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Exxon approaching

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Between an explosive sting video starring a senior lobbyist and a shareholders meeting that saw three seats on their board going to climate activists, ExxonMobil's been having a rough year.

It couldn't happen to a nicer oil company. But it hasn't slowed their roll on the Central Coast.

It's been almost a year since I wrote about ExxonMobil's plan to restart three offshore platforms near Santa Barbara that were shut down in 2015 after the Plains All American Pipeline ruptured and spilled thousands of gallons of oil along the Central Coast. The company proposes to resume pumping to its Las Flores Canyon processing facility, then loading tanker trucks that would transport up to 470,400 gallons of oil per day up to 140 miles to refineries in Santa Maria and Kern County. That would mean 70 trucks per day heading up Highway 101 from Gaviota to the Nipomo Mesa and across Route 166 and the Cuyama River watershed, 24 hours a day.

You might detect several problems with this plan, along with indifferently regulated offshore oil and gas pipelines and the prospect of negotiating the curves of Highway 166 while surrounded by oil tankers. Oil spills off the Central Coast threaten a wide range of endangered species. The Environmental Defense Center's 2013 report: "Dirty Water: Fracking Offshore California," is also worth a read.

But here's the kicker:

As the final environmental impact report (EIR) nears its hearing before the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission on Sept. 29 and Oct. 1, even though it admits that there would be unavoidable impacts from the project—including significant impacts on wildlife and cultural resources in the event of an oil spill from a tanker truck—the final EIR does not consider the obvious impacts of bringing Exxon's three shuttered offshore platforms back online.

And, of course, this project is in direct opposition to the goals of the state of California to shift away from fossil fuels in favor of clean, renewable energy sources.

In short: "The county's final environmental impact report fails to disclose the devastating impacts that will result if ExxonMobil is allowed to resume oil drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel and truck oil along our scenic highways," said Linda Krop, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Center. "ExxonMobil's proposal will result in more oil spills, air pollution, and increased climate change at a time when we need to pursue clean energy alternatives."

The defense for this project—which you will be hearing more and more as it nears its permit hearing, and from critics of this article who don't read this far—is the same as the defense for all other such projects: jobs.

The California Workforce Development Board says this: "California has demonstrated that it is viable to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and have economic growth concurrently. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) used economic modeling to estimate that in 2030 there will be at most a 0.3 percent difference in job growth when comparing scenarios with or without climate policy—essentially, no net job loss."

The Workforce Development Board report notes that this minuscule difference is especially notable when compared to recent projections of the cost of not mitigating climate change, reported in the Fourth National Climate Assessment, "which predicts severe disruptions to the economy if climate action is not taken."

Further, in 2016, there were 9,000 people employed in oil and gas extraction in California—0.06 percent of the state's 16 million jobs—and 57,000 in the entire fossil fuel industry—0.36 percent of California's 16 million jobs. This compares to 512,000 people employed in jobs related to clean energy.

There's one other problem with this plan: Despite the impacts of the project in SLO County, Exxon only needs a permit from Santa Barbara County.

You may remember a few years ago when Phillips 66 planned to run crude oil "bomb trains" that would run nearly the length of California before reaching the Nipomo Mesa refinery. Even though the project's obvious threats applied to dozens of cities and counties, Phillips 66 only needed a permit from SLO County, the destination of the trains. Exxon only needs a permit from the point of origin for the trucks. People from across the state overflowed the SLO County Government Center during the Phillips 66 oil train hearings—their only chance to plead their case against the oil train project. We won. We must now make the voices of San Luis Obispo heard in Santa Barbara.

The cities of San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay have gone on record opposing Exxon's plan. Now it's your turn. Tell the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission to focus on the adequacy of the final environmental impact report. Without an adequate EIR, the commission cannot determine the project's potential impacts, mitigation measures and alternatives, and consistency with local laws. The first finding the commission must make is whether the EIR complies with the California Environmental Quality Act and discloses all of the potential impacts of the proposed project. Δ

Andrew Christie is the director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Send comments through clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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