So Many People, So Much Murk & Karma – the People’s Republic of Chemcials

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* Chip discusses his forthcoming book, The People’s Republic of Chemicals, and global smog on National Public Radio affiliate KCRW. Madeleine Brand, who hosts the “Press Play” show, had some terrific questions.

* Speaking of The People’s Republic of Chemicals, here’s the working dust-jacket description. It and our author bios will be updated soon.

Maverick environmental writers William J. Kelly and Chip Jacobs follow up their acclaimed Smogtown with a provocative examination of China’s ecological calamity already imperling a warming planet. Toxic smog most people figured was obsolete needlessly kills as many there as the 9/11 attacks every day, while sometimes Grand Canyon-sized drifts of industrial particles aloft on the winds rain down ozone and waterway-poisoning mercury in America. In vivid, gonzo prose blending first-person reportage with exhaustive research and a sense of karma, Kelly and Jacobs describe China’s ancient love affair with coal, Bill Clinton’s blunders cutting free-trade deals enabling the U.S. to “export” manufacturing emissions to Asia in a shift that pilloried the West’s middle class, Communist Party manipulation of eco-statistics, the horror of “Cancer Villages,” the deception of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and spellbinding “peasant revolts” against cancer-spreading plants involving thousands in mostly censored melees. Ending with China’s monumental coal-bases decried by climatologists as a global warming dagger, The People’s Republic of Chemicals names names and stresses humans over bloodless numbers in a classic sure to ruffle feathers as an indictment of money as the real green that not even Al Gore can deny.

* As we announced earlier, Smogtown will be published in Mandarin and available in Mainland China soon through Shanghai Scientific & Technical Publishers. One version of it at least is already available here at Amazon.com - China.

* While five-and-a-half-years behind 0ur book launch (but who’s counting?), the Glendale Public Library was gracious enough to give Smogtown a wonderful review.

Smogtown isn’t a new book, but the conflicts covered in its last chapters are still breaking news. The LA Times’ Trash talk and the real dirt on a toxic tour of Los Angeles, just featured one of Smogtown‘s history makers, Communities for a Better Environment … The earlier history in this book is entertaining and enlightening. In contrast with dry accounts of the decades-long struggle the auto industry waged to avoid emission limits, this book covers selected battles by focusing on personalities like Haagen-Smit and vendettas like the war waged on Detroit by Supervisor Kenneth Hahn for better pollution controls on cars. Its chapters make for great drama instead of dry documentary. Scientists, politicians, lobbyists and determined bureaucrats on both sides fight it out, while residents used to burning their trash and driving their cars suffer through smog alerts but are difficult to motivate … Smogtown is great reading because much of the history it covers is still unfolding today: The BNSF Southern California International Gateway project, an inter-modal facility four miles from the port, is being actively opposed by the City of Long Beach, Communities for a Better Environment, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and other groups. Long Beach is suing Los Angeles over approval of the SCIG EIR. The I-710 expansion EIR, in the works for years, is being held up and is actively opposed by a large coalition proposing its own Community Alternative 7.  For more background on Southern California’s goods movement infrastructure, environmental justice movement, research on fine particulate pollution, and personalities still making news today, Smogtown is a great resource.

The People’s Republic of Chemicals … the antecedents

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* From Bill’s second of three articles in advance of the book for Inside Climate News.

China’s plans to build remote industrial coal complexes to power its economy are putting the country on a   trajectory to wipe out global gains in tackling climate change, scientists fear. But other nations share responsibility for China’s fossil fuel binge and the toxic air people breathe as a result—especially the United States. China’s pollution scourge has its roots in trade agreements set in motion by President Bill Clinton in the early 1990s that allowed U.S. companies to take advantage of cheap labor and lax environmental standards in the world’s most populous nation—where coal energy reigns supreme. Many times the United States helped China finance dirty sources of energy. As much as one-third of China’s carbon load on the atmosphere can be traced to exports of cheap clothes, electronics, machinery and other goods consumed by Americans and Europeans, experts say. And while free trade to the West has made China’s economy boom, Chinese people have paid dearly due to the resulting smog from factories and coal-fired power plants. “We made a big mistake” by not including environmental safeguards in trade policies with China, said Mickey Kantor, Clinton’s chief trade negotiator and later Secretary of Commerce. Now a practicing attorney in Los Angeles with expertise in international relations, Kantor has been shuttling back and forth between the United States and China in one capacity or another for 20 years. He calls China’s air “a disaster” and says that each time he visits “it’s worse.” …

