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Environmental Warning Labels Could Be Forced on Santa Monica Gas Pumps

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

December 2, 2014 -- A future visit to a Santa Monica gas station could include a lesson on environmental protection. 

The City Council voted last week for staff to study the potential of an ordinance that would require labeling petroleum fuel pumps “with a message explaining the connection between fossil fuel consumption and climate change.”

The proposal was introduced by Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who got the idea from ordinances pending in Berkeley and San Francisco.

“[The purpose would be] getting people to be aware that the continued burning of petroleum fuels is part of the problem with climate change, and we have a personal choice to make,” McKeown said.

The Berkeley and San Francisco proposals have received national attention, with the reception ranging from high praise to mockery. 

San Francisco officials are drafting that city's proposed ordinance. The Berkeley City Council voted last month to move forward with its plan, but support was not unanimous.

“I think this is a feel-good solution,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, one of two people on the council opposed to the ordinance, according to the student-run Daily Californian. “It doesn’t accomplish anything.”

Also opposed to the proposal is the Western States Petroleum Association.

The Daily Californian reported the organization sent a letter to the city "arguing that a gas pump label would violate the First Amendment by compelling businesses to advance messages that are not entirely factual or uncontroversial.”

McKeown noted this challenge while talking about his proposal, and said that litigation has been threatened. 

He asked for City staff to include “an evaluation of legal risk” when it provides the council with information based on its research about the potential ordinance.

But McKeown has his own opinion on the possibility of litigation.

“I don’t think they have cause to sue, and quite frankly we label all sorts of things that we know are damaging or could be,” McKeown said.

This measure will go down in history as the final item voted on by outgoing Councilmember Bob Holbrook, who was attending the final meeting of his 24-year council career (“Santa Monica Bids Bob Holbrook a Fond Farewell,” November 27, 2014).

“Bob, I know you’ve talked a lot about gas stations and how they’re disappearing,” McKeown said. “And so the last vote on the council would be to connect gas stations and climate change, and do a little consumer education.”

Holbrook responded, “I would be happy to support you on this.”

After Holbrook cast the final vote, his fellow council members on the dais and people in the audience applauded.

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