Will Parrish

WILL PARRISH: Stopping the Tar-Sands Invasion


The Monthly

East Bay groups are attempting to prevent the region from playing a major role in a climate disaster. 

In the late afternoon of Aug. 6, 2012, a rupture in a fuel pipe at the Chevron refinery in Richmond released a geyser of hot milky-white vapor that engulfed 19 employees. The workers fled, and two minutes later, the cloud ignited into a torrent of flames that ripped through several buildings. A massive plume of black smoke blew east and northeast, sprinkling residents of Richmond and San Pablo with toxic chemicals and particles. In the weeks that followed, more than 15,000 local residents went to the hospital, mostly with respiratory ailments.

Ninety minutes after the fire began, Chevron spokesperson Heather Kulp attempted to deflect blame for the disaster onto two of the refinery’s most persistent watchdogs: the environmental justice groups Communities for a Better Environment and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. The organizations had jointly won a 2010 lawsuit against Chevron, blocking the refinery’s attempt to develop new infrastructure for handling higher polluting grades of oil. Chevron was in the midst of negotiating with the city of Richmond concerning a scaled-down version of its proposal. In a press conference, the smoke cloud billowing behind her, Kulp blamed the disaster on “environmentalists and the community that have not let us modernize our refinery,” alleging that the company had been forced to operate with aging equipment that consequently burst into flames.

Kulp later retracted her statement, and a U.S. Chemical Safety Board examination ruled that a pivotal factor in the explosion was rapid corrosion of pipe caused by the refinery’s reliance on oil with high sulfur content. Ironically, the same groups that Kulp attempted to scapegoat had warned of this possibility for several years. During their environmental campaigns, they repeatedly pointed out that the refinery’s switch to dirtier crude risked more frequent leaks and spills.

WILL PARRISH: Stuart Bewley’s Outlaw Grows





The Mendocino County Supervisors will soon vote on a series of environmental protections that would include putting 714,000 acres of rangeland off-limits to new cannabis cultivation permits and adopting an impressively strict oak woodlands protection ordinance, while also allowing existing growers to become legally-permitted.

The end of marijuana prohibition has opened up the possibility of a damaging “green rush,” which these measures aim to prevent.

The person who has most vocally opposed these protections is Stuart Bewley, one of Mendocino County’s wealthiest landowners, who made his fortune in the wine industry and has now moved aggressively into the cannabis business..

I’ve described in the past about how marijuana growing is often used as a scapegoat for environmental degradation, but it’s also the case that extreme marijuana grows are a major source of environmental damage, land speculation, and cultural upheaval, as many people who have opposed damage from the timber industry have also pointed out.

As with so many of Mendocino County-based backwoods cannabis proprietors, Stuart Bewley’s journey to the rugged hills and gullies of Bell Springs and west Laytonville began during the 1970s. In that heady time, young idealists flocked to the remote and disjointed terrain of California’s northern coastal mountains, in collective pursuit of a better life in a better place. Desperate to earn a living, some of the more entrepreneurial members of their sub-culture soon developed breakthrough techniques for cultivation ofsinsemilla, fostering what has budded out into a multi-billion dollar industry.

WILL PARRISH: This Bay Area Proposal Would Strike a Huge Blow to the Dirtiest Forms of Oil Production…


The Nation

A proposed emissions cap would prevent the area’s refineries from converting dirtier-burning oils into fuel. Will it pass?

During his State of the State address last week, California Governor Jerry Brown defiantly declared, “We cannot fall back and give in to the climate deniers.” Just hours after President Trump announced his intention to resume construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, Brown declared, “The science is clear,” and said there is much California can and will do on its own to combat the climate crisis.

A coalition of climate-justice advocates and labor groups in the Bay Area have a proposal that they say is a prime example of how California can do this. In spite of its reputation as a haven for environmentalism, California is home to the third-largest oil-refining sector in the United States, which exports a considerable amount of gasoline, jet fuel, propane, and other fossil-fuel products to surrounding states. Oil processing is already California’s largest industrial emitter of greenhouse gases, but things could get even worse in the coming years: The state’s refineries have developed a greater technical capacity to convert lower-quality, denser oil into engine fuels than those in other parts of North America, meaning they’re at the leading edge of the oil industry’s long-term pivot towards refining dirtier-burning sources, including the tar sands—something California’s existing climate policies may do little to prevent.

In response, a coalition of groups, including Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), the Sierra Club, 350 Bay Area, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, the California Nurses Association, and numerous others, are pushing to make the San Francisco Bay Area the first place in the world to place limits on oil refineries’ overall greenhouse-gas (GHG) and particulate-matter emissions. The proposal would prevent oil corporations from making the Bay Area a center of tar-sands refining by enforcing a cap based on historic emissions levels.