* Bill’s first piece for ICC about China’s greenhouse-gas-busting plans to erect otherworldly-sized coal bases in the hinterlands was a blockbuster that we greatly expand on in The People’s Republic of Chemicals. Here’s a snippet.

The biggest coal base is Shenhua’s Ningdong Energy and Chemical Industry Base in Ningxia, about 700 miles west of Beijing. Conceived in 2003, Shenhua said it broke ground in 2008 on the 386-square-mile coal base. That’s an area about three-quarters the size of Los Angeles that’s being covered bit by bit over a period of some 17 years with coal mines, power plants, power lines, pipelines, roads, rail tracks and all manner of chemical processing plants with their towers, smokestacks and tanks.

* Other environmental headlines worth noting.

-  ”Air Pollution May Double Risk of Autism, USC Study Concludes,” KPCC

… Researchers reviewed the records of more than 500 children — about half of whom were considered to be normally developing and half of whom were diagnosed with autism, a complex set of brain disorders characterized by problems with social interactions and communications. “In particular for traffic pollution we found children exposed to [the] highest amount of pollution relative to the lowest were at a two-to-threefold increased risk for autism,” says Heather Volk, a researcher for the Keck School of Medicine of USC and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, who led the study …

 -  ”Algae Converted to Crude Oil in Less Than An Hour, Energy Department Says,” NBC News

The day when planes, trucks and cars are commonly revved up on pond scum may be on the near horizon thanks to a technological advance that continuously turns a stream of concentrated algae into bio-crude oil. From green goo to crude takes less than an hour. The goo contains about 10 percent to 20 percent algae by weight. The rest is water. This mixture is piped into a high-tech pressure cooker where temperatures hover around 660 degrees Fahrenheit and pressures of 3,000 pounds per square inch in order to keep the mixture in a liquid phase. Inside the cooker are “some technology tricks that other people don’t have” that help separate the plant oils and other minerals such as phosphorous from the water, Douglas Elliott, a fellow at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., explained to NBC News. An hour after being poured into the cooker, gravity separates the crude oil from the water as it flows out the other end. “We can clean up that bio-crude and make it into liquid hydrocarbons that could well serve to displace the gas, diesel, and jet (fuel) that we make from petroleum now,” he added …

  Read the rest of this entry »

In Advance of Our New Book, We Gotta Give the Credit to the Prophetic (Gary – that’s you!)

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The People’s Republic of Chemicals, our sequel to the critically acclaimed Smogtown, will be out this fall through Rare Bird Books. It’s a different type of Chinese environmental book, one that weaves in history, foreign occupations, “Cancer Villages,” bitter truths about Clinton-Gore globalization, toxic riots, stomach-churning health statistics and a whole lot of climate chaos, especially from breakneck coal-burning. Another element we’re stoked about including involves so-called Trans-Pacific Drift of Asian-borne dust and pollution that floats across the ocean to swamp the West Coast, with increasing frequency. One of the first publications to write about it was Science Daily in 1998. But among the maiden mainstream newspaper folk, you can’t beat former Los Angeles Times environmental reporter Gary Polakovic, a man whose chops treading where few others had need little embellishment. Check out what Gary wrote in 2002, years and years before scientists had their knickers in a bunch over what their test data is revealing. Link.

