Archive for the ‘California Air Resources Board’ Category

The People’s Republic of Chemicals … the antecedents

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

PRC Prelim Cover

* 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 …

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People’s Republic of Chemicals – Preparing for liftoff

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

CoalBaseTour_Screenshot_520px

- 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!

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

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

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

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) …”

An October Smogtown treat: The story of a how a vaunted California scientist proved with mice that air pollution was not the cancer-making boogeyman that some believed it was. Murray Gardener dusts of the technical cobwebs to reveal a forgotten study of counter-intuism and coincidences.

Monday, October 1st, 2012

I am motivated to write this piece for the L.A. Smogtown Blog by the following events. I am a retired Professor of Pathology at the University of California Davis. As I was preparing to give a seminar on my first research project, which concerned the biologic effects of Los Angeles smog on the incidence of mouse lung tumors, I came across Ross Caballero’s blog on the Internet. Ross drew attention to the considerable “hype” in the Los Angeles Times in 1963-1964 concerning a huge research project to be carried out by the University of Southern California School of Medicine, the now-defunct Los Angeles Air Pollution Control District and the U.S. Public Health Services studying the long-term effect of ambient LA air on thousands of lab mice housed near L.A. freeways. But Ross, despite a diligent search, could find no follow-up reports in the L.A. Times or lay press presenting the results of this study. Eventually, he tracked down the only scientific paper summarizing these results, which were unanticipated, as I will describe below, because I was the author of the paper. I contacted Ross, who told me about the Smogtown book, which I greatly enjoyed, and he put me in contact with Chip Jacobs. He invited me to submit this short article to his and co-author’s air pollution blog.

Of Men and Mice: In June 1963, I finished my resident training in pathology at the University of California San Francisco. Seeking an academic career, I was offered an Assistant Professorship at USC School of Medicine. They desperately needed a pathologist to examine microscopically the lungs and other organs of the experimental mice that were exposed to urban L.A. air. The project had already been designed, funded and started by others before I got there. The main investigator of the project was Paul Kotin. He had shown that lab mice exposed for some months to a synthetic atmosphere of ozonized gasoline developed an increased incidence of lung tumors, called pulmonary adenomas, compared to control mice breathing filtered air. In addition, a few mice exposed to both ozonized gasoline and influenza virus developed pulmonary lesions resembling squamous cell carcinoma. At this time (and today) there was considerable concern about the potential adverse health effects of urban air pollution on humans including, of course, lung cancer. Kotin left USC in 1963 to become the Director of an Environmental Institute at the U.S. National Institute of Health and I was recruited to carry out the mouse lung pathology survey that he had started. I will describe briefly the rationale for the project, how the study was done and its results and interpretation.

Why it Mattered:  In 1963, an extensive background of epidemiological and biological evidence supported the contention that urban air pollution might contribute to the development of lung cancer. The potential carcinogenicity of many polycyclic hydrocarbons present in L.A. smog, largely absorbed on particulate matter, was well recognized. Of increasing concern, however, were a new group of substances such as oxides of nitrogen and hydrocarbon vapors that occurred in automobile exhaust gasses under the influence of ultraviolet light to generate a great variety of oxidation products such as ozone and other intermediates, largely unidentified. High concentrations of this photochemical smog often occurring in the L.A. Basin resulted in material and agricultural damage and exerted an irritant effect upon human respiratory and ocular mucous membranes. Although a lung-tumor-promoting activity of L.A. urban air had not been demonstrated in humans, there was statistical evidence that residence in ambient air was associated with an increased susceptibility to pulmonary infections. It seemed quite logical therefore to wonder whether sustained exposure to ambient L.A. air might also have a causative role in chronic lung diseases, in particular carcinoma. The politics and public health concern surrounding this question, approaching hysteria in some quarters of L.A. County in 1963, are well covered in Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles. Experimental investigation of lung tumorgenicity had long been handicapped by the infrequency of spontaneous or inducible lung tumor in species other than mice or humans. Furthermore, the mouse lung tumors were quite different in their origin (alveolar cells) and biologic behavior (indolent, benign) than the usual human lung tumor. Nevertheless, considerable prior research attested to the validity of using this biological system for gauging lung tumorgenicity. As mentioned, Kotin’s research showing an increased incidence of these lung tumors (pulmonary adenomas) in mice after prolonged exposure to ozonized gasoline (constant levels of ozone 10-100 times above transient peak levels in L.A. smog) and possible carcinoma after added co-exposure to influenza virus was the catalyst for the present investigation to assess the lung tumorigenic potency in mice of pollutants occurring under natural conditions in L.A. ambient air.

