New proposal would require climate change warning labels at city gas stations

Maggie Soun/Staff

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Berkeley commissioners are working to bring climate change awareness right to the gas pump in a proposal that would place warning labels on fuel nozzles.

The city’s Community Environmental Advisory Commission voted Thursday to move forward with a plan that would mandate such labels to be placed in Berkeley gas stations. The signs would state that gasoline consumption releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.

Max Gomberg, chair of the commission, said the label would be a reminder to customers that the gas in their cars has a direct effect on the environment.

“We already require cigarette packs to include warning labels,” said Matthew Lewis, a UC Berkeley sophomore and co-chair of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability, in an email. “Requiring labels at gas pumps would similarly keep the harm of burning gasoline fresh in people’s minds.”

The plan, which was originally proposed about six months ago to the city by environmental advocacy group 350 Bay Area, has generated backlash from the Western States Petroleum Association, an entity representing petroleum-producing companies.

On Wednesday, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the petroleum association, sent a letter to the commission stating that the plan would violate gas station owners’ First Amendment rights. Citing various court cases, she wrote that a governing body cannot compel a business to state information unless doing so would “prevent consumer deception.” Reheis-Boyd also questioned if climate change was a serious threat to California’s resources.

“Though the proposed ordinance calls these messages ‘warnings,’ they are, in reality, forced reproductions of the state’s and city’s policy opinions,” Reheis-Boyd wrote. “But the messages are not ‘purely factual and uncontroversial information’ – they touch on issues that represent some of the most contentious issues in existence today.”

Still, Tupper Hull, spokesperson for the petroleum association, said he did not doubt the scientific evidence of climate change’s negative effects. Instead, he was concerned with the way the proposal would only affect gasoline distributors.

“To single out one source to the exclusion of others is where we have a strong objection,” Hull said. “I am not aware that they have proposed placing warnings on your vehicles, your stoves and your household furnaces, all of which produce carbon dioxide emissions.”

To assert the veracity of the claim that climate change presents a risk to California, commissioners are planning to cite the California Global Warming Solutions Act, according to Commissioner Andrew Torkelson. The law, which was passed in 2006, contains provisions aimed at lowering the levels of greenhouse gasses and requires certain industries to disclose their emission levels.

Gomberg said City Council is expected to vote on the plan in six to eight weeks.

Contact Sophie Mattson at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @MattsonSophie.