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Berkeley may consider gas pump warnings about global warming

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Berkeley may soon require warning stickers on gas pumps about global warming
The Western States Petroleum Assn. calls proposed global warming warning stickers on gas pumps "forced" speech
Group backing gas pump global warming warning stickers says the goal is to change consumer behavior

Berkeley may become the first city in the nation to require warning stickers on gas pumps that inform consumers that the state has concluded that CO2 emissions contribute to global warming.

A citizens panel — the Community Environmental Advisory Commission — last week approved the concept of the stickers, which would be affixed to gas pump handles. The panel is crafting recommendations to the City Council, where two council members have agreed to press an ordinance requiring the warnings. The city’s citizen Energy Commission is scheduled to vote on it in July.

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FOR THE RECORD

An earlier version of this post said Berkeley’s Energy Commission had already voted to support the concept of gas pump warning stickers. The commission requested a staff report but is not scheduled to vote on the proposed ordinance until July.

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 "It's a perfect opportunity to remind people that there are greenhouse gas impacts and there are alternatives," said Councilman Kriss Worthington, who sponsored an initial measure but then moved to send it to both commissions to vet "all possible objections" from the petroleum industry.

The design idea for the stickers, which could change, currently includes a statement reminding consumers that California "has determined that global warming caused by CO2 emissions poses a serious threat to the economic well-being, public health, natural resources and the environment of California."

The idea was modeled on warnings on cigarette packaging and crafted by a grassroots environmental organization known as 350 Bay Area. A San Francisco supervisor is also working with the group to promote similar labeling there. A Canadian organization is moving forward as well.

"I’d be happy for every other city to do it first and we could be 101st but so far it looks like we’re on track to be the first," Worthington said.

Jamie Brooks, manager of 350 Bay Area's Beyond the Pump campaign, said the goal is to shift the social context for consumers and gently raise awareness.

"Chances are a consumer dismissive of climate change won’t notice the label," Brooks said. "The person concerned about climate change will read the label.... It acts as a reinforcement. I need to change my behaviors. I am part of a large emissions problem now. The label identifies you as part of the problem."

The Western States Petroleum Assn. is opposed.

In a letter to the Berkeley Planning & Development Department last week, President Catherine H. Reheis-Boyd said requiring the labels would compel speech "in violation of the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Far less restrictive means exist to disseminate this information to the general public without imposing onerous restrictions on businesses."

She referred to the messages on the labels as "forced reproductions of the State’s and City’s policy opinions."

"To call such messages 'warnings' is to imply that such opinions should be accorded the status of 'fact,'" she 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."

Worthington said he is confident the labels would withstand legal challenge. All 20 public gas stations in Berkeley have been notified of the potential ordinance, which has been vetted by the city attorney as well as volunteer outside counsel, he said.

"What we’ve heard so far is that what we’re proposing appears to be legal, that there is not a federal preemption on city authority, and that it’s narrowly crafted language," he said. "The language has been adopted by the California state Legislature. It’s not just some environmental group saying this. It’s the official policy of the state of California."

The City Council is expected to take up the issue in September.

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