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The Ascension of Jerry meets the Fantastic Fig, Imperial County asthma, coal plant consequences, Ralph Who and a Chinese people’s revolt (really)

Monday, July 16th, 2012


NEWS ABOUT THE ASCENSION OF JERRY: MURDER, HITMEN AND THE MAKING OF L.A. MUCKRAKER JERRY SCHNEIDERMAN (Rare Bird Books)

Book signing and talk on Wed., July 18 with Jerry’s ex-colleague, Paul Fegen (a.k.a. the magician “The Fantastic Fig” at the  Santa Monica Public Library. Here’s the Fig’s website. Here’s how it spins his legend: “the walk-around psychic magician ‘“Fantastic Fig’ is the alter-ego of renowned Personal Injury attorney Paul F. Fegen whose name has also become synonymous with law suites or the “Fegen Suites”. Paul F. Fegen is a native of Los Angeles who attended Los Angeles High School, UCLA as an undergraduate, and USC Law School.   He worked his way through school as a dance instructor, a clown, and a juggler.  In June 1961, he was admitted to the bar. Still a clown at heart, Mr. Fegen can impress with his legal prowess, but he is guaranteed to amaze as the Fantastic Fig.  The Fantastic Fig’s brand of walk-around magic is sure to liven up any function wishing to infuse a combination of fun, excitement, and a healthy dose of astonishment.” In the video ad for Clear Internet above, Fegen is “Fantatic Larry,” the birthday magician who’s not leaving after the birthday.

* Wins silver medal for best general non-fiction at the Hollywood Book Festival

* Vroman’s bookstore bestseller

ENVIRONMENTAL BAG … 

* Imperial Valley not so easy on the lung. L.A. Times story:

– ” … For children with asthma in California, there is no place worse than Imperial County. They are far more likely than children in any other county to end up in the emergency room or hospitalized. Kids go the ER for asthma at a rate three times higher than the state’s average, according to the Department of Public Health … Doctors and public health officials said that a combination of whipping winds, pesticide-tinged farmland dust and large numbers of low-income families lacking health insurance contribute to high rates of asthma hospitalizations and ER visits. Whatever the reason, uncontrolled asthma and frequent hospital visits aren’t just an issue for those with the disease; many children are covered by Medi-Cal, meaning taxpayers often pay the tab for care …”

* Chinese protest copper plant (when they rarely protest anything that the West hears about). MSNBC link

* Don’t tell the National Parks people about the benefits of coal. MSNBC photogblog:

– “A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency order will require two of Utah’s oldest coal-fired power plants to improve control of pollution that has drastically reduced visibility across a region that includes five national parks and redrock wilderness …”

* Ralph who?  The New York Times tries answering it here:

– “Jill Stein, presumptive nominee of the Green Party, is probably the only candidate on the campaign trail who spends an hour a day cooking her own organic meals — and who was, not too long ago, the lead singer of a folksy rock band … Unlike Ms. Stein, a physician on leave from her practice, Mr. Nader, a lifelong consumer advocate, enjoyed high name recognition. But now, more than a decade later, the Green Party has matured to the point at which Ms. Stein’s lower profile may be balanced by a more savvy political operation …”

* Election greenery or long-time coming? MSNBC

– “In another case of environmental rules becoming election fodder, the Obama administration on Friday proposed tighter restrictions on soot, a pollutant caused mainly by smokestacks and diesel engines. It had been called “the sleeping giant of clean-air issues” by Frank O’Donnell, head of the activist group Clean Air Watch. And while little was made of it until now, Republicans and industry were quick to pounce on it as more red tape in a weak economy. The proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule would set the maximum allowable standard for soot in a range of 12 to 13 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The current annual standard, last revised in 1997, is 15 micrograms per cubic meter … House Energy Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., reiterated that in a letter to EPA chief Lisa Jackson last week, saying that ”stringent standards” on soot ”will likely be costly and have significant regulatory and other implications.” The American Petroleum Institute agreed. “By continuing to implement the existing standards we would avoid the potentially heavy added economic costs of more stringent standards, which our economy and American workers cannot afford,” spokesman Howard Feldman told reporters Tuesday …” Scream if you’ve heard that same dreary back and forth since the days of Smogtown in L.A. Which, incidentally, we wrote.

 

 

Scary tidings in the greens of summer 2012

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

* Whatever one thinks about combating climate change with a market-based “cap-and-trade” for greenhouse gases, we highly recommend watching this highly-polished, if over-simplified video that raises legitimate concerns about whether monetizing environmentalism is better than a simple tax as the world tries to save itself from our collective emissions.