Wind-borne pollution from China and neighboring countries is spreading to California and other parts of the nation and Canada as a result of surging economic activity and destructive farming practices half a world away, according to new scientific studies. The research shows that a mix of pollutants, from dust to ozone to toxic chemicals, travels farther than once realized. Federal air quality officials fear that the foreign-born pollution will complicate efforts to cut smog and haze, and make it more difficult to meet federal air quality standards in California and other parts of the West. Although most of the pollutants are similar to ones already found in North America, they do add to health concerns by slightly increasing year-round concentrations of gases and tiny particles in the air, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. During peak winds, however, dust and smoke levels can approach or exceed health-based standards. Federal scientists, too, are beginning to probe the dust for bacteria and viruses that may be attached. The made-in-China label on haze over North America is partly due to increased productivity of consumer goods ranging from patio furniture to CDs to toys. But it also is a result of deforestation, over-grazing and intensive cultivation of fragile soils. Researchers at universities on both sides of the Pacific have been tracking the haze for a number of years along its 6,000-mile journey, using satellites and aircraft, land-based sensors and computer models. In one severe dust storm in spring 1998, particle pollution levels in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia soared. In Seattle, air quality officials could not identify a local source of the pollution, but measurements showed that 75% of it came from China, researchers at the University of Washington found. ”A larger fraction of the haze we see is Asian, far more than we ever dreamed,” said Tom Cahill, professor of atmospheric science and physics at UC Davis. “We’re a small world. We’re all breathing each other’s effluent.” … 

All we can to Gary is 1) you don’t how right you were, and; 2) thanks.

People’s Republic of Chemicals – Preparing for liftoff

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- Bill Kelly and I are pleased to announce that the sequel to Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, (Penguin Group USA/The Overlook Press – 2008) will be out this fall by Rare Bird Books. The title is set. It’s The People’s Republic of Chemicals. We’re beyond excited. Also this year, Shanghai Scientific and Technical Publishers, one of the largest outfits of its kind, will be printing an edition of Smogtown in Mandarin. Here, again, is us talking about Asia’s deplorable air quality and its connections to L.A. on CCTV America, China’s state-owned equivalent of CNN International.

- As part of our pre-launch, Bill is writing a series of China-related articles for Inside Climate News, the environmental New Media site that won the Pulitzer. His first installment, which covered China’s blueprint to erect massive coal plants that could throw climate change over the edge, was popular to put it mildly. Here’s a little leg:

China is erecting huge industrial complexes in remote areas to convert coal to synthetic fuel that could make the air in its megacities cleaner. But the complexes use so much energy that the carbon footprint of the fuel is almost double that of conventional coal and oil, spelling disaster for earth’s climate, a growing chorus of scientists is warning. Efforts by China to develop so-called “coal bases” in its far-flung regions have received scant attention beyond the trade press, but scientists watching the effort say it could cause climate damage that eclipses worldwide climate protection efforts. The facilities, which resemble oil refineries, use coal to make liquid fuels, chemicals, power and “syngas,” which is like natural gas but extracted from coal. The fuels and electricity are then transported to China’s big cities to be burned in power plants, factories and cars. Currently 16 coal base sites are being built and many are operational. One being constructed in Inner Mongolia will eventually occupy nearly 400 square miles—almost the size of the sprawling city of Los Angeles …

- Don’t blame the aliens for this one – a radiation leak in New Mexico. From the L.A. Times:

The Energy Department suspended normal operations for a fourth day at its New Mexico burial site for defense nuclear waste after a radiation leak inside salt tunnels where the material is buried. Officials at the site, known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, activated air filters as a precaution and barred personnel from entering the 2,150-foot-deep repository as they investigate what caused the leak. Radiation sensors sounded alarms at 11:30 p.m. Friday, when no workers were in the underground portions of the plant. Officials at the site discounted any effect on human health, saying no radiation escaped to the surface. But they said little about the extent of the problem or how it could be cleaned up.”Officials at WIPP continue to monitor the situation,” spokeswoman Deb Gill said. “We are emphasizing there is no threat to human health and the environment. How long the repository would be closed and the effects on the defense nuclear cleanup program were unclear …

- Drought solution or bank buster, desalinization is not some ivory tower concoction. It may be how we survive climate change. From NBC News

