Falling Ash vs. Rays of Clean Energy
We live in Torrance, California, a mile from the Pacific, and this was ash resulting from a large explosion and fire that occurred at the Exxon Mobil refinery just 3.5 miles away.
This morning, shortly before 9:00, my husband walked out our front door to drop a letter in the mailbox and returned moments later with flakes of white powder on his head and sweater. I looked outside and was alarmed to see the same flakes covering our patio furniture. No, we do not live on the east coast and this was not snow. We live in Torrance, California, a mile from the Pacific, and this was ash resulting from a large explosion and fire that occurred at the Exxon Mobil refinery just 3.5 miles away.
As the flakes whirled in the air, immediate questions began to whirl through my mind. What is this ash? What exactly happened at the refinery? Were any of the refinery workers—who are at risk from exposure to toxic substances on a daily basis—hurt in the explosion? Is the air safe to breathe? And will keeping the kids indoors at recess, as advised by the authorities, be enough to protect my daughter and her classmates from breathing in harmful air?
Yet even as I ask and seek answers to these questions, a bigger question looms: How do we accelerate our independence from dirty, polluting, unsafe fossil fuels? Today’s explosion in Torrance is but the latest in a long, long stream of polluting and dangerous accidents resulting from the extraction, processing and transportation of fossil fuels. I am reminded today of the massive 2012 explosion at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California that caused thousands of nearby residents to seek medical treatment for respiratory problems; and in the past week alone, two separate trains carrying crude oil—one in Ontario, Canada and one in West Virginia—have derailed, spilling oil and catching on fire.
The good news is that there is no need for falling ash and spilt oil when we have clean energy solutions at our fingertips. It’s time to ramp up our use of renewable energy and energy efficiency in a big way. And California legislators, led by Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León, have introduced a package of bills to do just that, establishing a goal for the state to obtain 50% of our electricity from renewable sources, achieving a 50 percent reduction in the use of petroleum in our vehicles, and increasing energy efficiency in buildings by 50 percent, all by 2030.
Of course, those bills can’t answer the questions that I have and that I’m sure my daughter will ask me about today’s explosion in Torrance, but they give me hope for a cleaner, safer future for all Californians—a future in which we harness the tremendous energy of the sun’s rays to power our lives and put days of falling refinery ash firmly in the past.