The American Society of Civil Engineers recognized oil as an element of “infrastructure” in California in its 2016 Infrastructure Report Card. That report card clearly documents the fact that there are no easy answers to our complex energy and transportation challenges for the future.
Fossil fuel permeates every aspect of our daily lives. It has driven an exponential increase in human numbers and civilizations from the horse-and-buggy days. It enables us to easily get to work, school and medical facilities as well as the freedom to travel for family and recreational purposes. It supports the quality of life Californians take for granted. We need more – not less – fossil fuels to develop economies and basic infrastructures for the people of developing countries.
This has been lost on the part of many lawmakers and regulators who have come under intense pressure from the powerful anti-oil lobby to eliminate fossil fuel production and use at the local and state level in California, primarily to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with climate change. Wind and solar are only able to provide intermittent electricity to the grid, but cannot provide the oil or the oil by-products that are the basis of every component of modern civilizations’ industries and infrastructures. This is an overly simplistic approach to addressing the complex international challenge of forestalling global warming.
The fact is, oil is the only energy source that is technically able to power about 95 percent of our state’s 32 million vehicles with transportation fuel demands of 40 million gallons per day. It’s just common sense to produce as much of that crude oil and manufacture the transportation fuels as much as possible in California for its 38 million citizens who live on an “energy island” for several reasons: First, our state has the nation’s strictest environmental laws, generating far lower greenhouse gas emissions than those associated with producing and transporting oil from countries with weaker rules. Second, it would provide California consumers with the energy security necessary to protect us from disruptive and costly supply interruptions. Third, it would be good for our economy, providing jobs and revenues right here in California instead of in other states and countries.
Despite this reality, regulators continue to recklessly forge ahead with schemes to force an immediate move away from reliable fossil fuels in favor of alternatives and renewables. With both in-state crude oil production and shipments from Alaska on the decline, shipments from foreign countries, already at 52 percent of California’s needs, will be increasing. An alternative to reduce dependency on foreign crude is approval of crude transport by rail from the Midwest or Canada to meet the demands on the California energy island.
One scenario under consideration by the Air Resources Board would mandate that the number of electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles increase from the current 300,000 to 5 million and 40 percent of new car sales by 2030, regardless of cost or feasibility.
There are local efforts underway as well. For example, here in the Valley area, two of three planned phases to expand access to the San Fernando Road bike path have been completed, and the third is underway. But is it intellectually honest to think that Valley commuters will be able to use a roughly three-mile bike path to get to jobs throughout the more than 4,000 square miles of Los Angeles County alone?
A recent traffic study concluded that six of the most congested stretches of highway in the United States are in the Los Angeles area. The 101 Freeway in the Valley earned the dubious distinction as the worst highway in the country, where during rush hour it can take 91 minutes to travel 26 miles at an average speed of 17 miles an hour.
So how do we reconcile the desire to fight global warming with the real-life transportation needs of Valley motorists and our counterparts throughout the state? First, some perspective may be helpful: according to the California Energy Commission, our state contributes a miniscule 1 percent of total worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. It’s been a decade since the passage of the flagship climate change policy AB 32, yet the state has not been transparent with the results of its emission crusade, and remains on a go-it-alone path to micromanage the California emissions that generate billions of dollars for the government at the expense of businesses and the financially challenged. So no matter how much inconvenience and cost we impose on drivers, we are likely to see a return that is purely symbolic, not substantive.
And no matter how many electric cars we put on the road, they will still be stuck in the same maddening traffic jams that increasingly enrage users of more conventional vehicles.
Let’s hope that future generations will be up to the challenge facing humanity to mitigate climate change responsibly and cost-effectively. Meanwhile, as the society of civil engineers report card suggests, California might do well to focus more attention and resources on improving transportation infrastructure to make commuting easier and cleaner for the folks in the Valley and elsewhere.
Ronald Stein is founder of PTS Staffing Solutions, a technical staffing agency headquartered in Irvine.