Besieged by drought and desperate for new sources of water, California towns are ramping up plans to convert salty ocean water into drinking water to quench their long-term thirst. The plants that carry out the high-tech “desalination” process can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but there may be few other choices for the parched state. Where the Pacific Ocean spills into the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad, Calif., construction is 25 percent complete on a $1 billion project to wring 50 million gallons of freshwater a day from the sea and pour it into a water system that serves 3.1 million people. Desalination was a dreamy fiction during the California Water Wars of the early 20th century that inspired the classic 1974 movie “Chinatown.” In the 1980s, however, the process of forcing seawater through reverse osmosis membranes to filter out salt and other impurities became a reliable, even essential, tool in regions of the world desperate for water. The process, however, is energy intensive and thus expensive, making it practical only in places where energy is cheap, such as the oil-rich Middle East. But recent technological advances in membrane materials and energy recovery systems have about halved the energy requirements for desalination, giving the once cost-prohibitive technology a fresh appeal in a state gripped with fear that it may be in the early stages of a decades-long mega-drought. ”I think it will turn out that it is very affordable compared to not having the water here in Southern California, particularly with the drought that we are facing and the fact that the governor has just cut off the flow of water from north to south in the aqueduct, the State Water Project,” Randy Truby, the comptroller for the International Desalination Association, an industry advocate, told NBC News. The multibillion dollar State Water Project is a complex conveyance system that brings water from the wetter northern part of the state to farms, industry, and people in the thirsty south. In times of drought, such as now, banking on that water is a risky bet …

 

 

 

 

 

Here we are, Bill and Chip, on China’s version of CNN International, CCTV America, comparing air pollution crises in L.A and the Far East. Our Smogtown sequel to be published later this year!

New Year’s Roundup … Chip and Bill’s doings for 2014

 

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* The bridge that stole my heart, the bridge that defined a people, will be a mysterious character in my debut novel. A little eye candy for now, also via the L.A. Times.

* As mentioned earlier, William J. Kelly and I are collaborating on a sequel to Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles that Penguin/The Overlook Press published in fall 2008. Our new subject is one that’s sizzling ’round the world, and centered in East Asia’s emphysemic tiger. Not long ago, Neon Tommy, the fine digital publication put out by USC, did a piece comparing L.A. and the good, ol’ People’s Republic. Bill’s in there.

* Think we’re helpless against climate change? Well, innovations like this might mean those ice caps last a bit longer. “Ford Motor Co. will debut a solar-powered plug-in hybrid at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week. The C-Max Solar Energi Concept has solar panels on its roof that can charge the vehicle’s battery. If the technology proves viable in testing this year, Ford thinks it is a way to free some rechargable vehicles from wall sockets.But there’s a catch. The solar panels on top of the C-Max can capture only enough energy to charge up the battery to about one-eighth full — good for maybe three miles of electric-powered driving — during the day. “While solar panels have been making strides in terms of efficiency, even if we put them on the hood, you still couldn’t recharge the battery enough,” said Mike Tinskey, Ford’s director of vehicle electrification and vehicle infrastructure.To make the system more useful the automaker has developed a special concentrator that acts like a magnifying glass, directing intense rays to solar panels on the vehicle’s roof, Tinskey said …” Story link

* Besides a novel and new environmental book on deck, I have a super-secret other project that I’ve completed. Shhhh. You may one day learn about it if the winds blow the right direction.

*  In my stories’ collection, The Vicodin Thieves, one of two new pieces is about my big brother Paul’s encounter with Robert Kennedy, probably a few hours before he was assassinated in the kitchen of the old Ambassador Hotel. Here’s a photograph of his hearse leaving Good Samaritan Hospital, where he died from a killer or killers’ bullets, from the L.A. Times. You can get a sense of my article about RFK and Paul from this excerpt, exclusively pulled from my award-winning little offering. Here goes …

“Suddenly he was there, inside a chic Lincoln Continental, spectacularly unprotected as he grinned at onlookers woozy at what dumb luck had plunked into their midst. The city of movie stars and rock gods had been expecting him, just not in the cool shadows outside of downtown’s Biltmore Hotel. Clearly, history had pulled a fast one. A brown-haired college student palming a metallic device when he stumbled across this scene had no intention of squandering his brush with it. With nobody cordoning him off, he edged close enough to the man-of-the-hour to read his expression.