WILL PARRISH: Local Impacts of Standing Rock




On Sunday, November 6, in Redwood Valley, several hundred people gathered to listen to activists report back from Standing Rock where they had stood in solidarity with Native American Tribes, known as Water Protectors, opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline.

One such speaker was Jassen Rodriguez, a Mishewal Wappo tribal member whose ancestral landbase includes much of Sonoma, Napa, and southern Lake counties. He had just returned from a three-week sojourn to North Dakota, where had had stayed at Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires, an encampment named for the seven bands of the Sioux people where a ceremonial fire has remained burning for many months.

Elders at Standing Rock had granted Rodriguez the responsibility of tending the sacred fire on behalf of the entire camp, and he choked back tears as he recounted the experience.

“It was the greatest honor of my life,” Rodriguez said. “It was an incredible blessing. The entire experience was a spiritual awakening.”

Opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline has galvanized support from all over the world. Constructed mainly by Fortune 500 company Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline originates in the Bakken oil patch and traverses North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa, and ends in Illinois, linking to transmission routes to the East Coast and Gulf Coast.

For several months, indigenous people, environmentalists and Great Plains residents have protested the project because it threatens water quality and myriad sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux. It will also contribute to the global climate crisis.

On December 4th, the Standing Rock resistance achieved a major breakthrough when the Army Corps of Engineers denied Energy Transfer Partners’ request for an easement to build the pipeline beneath the Missouri River, requiring a full environmental impact statement before that part of the project can proceed.

WILL PARRISH: Willits Bypass Opens




A parade of classic cars led the way last Thursday afternoon, November 4th, as CalTrans celebrated Opening Day of the Willits Bypass. A bulletin relased by Big Orange’s legendary propaganda shill, Phil Frisbie, Jr., stated that the Chevy Bel Airs and Ford Thunderbirds would be ferrying the likes of Assemblymember Jim Wood and Willits City Councilmember Bruce Burton across Little Lake Valley’s beleaguered wetlands as a representation of “the more than six decades that have passed since the conception of the bypass.”

It’s fitting that CalTrans invoked the 50s origins of this $300 million anachronism with so much relish at this opening ceremony (Big Orange also threw in a wildly disproportionate amount of vapid patriotism, but since it took so long to get this project past the US Army Corps of Engineers, hey!, why not?). The Willits Bypass is a relic of the 50s in the worst sense, recalling a time when the US squandered precious environmental, financial and human resources on the creation of American Suburbia, severely wounding this nation’s urban core regions and giving rise to the most urgent problem humanity has ever faced: the global climate crisis.

Philosopher Louis Mumford wrote his classic The Highway and the City in 1958, which included the following assessment of the highway construction binge’s impacts: “In many parts of the country, the building of a highway has about the same result upon vegetation and human structures as the passage of a tornado or the blast of an atom bomb.”

If Mumford’s words seem exaggerated, keep in mind that the federal government was at the time considering using atomic detonations as a means to improve human transportation and commerce in a literal sense. In 1958, the US initiated Project Ploughshares, so named for the idea of converting nuclear bombs into a tool of “peaceful” engineering, akin to the Biblical concept of beating swords into ploughshares.

WILL PARRISH: The Spigot —  Bay Area investment fuels America’s fracking boom and pipeline protests…


OIL MONEY SPO Partners' unassuming location in Mill Valley belies its role as one of the country's largest investor's in oil and natural gas fracking, including oil that would supply the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline project.

OIL MONEY SPO Partners’ unassuming location in Mill Valley belies its role as one of the country’s largest investor’s in oil and natural gas fracking, including oil that would supply the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline project.

WILL PARRISH: Mendo Support Caravan Heads to Oil Pipeline Stand-Off


 1Growing pile of donated supplies at the Ukiah Courthouse rally (photo by Haji Warf).


While Sierra Rose Alexander was growing up on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in southeastern Montana, several influential members of the tribe were keen on leasing reservation land to Arch Coal Corporation.  This corporate leviathan was seeking to develop one of the USA’s largest coal strip mines, link it by rail to a Washington State terminal, and thence ship the dark and combustible substance to burgeoning Asian energy markets, in addition to domestic ones.

An area of rolling prairies and statuesque buttes called Otter Creek would have been sacrificed.  Arch Coal and other companies were in the midst of a broader push to expand mining in the Powder River Basin along the Montana-Wyoming border, the nation’s largest coal-producing region.

