February 25, 2024

Antioch mayor says he will reject city investment in fossil-fuel infrastructure

Antioch Mayor Lamar Hernandez-Thorpe signs a pledge to reject city investment of public money into fossil-fuel infrastructure on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024, in Antioch City Hall’s lobby. Behind him are members of environmental groups Sunflower Alliance, Pacific Environment and others.

With the impacts of global warming hitting close to home for Antioch residents, Mayor Lamar Hernandez-Thorpe is pledging to reject investing public money into fossil fuel infrastructure in the city.

“Climate change is not something that is potentially going to happen to us,” Hernandez-Thorpe said at a press conference Wednesday morning at City Hall.  “It is literally happening right before our eyes.”

To that end, Hernandez-Thorpe on Wednesday became the first mayor to sign onto nonprofit Pacific Environment’s global pledge to fight climate crisis by saying “no” to new, renewed, or expanded fossil fuel infrastructure in Antioch.

Though largely ceremonial in that the mayor is just one vote on a five-member council, Hernandez-Thorpe pointed out that since he sets the agenda, it’s more than just symbolic. He can bring proposals before the council that can make a difference in the city.

“There are real things that are going to happen as a result of this and real policies that will come out of this as well,” he said.

One example, he said, is an upcoming proposal to ban the building of new gas stations in the city.

“There’ll be a host of other policies that will come forward that will again be guided by this mayoral proclamation,” Hernandez-Thorpe said. “So it does have teeth.”

Also rejected as part of the proclamation are any new bunkering facilities for ships and planes, power plants, including whole oil and natural gas pipelines, new oil refineries, transport terminals, natural gas processing plants, petrochemical plants, and gas connections to new buildings.

“We understand and recognize one very important thing, and that is that global warming is absolutely real,” the mayor said. “Last year – in 2023 – we reached a historic milestone, as a globe, as we recorded the planet’s hottest year on record.”

Fern Uennatornwaranggoon of Pacific Environment called the pledge “a really significant step” to “reject new, renewed or expanded fossil fuel infrastructure in our cities.”

“With the pledge today, Mayor Lamar Hernandez-Thorpe leads the way globally on committing to no new investment of public city money in fossil fuels,” she said. “He commits to removing authority from existing land use documents for any new, renewed or expanded fossil fuel infrastructure on city property.”

Shoshana Westfall, of the environmental group Sunflower Alliance, concurred, pointing out that the city took its first step by banning oil and gas drilling in 2022.

The city also recently chose not to renew a gas pipeline permit for one that runs through the city to the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, she said.

“Antioch took the risk of being sued,” Westfall said. “…They are putting it on the line. This is a courageous performance on the part of a city government.”

Uennatornwaranggoon of Pacific Environment, meanwhile, noted that the recent severe weather points to the need to transition off fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.

“Climate change is already hitting us here in California,” she said. “And due to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, California temperatures have risen by at least three degrees Fahrenheit since pre-industrial times, with half of this increase happening rapidly since the 1970s.”

Uennatornwaranggoon said climate change is leading to “increasingly frequent and more severe incidences of storms, flooding, heat waves, wildfires, drought and power outages.”

“The 10 hottest years since recorded history in the state have occurred since 2005, and 14 of the most destructive wildfires in California state history have occurred in the last 15 years. Sea levels rise in the Bay Area has risen over eight inches in the last 100 years,” she said.

Antioch is also seeing local impacts of climate change, Uennatornwaranggoon said, pointing to the nearby San Joaquin/Sacramento River, which was once the source of year-round fresh water, but now has become contaminated with saltwater.

Hernandez-Thorpe noted that global warming and melting ice caps have caused rising sea levels, which have contributed to saltwater contamination in the river. And, though Antioch has pre-1914 water rights and can pump from the river, in recent years the water has become increasingly saline, so the city often has had to rely on purchasing more expensive raw water from the Contra Costa Water District.

“A few years ago Antioch made the bold decision to build a $110 million brackish water desalination plant to mitigate the impacts of global warming,” Thorpe-Hernandez said.

That $110 million desalination plant, which will provide up to 6 million gallons of desalinated water a day, is expected to open this spring, the mayor said.

But not every part of our planet is experiencing climate change in the same fashion, Hernandez-Thorpe said.

“For Antioch, atmospheric rivers pose huge threats to our already strained infrastructure,” he said. “Roads will continue to deteriorate and crumble at a faster rate than before. If you don’t believe me, go drive down around and check out some of the newest potholes.”

Hernandez-Thorpe also said there were parts of the city where the stormwater doesn’t drain well because the river’s tides are so high the water “can’t be pushed out.”

“All of this stuff is benign to the average person,” he said. “But it has a very real impact on city coffers – and every single resident’s pocketbook.”

The mayor added that the city has a lot to do yet in mitigating climate change and can’t do it all by itself.

“Hopefully, other mayors throughout the Bay Area, throughout the state of California and throughout the globe, frankly, step up and do the exact same thing.”

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