The student’s goal was to shoot.

The whole world was gnawing its cuticles watching to see if the polarizing face in the car could reproduce Camelot within any reasonable facsimile. Of course, the mob despised him, the political left was torn over him and Wall Street and the Kremlin harbored their own sharp opinions. But, as the college kid discovered in the year of the Tet Offensive and LSD-mixed Kool-Aid, the guy behind the excitement was mortal—a floppy-haired man weary around the eyes, facing backwards in the rear seat of somebody’s chrome-and- leather luxury sedan. Robert Francis Kennedy might have wanted to take a whiz or grab a Phillipe’s French Dip nearby if not for his excursion in the filtered sunlight near Fifth Street and Grand Avenue.

RFK, an adventurer, the first to dive into frigid waters and an armchair philosopher apt to quote the ancient Greeks, was achingly aware of his vulnerability to assassins by the time he had arrived here for the 1968 California primary. Outwardly, the New York Senator and former U.S. Attorney General in his older brother’s administration ridiculed his fear of being murdered as tiny com- pared to his determination to achieve a higher good. Even so, palpable threats made him flinch, if not more fatalistic where the public could not see. “Everybody,” one insider explained, “remembered Dallas.”

But did anyone learn from it where it counted? The young man with the camera—my older brother, Paul Jacobs—was able to get within about a dozen feet of the next potential leader of the free world until, finally, a staffer shooed him away. The resulting two photographs from a borrowed Nikon Nikorrmat 35mm camera caught RFK in unscripted poses, and not just any, either. Because Paul likely took them hours before infamy doubled down in the kitchen of the sprawling, Myron Hunt-designed Ambassador Hotel, he unknowingly had on film a pair of the last privately captured photos of the second Kennedy to die on the job …”

Book awards and beyond Smogtown … heading east.

* Riffing off the old SNL spoof of Cuban baseball players speaking Spanglish with a microphone thrust in front of them after a big game, may I say the Southern California Book Festival ”haz been berry, berry good to me.” My last book, The Vicodin Thieves: Biopsying L.A.’s Grifters, Gloryhounds and Goliaths, won first place for best compilation/anthology. My book previous to that, the Fargo-esque, true-crime thriller, The Ascension of Jerry: Murder, Hitmen and the Making of L.A. Muckraker Jerry Schneiderman, also made the non-fiction winner’s circle. Blushing here.

* In 2008, environmental writer William J. Kelly and I collaborated to co-author Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles. We had no idea just how popular it’d become. Next year, its sequel will be published, and like Freddie Mercury once sang, it’s guaranteed to blow your mind.” Think over the horizon to the “factory of the world.”

* Speaking of  Smogtown, here’s some recent miscellany: KCET – Breathe Deep and then thank the EPA that you can710 Study San Rafael Neighborhood, Sunroom Desk, Daily Bulletin: Battles Won But War On Smog Is Far From OverPolitifact.com – Barrack Obama Said When He Went To College, The Pollution Was So Bad ‘Folks Couldn’t Go Outside”

* California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a bill requiring Caltrans to sell all properties along the unbuilt Long Beach (710) Freeway through the El Sereno section of Los Angeles, South Pasadena and Pasadena … after decades of wrangling, debate, state-slumlord management, devil-worshipping, vandalizing, squatting, bureaucratic resistance, Kafka-esque moments, citizen revolts and a gazillion newspaper exposes, including by yours truly starting in 1995 with Richard Winton for The Los Angeles Times. Glacial paced, some reform is better that none for the hundreds of folks left hanging by a surface freeway dead and buried before the first shovel of dirt was scooped. New freeways in the global warming age perhaps are non-startrers now. Not only would the 710 create far worse traffic, we now know how highways like it ghetto-ize communities and foster generations of sick people breathing toxic fumes. Now I’ll get down off my soap box.

