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Santa Monica Considers Gas Warning Labels

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

September 16, 2015 -- The City of Santa Monica is considering a plan to label gas station pumps in the city with warnings about climate change, a proposal similar to those being considered in San Francisco and Berkeley.

Despite warnings by staff of potential litigation and other problems, the City Council is pushing forward with a motion by Mayor Kevin McKeown to “explore” an ordinance that requires labeling retail fuel petroleum pumps with a message tying the use of fossil fuel to climate change.

The unanimous vote came during the Council meeting last Tuesday. But McKeown said the measure’s passage became more urgent on Friday, after the state Legislature, under heavy pressure from the petroleum industry,  gutted a section of SB 350 – a sweeping climate change bill -- that required a 50 percent cut in oil use over the next 15 years.

He said Western States Petroleum had lobbied heavily against some of SB 350’s provisions and noted that the same organization was quick to threaten litigation when Berkeley and San Francisco began talking about climate change gas pump labels last year.

“I thought this became even more significant,” he said of the City’s proposed gas pump labelling.

The Council ordered staff to return “with recommendations, which may include a draft ordinance and an evaluation of legal risk, if any.”

McKeown, who first asked for a study on the labeling late last year, said he has been working with both Berkeley and San Francisco since then and noted the approach is supported by the Sierra Club.

Still, the staff report to the Council had plenty of warnings.

Dean Kubani, the city’s sustainability manager, said the labelling “would require ongoing staff and funding resources to implement, would be subject to legal risk, and would likely have very limited impact at influencing desired behavior changes. “

Early last year, Berkeley began discussing labeling gas pumps with a message explaining the connection between use of fossil fuels and climate change.

Kubani noted that a short time later, the city received a letter from the Western States Petroleum Association expressing the opinion that such an ordinance, if adopted, would “compel speech in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Although the measure has gone through the City’s environment and energy committees, the Council itself has taken no additional action, the report said.

San Francisco also is considering a similar warning label but no further action has been taken there, either.

The impetus for the proposals started with, a grassroots organization based in Oakland that advocates for deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

The organization’s “Beyond the Pump” labelling ordinance proposal would require gas stations to install warning labels on gasoline nozzles to remind consumers that their use of petroleum fuels contributes to climate change. believes the labelling is an effective way of changing consumer behavior, but the City’s staff report casts doubt on that assumption.

“The City of Santa Monica has attempted point-of-sale messaging focused on consumer behavior change in the past and found it to be expensive, staff intensive, and minimally effective in changing consumer behavior,” Kubani said.

To raise consumer awareness about the environmental and economic impacts of using products with hazardous ingredients, the City Council approved in 1994 the Toxic and Hazardous Household Products Labelling Ordinance.

The law required retailers to place signs on store shelves with products containing hazardous substances, including automotive products, paint products, garden products and pool or spa maintenance chemicals.

Local retail store owners put up “significant” resistance, he said.

It required “substantial effort” by the City to get the ordinance launched and going and, despite some changes, it was never considered a big success. It was largely discontinued in 2004, the report said.

“One common denominator of effective behavior change campaigns is that the campaign provide a clear and readily available alternative to the action that is being discouraged, and that the campaign be multi-faceted, with advertising in a variety of media and locations,” the report stated.

Consumers also need to make personal commitments to modify their behavior and need, among other approaches, incentives and disincentives, according to the report.

“Requiring a label on a fuel pump discouraging the use of the fuel does not provide the person fueling their vehicle with an alternative action that they can easily take at that time,” the report concluded.

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