But Alexander’s grandfather had helped lead the opposition to a similar proposal in the 1970s. She and her immediate family members are among many Cheyenne traditionalists who continue to oppose any coal mining.

“My grandpa’ told my mom, ‘Never go for coal. Never tear up the land,’” recalls Alexander, who is 24 years old.  “I grew up with my mom telling me how important the land is, that the land is all we have.”

This past March, Sierra and other Northern Cheyenne traditionalists could breathe easier when Arch Coal suspended its application for the mine, citing a weak market and “an uncertain permitting environment.”  Nearby ranchers and conservation groups had also resisted the mine proposal.

Currently a goat herder and vegetable farmer at Green Uprising Farm in Willits, Sierra is now spearheading a combined Mendocino County/Bay Area support caravan to Standing Rock Sioux territory in North Dakota, where indigenous people, local ranchers, and environmentalists are standing off against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline: a $3.7 billion, 1,168-mile-long mega-project that would carry up to 570,000 barrels a day of Bakken Shale oil to Illinois (via South Dakota and Iowa). From there, it would link with another pipeline for transport to terminals and refineries along the Gulf of Mexico, perhaps also connecting to rail lines to the East Coast.

WILL PARRISH: Mendo Protests The Fisher Family




On August 18th, about 30 Mendocino County residents came by van and bus to San Francisco to rally outside the office tower headquarters of Sansome Partners, the investment firm that controls Mendocino Redwood Company. Sansome Partners is itself controlled by the Fisher family, the multi-billionaire investor clan best known as founders of The Gap.

The Mendo denizens, who mainly hail from Albion and Ukiah and Comptche, were calling on MRC to stop poisoning unmerchantable hardwood trees in the 227,000 acres they own in western Mendocino County and northwestern Sonoma County.

A banner reading “Let The Forests Heal” reflected one of the most common sentiments. Others read “Stop the Cut — Save the Climate” and “Shame! Shame! MRC 90,000 Acres of Standing Dead Trees.”

After members of the crowd offered some loud words to the Fisher family through a bullhorn, they heard songs specific to the occasion from the Ragin’ Grannies, and some brief remarks by yours truly (filling the role of literateur of the Fisher Family’s business ventures) and Albion-Little River Volunteer Fire Chief Ted Williams, who said his intention in being there was to ask for a meeting with the Fishers.

A security guard claimed John Fisher, the main shepherd of the family’s timber investment, was not present in the building and instead offered to help set up a meeting at a later date.

The Mendo contingent then caravaned across several blocks to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, of which Robert Fisher (John’s brother) is president. The protesters set out a collection of protest artwork on the sidewalk, such as a canvas drawing stating “There is a GAP In the Forest,” which features a masked figure reminiscent of the character Ghostface in Scream wielding a hatchet, accompanied by the label “Fisher Greed,” against a dark depiction of the woods.

WILL PARRISH: Logging for Water


Oakland Magazine

A battle is brewing over whether cutting down trees will increase California’s water supply…

The day after an unseasonal June rain swelled the streams of the northern Sierra Nevada, Marily Woodhouse steered her 2003 Dodge Dakota through 65 miles of winding mountain roads near Mount Lassen. Woodhouse first traversed the area on horseback shortly after moving here 25 years ago. Back then, the land was lush with life, and its towering conifer forests furnished refreshingly cool air on days that were blistering hot beyond the canopy’s shade.

Now, acre after acre of land of the Battle Creek Watershed is parched as far as the eye can see. Nonnative plants like star thistle and mullein compete to cover bare ground that was once studded with pines, firs, and cedars. Rather than finding sanctuary in the forests, Woodhouse now collects data that she says demonstrates the epic damage that has been wrought by the state’s largest timber corporation, Sierra Pacific Industries, or SPI.

Nearly every week, for more than seven years, Woodhouse has stopped at the same 13 stream locations in the watershed. At each spot, the founder of the environmental group Battle Creek Alliance uses specialized equipment to examine and record water temperature, water pH, soil temperature, and “turbidity”: a measure of individual particles that are generally invisible to the naked eye, similar to smoke in the air.

In 2012, the Ponderosa Fire torched 27,234 acres in the watershed. But Woodhouse says SPI inflicted much greater harm through post-fire “salvage logging,” which involved removing virtually every large- and medium-sized tree in the burned area—both living and dead—and deep-ripping the denuded soil to a depth of three feet with heavy machinery in order to accelerate the growth of newly planted trees.

“I used to think clear-cutting was the worst thing, but it’s not,” Woodhouse said regarding the salvage logging. “They took everything down to bare dirt. The water quality went crazy bad.”