Summer catchup: our book in Chinese, Rainforest nuts, Port pollution, small solar and smog-eating concrete

* We are proud to announce the book around which this blog revolves, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles (The Overlook Press/Penguin Group USA – 2008), will be printed and published  in Mandarin Chinese by the Shanghai Scientific and Technological Publishing House in the upcoming future. We’ll have more details about it and another equally big announcement soon, so dial back here when you can.  Amazon link

* In our never-ending search for creative ways to fuse environmentalism with other facets of life, we were lucky enough to be introduced to this  ingenious concept from writer/activist Kim Henderson, who must have the foodies of the world planning trips to South America. Nutrition was never so good for the world ecosystem.

- ” … I have a couple snacks for you that are nutrient-dense enough to satisfy hunger and naturally sweet enough to satiate your sweet tooth. In addition to providing fantastic nutrients for your body, they also help save rainforests giving you two things to feel good about!  Incorporating them into your food plan might make the difference between failure and success in your weight-loss efforts … Sounds simple enough. But why Brazil nuts you may ask? Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, copper, magnesium, fiber, vitamin E, amino acids, and essential fatty acids. They are one of the few nuts to have enough amino acids to make a complete protein (important to vegans and hungry dieters). The fiber adds to a feeling of fullness, and selenium is a powerful antioxidant that is believed to help protect against breast and prostate cancer … Brazil nuts are not only good for your body, buying them and eating them helps the planet as well. Brazil nut trees have a unique distinction that makes them important to the preservation of the Amazon rainforest — they flourish only in the Amazon’s untouched rainforest … Basically, if you want to harvest Brazil nuts, you can only do it in healthy tropical Amazon rainforest. That’s the great news. A thriving Brazil nut trade keeps significant areas of the Amazon rainforest intact! …”

Kim’s book, which has a title that Paul Simon would love, gives consumers ways to support the rainforest before man plows them under and looks fantastic, too.

* Think you know green? The Daily Beast does on this rather subjective scale.

* What’s a good, old environmental debate without statistics and counterclaims bandied about? Answer: boring and nothing. From the L.A. Times

- “Public health and environmental experts are disputing predictions that air pollution would be significantly reduced if a giant rail yard is built next to schools, parks and hundreds of homes in the Los Angeles harbor area. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and the Port of Los Angeles say the proposed 153-acre facility would take enormous numbers of diesel trucks off the road, reducing the risk of cancer and respiratory illness for those who live and work along the 710 Freeway. Rail and port officials say the $500-million yard — known as the Southern California International Gateway — would handle many of the big rigs that now must travel 20 miles north to drop off and pick up cargo containers at Burlington Northern’s Hobart Yard, one of the largest facilities of its type in the nation.The project is widely supported by labor unions, business organizations, elected officials and regional planning agencies that cite the creation of hundreds of jobs and the need to accommodate port growth. Public health experts at USC, environmental advocates and officials at the South Coast Air Quality Management District, however, contend that the project’s impact analysis overstates the air quality improvements.”

* We’ve been saying this for years. The solar movement won’t last until this movement is soldered among the people, not big corporations and agencies. Again, the L.A. Times:

- ” … Those large-scale projects are financially efficient for developers, but their size creates transmission inefficiencies and higher costs for ratepayers. Smaller alternatives, from rooftop solar to small- and medium-sized plants, can do the opposite. Collectively, modest-sized projects could provide an enormous electricity boost — and do so for less cost to consumers and less environmental damage to the desert areas where most are located, say advocates of small-scale solar power. Recent studies project that California could derive a substantial percentage of its energy needs from rooftop solar installations, whether on suburban homes or city roofs or atop big-box stores …”

* Smog ate us, metaphorically, in most cases, anyway, so isn’t it time we pay it back … with concrete shoes? We say hell yes! Read up science kids.

