Trump Administration Withdraws Plan to Deepen SF Bay Shipping Channel for Oil Tankers




By Dan Bacher | 


In a victory for environmental justice, indigenous, community and conservation groups, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced on November 28 via public notice that it is withdrawing plans to dredge the shipping channel connecting San Francisco Bay to the Port of Stockton.

Plan opponents say today’s notice is “good news for the Bay, taxpayers, and our drinking water — and bad news for the dirty fuel industry, which was the project's only beneficiary.”

The notice states: “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is issuing this notice to advise Federal, State and local governmental agencies and the public that USACE is terminating the San Francisco Bay to Stockton, California Navigation Study and withdrawing its Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for said study.”   

According to a press release from the San Francisco Baykeeper, the scheme “was a favor to the Bay Area’s oil refineries to help them operate larger oil tankers on the Bay. The ill-advised plan would have increased the risk of disastrous oil spills, posed a threat to local drinking water and farms, and cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. The proposal might also have set the stage for the Port of Stockton to expand toxic coal pollution in the Bay.”    

The San Francisco Baykeeper said they joined forces with a coalition of Bay Area environmental and community organizations, the Protect the Bay Coalition, to challenge the proposal.  

Baykeeper actively opposed the Army Corps' dredging plan and raised significant legal and technical concerns over the project's Environmental Impact Statement during the public rulemaking process, which ended with the project's termination.

In response, Baykeeper Executive Director Sejal Choksi-Chugh issued the following statement:

"Today’s cancellation of the dredging boondoggle is a big win because it was nothing more than a hand-out to the fossil fuel industry that posed a significant risk to the health of our Bay and Bay Area communities.

Deeper dredging could have contaminated the tap water flowing into hundreds of thousands of Bay-Delta homes and the irrigation water reaching the region’s crops with high levels of salt and possible pollutants — threatening both public health and agricultural productivity.

Deeper channels would also have meant larger oil tankers on the Bay. The decision to terminate the Bay-to-Stockton dredging scheme reduces the risk of a disastrous oil spill. It's also a helpful step to transition the Bay Area’s dirty fuel industry to cleaner energy alternatives. And that's good news for the Bay, the people of the Bay Area, and for the future of our fragile climate."

Other members of the Protect the Bay Coalition commented on the significance to the withdrawal of the Army Corps’ plan also.

 “This is a huge win for everyone involved. This was the focus of the Indigenous Women of the Americas Defending Mother Earth Treaty Bay Area Signatories Spring Equinox Action this year, our first ONLINE action,” said Alison Ehara-Brown of the Indigenous Women’s group. 

“This same time last year, I delivered over 20,000 signatures to the public representative of the Army Corps of Engineers at an overcrowded townhall held at the Pinole library organized by the Protect the Bay Coalition,” said Isabella Zizi of Idle No More SF Bay Area regarding the successful campaign.

“Earlier this year, Indigenous Women of the Americas Defending Mother Earth Treaty Bay Area signatories we’re planning a Spring Equinox Action outside of the ACE building in SF, but had to improvise due to COVID-19 and thanks to David Solnit for throwing the idea out to do a ‘virtual art build’ where we invited over 120 people to create a powerful message,” she noted. 

The cancellation of the dredging proposal, called the “San Francisco to Stockton Navigation Improvement Project,” comes on the heels of an earlier November announcement by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District that it was halting the permitting process for a marine terminal expansion proposal at Phillips 66’s San Francisco Refinery

“The withdrawal of the Army Corps’ dredging proposal, coupled with the halting of the Phillips 66 refinery’s expansion plans, is a pivot point for activists in the Bay Area,” said Wilder Zeiser, Climate Campaigner at Stand.earth and member of the Protect the Bay coalition. “With the announcement, local communities have successfully fought back all of the various proposals for increased oil imports through San Francisco Bay. Local community resistance deserves credit for this win.” 

Zeiser said the refinery expansion proposal and the dredging proposal had been criticized as moves by the Trump administration and Big Oil to expand the fossil fuel industry in California — including increasing imports of Canadian tar sands crude oil and increasing exports of U.S. coal. 

Over the past year, thousands of community members with the Protect the Bay coalition spoke out against the dredging proposal. In April 2020, more than 9,700 people submitted comments during a public comment period, said Zeiser. 

As the fossil fuel industry deals with the fallout from its canceled Bay Area expansion plans, Matt Krogh, U.S. Oil & Gas Program Director at Stand.earth, said local activists are already advocating for what’s next for their communities — a just transition off of fossil fuels.

“As California continues to move away from a fossil fuel-based economy, these canceled proposals are likely the last refinery expansion plans that East Bay communities will need to fight,” stated Krogh. “Now, frontline activists can turn their attention to calling for an equitable and just transition away from fossil fuels and to a clean energy economy, one that supports refinery workers and frontline communities.”

Earlier in November 2020, after Contra Costa County’s Board of Supervisors declared a climate emergency in the county, a diverse group of environmental and public health advocates sent a letter to the Board calling for a planned and equitable transition away from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy, according to Krogh.

In July 2020, more than 100 social change organizations and community groups from throughout California sent a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom to start gradually reducing the state's oil refinery production so the state can meet its climate goals and protect communities from further unnecessary pollution. 

The letter draws attention to the “Decommissioning California Refineries: Climate and Health Paths in an Oil State” report also released in July 2020 that outlines how California's leaders can forestall an escalating climate and jobs crisis for the state's communities and workers by scaling down oil refining for export over the next few years, starting now. 

The  Army Corps axed its plan to deepen San Francisco Bay just days after it denied the permit for the Pebble Mine project that would have destroyed Bristol Bay and its world class salmon fisheries, due to massive opposition by a coalition of Alaskan Native governments, commercial fishing groups, recreational fishing organizations and environmental groups. (www.ecowatch.com/..)

Here's the link to the open letter to the Army Corps from the signatories on the Indigenous Women of the Americas Defending Mother Earth Treaty and photos featured in the virtual banner at the top of this article: https://www.facebook. com/media/set/

The link to Peg Hunter’s video is here: https://www.facebook. com/1016733113/videos/ 10221974713969733/  


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Copyright by Elk Grove News © 2020. All right reserved.



 







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