Perspectives: A Conversation with Catherine-Reheis-Boyd, President, WSPA and Kristin Connelly, President and CEO, East Bay Leadership Council

Engaging and collaborating with leaders from business, labor, environmental justice and the industry at large throughout the Western United States is an integral part of the work the Western States Petroleum Association does every day. Perspectives is a new conversation series where Catherine Reheis-Boyd and another regional leader will share their points of view on specific issues or timely current events.

This month’s Perspectives piece interviews Kristin Connelly, President and CEO of the East Bay Leadership Council.

Cath: I think a lot about what it means to balance our collective desire for a sustainable energy future with our region’s economic and community prosperity. The reality is that a future that works for some does not for others, and that’s something that needs to be talked more about in policy planning. What should policymakers and consumers alike keep in mind when balancing the needs of the planet with those of the economy, specifically when it comes to our energy and fuel needs?

Kristin: I talk a lot about how growing up in Martinez, CA, a town with two refineries, was part of me identifying early as an environmentalist. When balancing the needs of the planet with those of the economy, policymakers should keep in mind that including the energy experts that work for the oil and gas sector is an incredibly important resource. In my experience, refinery engineers and technicians are some of the most environmentally conscious people I have ever met. As California seeks to achieve its aggressive environmental policies and moves towards electrification of our transportation sector, it is vitally important to have an all-of-the above strategy that prioritizes innovation and equity.

Cath: I couldn’t agree more that an “all-of-the-above” strategy is exactly what this state needs right now, especially as our collective energy consumption will continue to increase for years to come. Our industry is working hard to invest in new clean technologies, like renewables, that will help support future energy needs as well as promote ongoing sustainability. But what many people don’t understand is that technology and infrastructure are not there today – not even close – to provide California and beyond with the reliable energy it needs to keep moving and keep the lights on. Based on today’s infrastructure, do you think many of California’s proposed energy solutions are feasible?

Kristin: Absolutely not. California has underinvested in infrastructure for nearly fifty years, which is why we do not currently have the infrastructure necessary to make some of the energy solutions proposed in Sacramento feasible. We need to make significant new investments in renewable energy, battery technology, the grid, and charging station technology in anticipation of more widespread adoption of electric vehicles by California’s more than 30 million drivers. In addition to massive infrastructure investment by the state, policymakers should support and incentivize development of alternative fuels, such as the two proposed renewable diesel plants in Contra Costa. I’m hopeful that the East Bay will be at the forefront of producing renewable jet fuel and less carbon intensive fuel for cars and trucks for decades to come.

Cath: It’s exciting to see how our industry and the region you work closely with are innovating to develop sustainable fuels and energy for the future. One thing many people may not realize is that the oil and gas industry has been part of this transition for decades, creating more efficient and sustainable fuels – like the projects you mentioned in Contra Costa County, investing in innovative technologies like renewables and carbon capture and sequestration and beyond. But the latest policy proposals from Governor Newsom are ignoring the expertise from our industry and the hundreds of thousands of workers who rely on these good paying, critical jobs. For those hard-working families, it’s hard to see how this transition can be fair or “just.”  How do you envision a fair transition to a more sustainable energy future while protecting communities who rely on great current industry jobs?

Kristin: No transition will be successful without industry at the table. It’s the only way to ensure that key assets are not wasted and that workers are able to access meaningful career opportunities that help meet California’s energy needs. Reliable energy supplies are essential to economic growth. Any transitions need to continue to meet the needs of our economy while we embrace more sustainable practices. We have two examples of energy companies being proactive about the transition to a more sustainable future in Contra Costa County. Both the Phillips 66 Rodeo Renewed project and Marathon’s refinery in Martinez have applied to become producers of renewable diesel. Converting these facilities to be able to produce high-demand fuels, including renewable jet fuel, is critical to the future regional economy in the Bay Area. Both projects plan to employ the reliable, well-trained, union labor force available locally for the operations as well as the Building Trades for the construction phases. Having the buy-in, involvement and opportunity for continued employment are essential factors for success in this transition.

 Cath: Exactly. Those are exactly the types of transitions that this state – and country – need to continue our path towards a more sustainable energy future, while protecting livelihoods, families and communities that our industry currently employs. We have some of the brightest workers around, and policies should reflect the opportunity to keep the experts doing what they do best: delivering the reliable, affordable energy we all depend on and innovating for a brighter future.

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