“What if the solution to smog was right where the rubber meets the road? Scientists in the Netherlands have found that installing special air-purifying pavement on city streets can cut air pollution nearly in half. Researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology outfitted one block in the city of Hengelo, Netherlands, with paving blocks sprayed with titanium oxide, which has the ability to remove pollutants from the air and turn them into less harmful chemicals. The researchers left normal pavement on an adjacent street as a control. After taking measurements for a year, the scientists found that the street outfitted with smog-eating paving blocks, also called photocatalytic pavement, reduced nitrogen oxide air pollution by up to 45% in ideal weather conditions and 19% over the course of a day …”

 

 

Get while it’s hot. Chip’s latest book is a collection of his top narrative and investigative articles. May we present “The Vicodin Thieves: Biopsying L.A.’s Grifters, Gloryhounds and Goliaths” More new projects on the way.

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In this stories collection 23-years-in-the-making, you’ll find 29 articles on a sumptuous basket of subjects originally published in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Los Angeles Daily News, L.A. Weekly and other publications. Hold on for the unexpected and the maddening, the heartbreaking and the mystifying. The feature, investigative and opinion pieces here by Chip Jacobs range from Tommy Koulax’s litigious, chili-cheese hamburger empire, Lockheed’s super-secret Skunk Works defense plant and the deadly, 1913-accident during construction of Pasadena’s famous Colorado Street Bridge, to the hazy, first casualty of Operation Desert Storm, chromium-6 pollution outrages, violent bus drivers and profiles of Southern California political heavyweights Richard Riordan, Danny Bakewell and Richard Alatorre, among others. Vicodon Thieves, which draws its name from a Los Angeles Times feature about pharmaceutical burglars who prey on medicine cabinets at real estate open houses, also includes expanded articles about a high-flying, smog-emissions broker who fell in with shadowy, ex-CIA and military-intelligence operatives bent to “repatriate” forgotten U.S. government aid from around the globe, and the unsolved, execution-style murder of one of suburbia’s most electrifying young mayors blocks from his childhood home. Two new stories grace this compendium, as well. One explores the prodigal life of an early, Universal Pictures director (the author’s great uncle, Nat Ross) gunned down in 1941 by a sociopathic drifter, who’d die in the San Quentin Gas Chamber for his crime. A pair of photographs of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., likely captured hours before he was assassinated in the kitchen of Los Angeles’ old Ambassador Hotel, inspires another original narrative. Few outside of the most ardent of Kennedyphiles probably realize how close RFK came to not being there the night America’s trajectory changed forever, or the cursed, Hollywood enmeshment to his final days. Published by Rare Bird Books  / Amazon.com  /  Barnes & Noble

A long-overdue post between book deadlines – Happy 2013, where we hope to see more green than red ink and brown skies. Stay tuned for big news from the authors of Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles

Some news and notes for late December:

* Time to find a new EPA Administrator for Obama’s second term. NBC

“Lisa Jackson is stepping down from her post as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency after a four-year term. ”I will leave the EPA confident the ship is sailing in the right direction, and ready in my own life for new challenges, time with my family and new opportunities to make a difference,” she said in a statement announcing her departure. Jackson, 50, is expected to depart the E.P.A. early next year. She is the first African-American to head the agency. Her tenure at the helm of the E.P.A. was marked by clashes with some in the GOP and the energy industry who said environmental regulations limited job creation and hurt new innovation. The administration abandoned an attempt early in President Barack Obama’s first term to pass cap-and-trade legislation to address global climate change. That legislation failed to pass the Senate, and the E.P.A. moved instead on a series of regulatory efforts including successful implementation of emissions standards for new cars and small trucks …”

* EPA tightening the screws on soot, a.k.a. fine particulate matter. Washington Post

“The Environmental Protection Agency tightened the nation’s soot standards by 20 percent Friday, a move that will force communities across the country to improve air quality by the end of the decade while making it harder for some industries to expand operations without strict pollution controls.The new rule limits soot, or fine particulate matter, which stems from activities ranging from burning wood to diesel vehicle emissions and which causes disease by entering the lungs and bloodstream, causing inflammation. Fine particulate matter measuring less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, or one-thirtieth the width of a human hair, ranks as the country’s most widespread deadly pollutant …”

* Jogging risks damage to the modern brain by way of polluted lungs. Men’s Health

