Op-Ed: We can’t afford to shutter California’s aging oil refineries yet
This year — and likely next — could mark the final year that the California Energy Commission maintains its authority to shut down a single oil refinery, under a law the lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to change in 2009.
The law came after a 2006 oil spill fouled the coast of Santa Barbara, which sparked a major environmental battle that has yet to be resolved. Oil now flows in the Santa Maria River about a mile inland from Santa Barbara and near the coast, where it’s been pumped into the ocean.
Lawmakers say the state is facing an emergency. The oil spill in Santa Barbara has also forced the California Legislature to consider new regulations for oil refineries that operate in the state.
But while the federal government has proposed a $75 million program to help California refineries recover and restore from a federal oil spill, state regulators have offered few details on how to pay for the program or what the money is for. The programs, which are being put in motion in San Francisco and Sacramento, would be paid for with rebated revenues from the state’s oil tax and fees to oil companies.
Last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation that would create a five-year “cap and trade” program for California to capture carbon emissions from oil refineries. The $75 million cap and trade program would help refineries by buying their natural gas from other states that do not want to build new electric plants and by buying their electricity directly from other states. The program is not expected to be ready until September.
Some experts say the program would be a good first step. A program like cap and trade could serve as a model for California’s other regulated industries, which have been using cap and trade to get cheaper natural gas and an expanded range of renewable energy. But it’s too early to say how much it could cost and how long it would take to implement.
“It’s a pretty ambitious plan,” said Michael Wara, president of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies. “But it sounds like they believe it’s doable.”
The California Energy Commission this month awarded a contract to build the nation