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Peak oil and U.S. cities

The past year, consciousness surrounding Peak Oil has gained momentum as the topic has moved more and more into the mainstream, even though it still has a long ways to go.

The present dip in oil prices, partly seasonal in nature, is merely a short term blip on an ever increasing upward spiral. We are very fortunate that San Francisco’s city government has agreed to address Peak Oil at the juncture, instead of making the mistake of waiting.

[About a dozen U.S. cities have passed a peak oil resolution, or are in the process of doing so.]

What do these efforts generally have in common?

  • Grassroots advocacy began the process. A partnership of government and citizens was used to assess the issue and work on legislation

  • A champion in city government or a related agency helped the citizens' groups.
  • They are action oriented; program development mediated through task force study.
  • Comprehensive issues are being studied in all cases, it’s not just focused on transportation

Cities that have passed peak oil resolutions

The first group of cities are those which have passed peak oil resolutions (except for ours here in San Francisco), in chronological order of their passing:

FRANKLIN, NEW YORK
The town (AKA township) of Franklin, New York, was the first municipality in the US to acknowledge peak oil in December 2005. This resulted from a one-man crusade. A former documentary film maker, Gene Marner, was the guiding force behind this resolution. He first learned of Peak Oil in 1999 and had been attending meetings of their township council since then, warning them of the potential catastrophes of peak oil. When he suggested a citizens’ commission to study the topic, they readily agreed.

Their resolution passed in December 6, 2005, four months before our local San Francisco resolution.

Presently they are working on setting up the infrastructure for a ride-sharing program (which would probably not be highly used in their rural environment until petroleum prices skyrocket); several databases including a food security network of local farmers, a skill set network, and a goods exchange. They are encouraging their two remaining local stores in their township to carry local products. They’re also in the beginning stages of putting out a Peak Oil newsletter for the township, which, I believe they plan to publish monthly and distribute to all the 2500 people who live in Franklin Town.

SAN FRANCISCO OIL AWARENESS
Four members of the grassroots organization, San Francisco Oil Awareness (David Fridley, Jennifer Bresee, Allyse Heartwell, and Dennis Brumm), approached their city government in January, 2006, and after meeting individually with most of the city’s Board of Supervisors (and/or aides), the Board passed a resolution acknowledging Peak Oil by a unanimous 10-0 vote on April 11. This resolution was co-sponsored by four of the city’s eleven supervisors, and one of these, local Green Party Board member, Ross Mirkarimi, funneled the ensuing work on Peak Oil through the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), which he chairs.

LAFCo has sponsored two hearings since the passage of the resolution. The first, in July, 2006, featured presentations by Richard Heinberg and others, and dealt with a basic outline of oil depletion and its ramifications. This acted as an educational forum for both the government and citizens of the city. The second hearing, November 17, featuring Larry Robinson, former mayor of Sebastopol, California, was focused upon what other municipalities are doing or have done to address the topic of Peak Oil.

Legislation enabling a Peak Oil task force will soon be introduced to the full Board by Supervisor Mirkarimi, and the task force will be charged with making recommendations on how the city might work to mitigate the potential devastating effects that could result from Peak Oil. Presently, an assessment study for the city seems a likely possibility, and a third hearing on Peak Oil may also be scheduled in the next several months.

PORTLAND PEAK OIL
The five members of the Portland, Oregon City Council unanimously passed a peak oil resolution on May 10, 2006, almost exactly one month after San Francisco. Their resolution acknowledged Peak Oil and created a task force which was charged to investigate the implications Peak Oil would mean for their city, with a wide-spectrum membership from within the Portland community. They are supposed to return with recommendations to their City Council early in 2007.

Twelve people were chosen to be on their task force; the city of Portland has supplied four or five staff members the past months as people to take notes and publish the meetings, etc. Additionally they got help from one state employee.

Their task force split into four subcommittees: land use/transportation, food & agriculture, social services, and economic development. Each subcommittee has four to seven members. During the past two months subcommittees have met once a week, the task force twice a month, so people on two subcommittees had up to five meetings every two weeks! This hectic process is just ending.

Yesterday evening the entire task force met and each subcommittee brought a full draft of reports with the following information:
1. Background or intro
2. Findings from interviewing people, organizations, corporations, etc.
3. Recommendations

These will be pulled together into a final draft, it will be available to the local public as well as online for comment in about six weeks. Two months later they envision making recommendations to the full City Council.

BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA
Dave Rollo, the vice-president of the City Council in Bloomington, Indiana, who is also a member of their Sustainability Commission, was the driving force behind their Peak Oil resolution, which passed July 19, 2006. Their resolution adopted a global oil depletion protocol while calling upon the city to acknowledge the unprecedented nature of what Peak Oil could mean to their municipality. They called upon their city to notify state and federal governments about the issue.

Cities working on peak oil resolutions

The second group of cities are those which have expressed an interest in passing a peak oil resolution, or are in works with them. These are presented in alphabetical order.

ASHLAND, OREGON
Melissa Schweisguth of Sustainable Ashland contacted SF Oil Awareness in September to inform us that their local organization is working on a resolution similar to the one we passed regarding Peak Oil.