 ”Dodging traffic and weaving through crowds aren’t the only obstacles urbanites face when trying to take their workout to the streets. New research in Belgium shows that people who live in a city and exercise outdoors have higher levels of inflammation and lower scores on cognitive tests than those who exercise outside in the suburbs …”

*  Craving that California renewable power? Make sure your checkbook is handy. L.A. Times

” … One of the hidden costs of solar and wind power — and a problem the state is not yet prepared to meet — is that wind and solar energy must be backed up by other sources, typically gas-fired generators. As more solar and wind energy generators come online, fulfilling a legal mandate to produce one-third of California’s electricity by 2020, the demand will rise for more backup power from fossil fuel plants.”The public hears solar is free, wind is free,” said Mitchell Weinberg, director of strategic development for Calpine Corp., which owns Delta Energy Center. “But it is a lot more complicated than that.” Wind and solar energy are called intermittent sources, because the power they produce can suddenly disappear when a cloud bank moves across the Mojave Desert or wind stops blowing through the Tehachapi Mountains. In just half an hour, a thousand megawatts of electricity — the output of a nuclear reactor — can disappear and threaten stability of the grid. To avoid that calamity, fossil fuel plants have to be ready to generate electricity in mere seconds. That requires turbines to be hot and spinning, but not producing much electricity until complex data networks detect a sudden drop in the output of renewables. Then, computerized switches are thrown and the turbines roar to life, delivering power just in time to avoid potential blackouts …” (Related: California lacks coherent renewable energy plan.)

* Environmentalism in the land of Anti-Americanism and sanctioned oil. L.A. Times

TEHRAN — His son is named after the river born where the Tigris and Euphrates meet. His wife once complained that he loved a rare species of yellow deer more than her. His realm runs from sprawling salt deserts to the snowcapped peaks of the Zagros Mountains, from southern marshes along the Persian Gulf to damp northern forests known as the “cloud jungle.” Mohammad Darvish, 47, is Iran’s green gladiator, engaged in a quixotic, often lonesome quest to elevate his homeland’s environmental IQ. In a nation where security and economic concerns overshadow threats to a varied and fragile ecosystem, he even dares to oppose nuclear power, sacrosanct to Iran’s leaders. ”It is budding, but it is far from being a movement,” the indefatigable Darvish says of environmental consciousness in Iran. “But I am sure the environment will be a full-fledged movement one day, and Iran will have Green [political] parties that will send members to parliament.” Darvish, working from a state-run botanical reserve on the western outskirts of this traffic-clogged capital, is a subtle but persistent voice, direct but non-threatening in his message as he warns about desertification, deforestation, pollution, climate change and other perils to this mostly arid land …”

* Carbon cap-and-trade may have sputtered nationally, but in California it’s just gettin’ started. Orange County Register 

“California is soon to launch a bold attempt at climate-change reversal: a cap-and-trade program allowing businesses to buy and sell credits for emission of the most notorious greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. The first auction of carbon credits is scheduled for Wednesday – despite a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the California Chamber of Commerce that seeks a court ruling to invalidate such auctions. The program itself is set to begin Jan. 1. Some 360 manufacturers, utilities and other businesses are expected to take part, representing nearly 600 facilities across the state. The cap-and-trade market is part of the state’s controversial 2006 climate-change law, AB32, which also includes low-carbon fuel standards and promotion of renewable energy projects. The goal: reducing California greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Scientists say civilization’s emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide, are the primary cause of a sharp rise in global average temperatures over decades. We have a large enough emission of greenhouse gases in California that it certainly would affect United States output,” said Dave Clegern, spokesman for the air board. “And we have a large enough market for carbon trading. We believe it’s a good foundation to build on.” Each of the businesses participating in the program – refineries, cement makers, large food processors, electricity providers – starts out with 90 percent of its emissions credits, or allowances, provided for free. But over the years, an overall cap on the total emissions allowed for carbon dioxide ratchets down tighter and tighter. That’s the “cap” part of cap and trade …”

* Megacities and smog aren’t going away. Healthline.com 

“China is a leader in manufacturing, but it is also releasing enough emissions to significantly increase U.S. air pollution, says a new report by the World Meteorological Association (WMA) …”