Once upon a time we celebrated the industries that built America and most of the civilization we now take for granted. The key ingredient to the life we enjoy today—a life that allows women more freedom than any other time in history—is abundant, cost-effective energy. For the time being, the primary source of energy that fuels our civilization is fossil fuels, usually oil in one form or another. The clothes you wear and virtually everything in your home or place of business are either a product derived from oil or transported to marketplaces by oil. The energy that powers every electronic device that we take for granted as impossible to live without is powered by fossil fuels generating electricity or some derivative thereof. Even nuclear power plants, windmills, and solar power systems require oil or another fossil fuel to perform critical functions in their operations, their manufacture, or for safety backup systems. Within California, 97 percent of our transportation energy is provided via fossil fuels in one form or another.
Some of these fuels are more efficient than others. Gasoline or diesel generate more power for transport than other fuels, such as propane and natural gas. The trucking industry has experienced this factor first hand when environmental policies set limits on emissions from “dirty diesel” engines. The result was a loss of so much power that heavily laden semi-trucks were unable to get up to speed and were incapable of pulling full loads up any significant grade. Those wedded to a fossil-fuel-free economy continue to advocate for mandatory elimination of key components of infrastructure, especially within transportation systems regardless of abundant evidence that what they advocate is neither practical nor cost effective.
I spent most of my youth in what today is described as “flyover country.” I’ve seen firsthand the entrenched poverty experienced by millions of Americans in areas where industry has departed, often for foreign shores or as victims of regulatory overreach. Women usually experience the negative economic effects of uncompromising environmental regulations as their homes are broken up via absentee fathers, resulting from lost jobs, mortgages not paid, communities reduced to malaise and despair. Primary breadwinners are often forced to travel hours to find any work and the stability of homes, family, and children suddenly becomes at risk. Drug abuse in these communities, along with domestic violence and juvenile turmoil, tends to spike, and the local residents keep asking why. Why are their communities singled out at the cost of destroying the livelihoods of thousands of people as if they don’t matter? I’ve literally witnessed the callous disregard for these people by environmental crusaders who “sniff” that the world is overpopulated anyway, dismissing those they despise as “losers.” That attitude is not far from feudalism when “lesser men” were subjugated by “their betters.”
The state of California leads in ever-increasing regulatory mandates to achieve the elimination of the last 2 or 3 percent of pollutants at costs comparable to or exceeding the cost to eliminate the first 97 percent. How clean is clean enough? To persuade the public that their public health and safety requires this regulatory burden at whatever cost, hype and fear are woven into the arguments for every new proposed regulation enforced by an ever-increasing bureaucracy. Arguments about the Phillips 66 oil trains being “bomb trains” along with specious descriptions of “blast zones” were liberally used by opponents to frighten an uninformed public. The blast zones designation used by the state refers to hazards posed by cargo other than oil, which does not pose the danger of cargo transported under pressure, regardless of inflammatory claims to the contrary by project opponents. That other cargo, by the way, continues to transit local rail lines.
A few writers last week took my defense of the Phillips 66 project to task by questioning my knowledge or concern about the project. During the two-year debate over the Phillips 66 rail expansion project, I attended several hearings and spoke about rail transport of hazardous materials. I stated at these hearings that oil trains already come through SLO County along with multiple shipments every week of extremely hazardous materials, far more dangerous than any type of oil shipment, via rail and road.
Thirty-five years ago, I was a SLO County emergency services coordinator. I coordinated the development of the first countywide hazardous materials emergency response plan and participated in the response to a large oil spill in SLO Creek resulting from a pipeline rupture. Additionally, I hold certifications by the state of California as an emergency management specialist and as a qualified hazardous materials emergency response specialist and instructor.
The Phillips project, statistically, would have provided a more stable method of transportation of oil versus shipment via the highways on trucks. Statistically speaking, there is a much higher probability of a road accident killing or injuring the public than a very remote rail accident. You aren’t safer because the Phillips project was denied any more than an ostrich is by sticking its head in the sand.
Al Fonzi is an Army lieutenant colonel of military intelligence who had a 35-year military career, serving in both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Send comments through the editor at email@example.com.
-- Al Fonzi - Atascadero