for an oil company that has since filed bankruptcy. There’s more concerns than staff that just might not be up to speed with the opportunities of renewable clean energy.

In fact, the city of Long Beach is a dues-paying member with five different energy associations. The California Independent Petroleum Association also known as CIPA, is the most troubling: CIPA’s interests run counter to many of the climate goals our good city is attempting to do: whether in the goods movement 710 freeway corridor, to our Ports Sustainability Plan, to what we can, and should be able to provide to all of our city: Air that is not more likely to cause  asthma, learning disabilities and cancers. Not only is CIPA extremely politically engaged at all political levels, so are their members like Signal Hill Petroleum and the California Resources Corporation (CRC). Members work to maintain the power of the petroleum industry. Bottom line.

I am proud that our city has taken an important step to prioritize its residents’ health by making commitments to the Paris Agreement, to finalizing a citywide Climate Adaptation and Action Plan (CAAP) and continuing to invest in zero emission buses, as well as advancing the climate goals of our port. These goals can not be maligned by misplaced loyalties, and fear of what our future as a city can and will be. The $25,000 fee alone is concerning enough when we constantly make “asks” of outside agencies for charitable actions toward our city.

“As an oil producer, we have belonged to the trade organization since 1999 as a way to stay abreast of the technical, regulatory and legislative changes that affect oil operators such the City of Long Beach,” City Manager Tom Modica has stated. “We are different in this manner than just about every other city as we manage the city’s oil interests and are the primary operator of the Wilmington oil field…. Energy Resources has notified CIPA that we will not be renewing our membership when it comes up for renewal in October 2020.”

This statement from our city manager is a great start, I am looking forward to a statement in regard to the other four  associations that focus on fossil fuels into which we continue to pay.

Second, the city of Long Beach has to grapple with our identity and our vision for clean air. Our town, our oil town, must reinvent itself because the writing is on the wall.

Our mayor and city council have been entrusted with stewardship over our great city, but we must work toward a common vision that is multi-faceted and involves all of our businesses and industries. This means we cannot bring Community Choice Energy up again, until we have a step-by-step plan to leave the oil industry and invest in clean renewables: “Resilient Recovery.” As stewards, we must work side-by-side with our trade unions that represent members in both the oil and gas industry to build career pathways to good jobs that pay family-sustaining wages.

We cannot put our head in the oil field and ignore the reality that energy production is changing. ExxonMobil was kicked out of the Dow Jones Industrial Average this week and the cost of climate change is astronomical, costing the U.S. economy $224 billion a year in 22 sectors if we do not act fast, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2017 Climate Change Impacts and Risk Analysis report. Tellingly, many petroleum companies also have investments in clean energy and a strategic multi-year plan to make departures from their prior businesses as usual. So must we.

Finally, as we are discussing our great city’s financial priorities, the city budget is the ultimate reflection of our priorities. Maintaining part-time city council members does a disservice to all of our residents. Our city council electeds neither have the resources to have a clear understanding on the membership organizations into which we pay, nor the staff participation needed to effectively advocate for the residents we are elected to represent. Make no mistake, though in city council we electeds may disagree at times, but we all love our city dearly. Long Beach electeds need the resources to lead our constituents, including full time salaries, as is typical in a city as large as ours.

I strongly believe the only way to move our city forward is direct transparency and accountability to the taxpayers and voters. It will take all of us to help support the city in this transition. In the coming months we will have more conversations about what our city deserves and how we reach the goals. I hope you pay attention, work with your council members and continue to hold us to the values we each hold so dearly. Our lives are literally counting on it.

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