She now reports that support for their work is growing. Five of the six city councilors are interested in the topic, or in dialogue, as well as their city administrator and electricity director/conservation department director. They’ve expanded their peak oil resolution to call for the creation of a long-term sustainability plan encompassing fuel and oil issues as well as food security, water, waste reduction, building, economy, health care, public safety and emergency preparation, education, and community building.

They are planning a January or February 2007 council presentation and vote.

AUSTIN, TEXAS
Roger Duncan of Austin Energy, their local power company, has been helping their peak oil group, “Crude Awakening,” with their efforts to construct a peak oil resolution. They presently have a draft of a resolution that calls for setting up a citizens’ committee, and it also calls for peak oil contingency planning on the part of the city of Austin. Roger said they are in the early stages of the process, but it should be to the City Council soon.

DALLAS, TEXAS
Margie Haley is a member of Sustainable Dallas, and reports that they have been making some progress on environmental issues, which we should appreciate since Dallas is not San Francisco. She got in contact with us last August after the first LAFCo hearing, and was interested at that time in pursuing a Peak Oil resolution. Cal Broomhead, here today, of the Department of the Environment can attest to their interest in environmental issues, as Sustainable Dallas brought him to Dallas spoke to their City Council this past summer. This year they have also brought James Kunstler, the author of The Long Emergency and well-known for his role in The End of Suburbia, to the city to speak about peak oil. Dallas has now joined ICLEI and was instrumental in setting up a group “Texas Cities for Climate Protection.” So far climate change is more palatable to their city government than peak oil is, but this group is working on educating them on all fronts.

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA
Oakland passed an “Oil Independence Resolution” in October of this year, and according to the notices surrounding the resolution, it charged the City Council to set up a task force to give recommendations to them on the rather daunting task of defining how the city could free itself from the use of oil by 2020. Another ad hoc group of concerned East Bay citizens are presently considering taking a peak oil resolution to the City Council in addition to this previous resolution, or in seeing how that might play out within the context of the present oil-free resolution.

SANTA CLARA VALLEY POST CARBON/SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA
Santa Clara Valley Post Carbon is working on a Peak Oil resolution to present to the San Jose City Council. Saba Malik and Linda Perrine are the two primary forces behind the thrust in South Bay. They have written the document and are meeting with David Cortese of their City Council on November 30. One of its important premises is to secure the remaining farmland in Santa Clara County as a beginning hedge for future food security.

SANTA CRUZ POST CARBON
Santa Cruz has for the moment put their Peak Oil resolution on hold. A councilman on the Santa Cruz city council, Ed Porter, came to a showing of The End of Suburbia last week and announced that there was a new Action Plan that the City Council was considering on sustainability and energy issues; it aims to decrease carbon emissions and apparently will generally be following ICLEI reduction guidelines for that. The City Council is looking for community input, and as of right now Santa Cruz Post Carbon is working around this framework in their efforts to make Santa Cruz government aware of Peak Oil.

SEATTLE PEAK OIL AWARENESS
Seattle Peak Oil Awareness is working on a resolution to take to their City Council. Francesca Genotti is one of the people spearheading this effort in Seattle, and the contact we have at San Francisco Oil Awareness. A copy of a draft of their resolution has been sent to their Seattle city councilman, Bob Ferguson, who is their advocate on the council. From my discussions with Francesca, it sounded as if they will be getting some petition signatures from the public to deliver to the council with the resolution.

Other ways of addressing the issue

Some municipalities are working on peak oil but haven’t taken the exact same path. Willits (“Willits Economic LocaLization”) California has a very active Peak Oil community, and they are working hand in hand with the government of their small town to try to mitigate the future effects of expensive energy. Sebastopol, as you have heard, is also doing fine work. Ukiah has a group of citizens working to mitigate our energy scarce future. I imagine there are a number of locations at work we don’t know about.

The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) hosted a Southern California Energy Conference 10 March 2006 on the global peaking of oil and natural gas production, mitigation measures and alternatives. Assessing regional energy demand and supply for 2007/08 comprehensive and transportation plans.

There are additionally cities in Canada and England that have addressed Peak Oil or future energy shortages.

Editorial Notes: San Francisco's Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) hosted a public hearing Nov. 17 to consider Peak Oil issues. Three of the five commissioners present are also members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Following is a report written by Dennis Brumm and presented by Ricahrd Katz. They are members of both San Francisco Post Carbon and San Francisco Oil Awareness. San Francisco Oil Awareness is the group that dealt with the supervisors and works with the LAFCo hearings Sebastopol City Councilmember and former mayor Larry Robinson also testified at the meeting, about what his small town in Sonoma County is doing to prepare for Peak Oil and climate change. Cal Broomhead, Energy and Climate Program Manager for the Department of the Environment for the City and County of San Francisco, also prepared an outline of what San Francisco is currently doing on these matters, which a staff member presented. Shepherd Bliss Energy Bulletin writer I re-arranged some of the paragraphs to prepare the report for online presentation. UPDATE: corrected the names of the SF groups. UPDATE 2: added an entry for San Francisco. The Energy Bulletin archives contain news items on many of these municipal efforts. -BA

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