* Chinese city blanketed in an unknown haze … gosh, maybe it’s the “straw burning” and not epidemic smog. From Yahoo! News

“Young and old residents of the Chinese metropolis of Wuhan were advised to stay indoors on Monday after a thick haze blanketed the city of nine million people, official media said. Described by residents as opaque with yellowish and greenish tinges, the fug descended suddenly in the morning, prompting people to rush to put on face masks, witnesses told AFP. The official Xinhua news agency quoted the environmental protection department of Hubei province saying in a statement: “Children, the elderly and people with heart or respiratory diseases are advised to stay indoors.” Xinhua said straw burning was the cause and denied there had been any industrial accidents in or near Wuhan, after Internet rumours suggested there had been an explosion at a chemical complex northeast of the city …”

* On a related note, the Chinese oligarchs sure don’t like our American smog-monitors. From MSNBC

“ ”Senior Chinese official demanded on Tuesday that foreign embassies stop issuing air pollution readings, saying it was against the law and diplomatic conventions, in pointed criticism of a closely watched U.S. Embassy index …  Many residents dismiss the common official readings of “slight” pollution in Beijing as grossly under-stated. The U.S. Embassy posts hourly air-quality data on its popular Twitter feed,the U.S.-funded Voice of America explains. Using data from a monitoring point on the embassy roof, the feed was set up in 2009 following widespread complaints that official government readings were understating pollution levels in the smog-filled capital city, the VoA reported …”

* The $68-billion California Bullet Train was already contentious, a massive public works project the pubic is deeply divided over no matter the federal government’s exuberance for it, when air quality and species endangerment questions reared their pesky heads. From the L.A. Times:

” … Among the most difficult issues will be air quality, which is regulated across eight counties by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. The district worries that the construction project would exacerbate already problematic levels of nitrogen oxides, particulates and volatile compounds. The district already bears an annual $29-million federal fine for violating the Clean Air Act, a burden levied on businesses and motorists, who must pay higher annual vehicle fees. Without its approval, the California High-Speed Rail Authority cannot sink a shovel into the ground, said Samir Sheikh, the district’s director of strategies and incentives.”We have an air quality problem that cannot tolerate an increase in emissions,” he said. In the Fresno Unified School District, 10,045 students — 1 out of every 7 — have been diagnosed with asthma, according to data provided by the school district. Many experts believe poor air quality acts as a trigger. Children in the valley carry inhalers with their books and lunches. On bad air days, emergency rooms see a significant increase in residents having asthma attacks, according to district figures. Hospitalizations, lost work days and premature deaths, among other effects, cost $5.7 billion annually, a 2008 Cal State Fullerton study found …”

* If nothing catches your environmental eye except one story this summer, let it be this one that sinks into your soul as you re-imagine the world. The title is horrific:  ”EARTH MAY BE REACHING A TIPPING POINT, SCIENTISTS WARN.” From the L.A. Times:

“A group of international scientists is sounding a global alarm, warning that population growth, climate change and environmental destruction are pushing Earth toward calamitous — and irreversible — biological changes. In a paper published in Thursday’s edition of the journalNature, 22 researchers from a variety of fields liken the human impact to global events eons ago that caused mass extinctions, permanently altering Earth’s biosphere. ”Humans are now forcing another such transition, with the potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience,” wrote the authors, who are from the U.S., Europe, Canada and South America. If current trends continue — exploding global population, rapidly rising temperatures and the clearance of more than 40% of Earth’s surface for urban development or agriculture — the planet could reach a tipping point, they say. ”The net effects of what we’re causing could actually be equivalent to an asteroid striking the Earth in a worst-case scenario,” the paper’s lead author, Anthony Barnosky, a professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley, said in an interview. “I don’t want to sound like Armageddon. I think the point to be made is that if we just ignore all the warning signs of how we’re changing the Earth, the scenario of losses of biodiversity — 75% or more — is not an outlandish scenario at all …”

* Climate change depression, version 4.0, with the warmest spring on record. MSNBC

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* COVERAGE OF CHIP’S LATEST BOOK, The Ascension of Jerry: Murder, Hitmen and the Making of L.A. Muckraker Jerry Schneiderman,

Why is Civic Activism and Journalism Legal and Who was Jerry Schneiderman? - KCET, June 11, 2012

Author interview for The Ascension of Jerry This American Wife web radio, June 8, 2012

 

Governor Jerry Brown Can Do More to Green Up California

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Anyone following the listing giant we call California might have noticed that the Chicken Littles have once again hoarded the microphones for their narrative of downsized expectations.

Except for taxes and pensions, few subjects leave them as screechy as the bottomless environmental ethic they blame for pushing demoralized residents out of state in search of common sense, not taxes on supermarket plastic bags.

How can Governor Jerry Brown support a billion-dollar blueprint to lop emissions of greenhouse gases while foreclosure ghost towns sink California cities such as Stockton and San Bernardino, naysayers ask? Why is Brown, whose quixotic liberalism won him the Governor Moonbeam moniker during his first stint in office in the 1970s, suing to curb sprawl when thestate unemployment rate is near 11 percent and the budget gap is $16 billion?

Because, they hypothesize, a future with social engineering that favors a low-polluting, electric-car lifestyle over lunch- pail jobs is Brown’s naked agenda. Because bellwether stewardship of reasonable protections for clean air and water a generation ago have transmogrified today into policy zealotry about to collapse under its own biodegradable hubris. Beyond Facebook andGoogle (GOOG), the West Coast spirit of innovation is withering. A business climate that once nourished oil giants, defense juggernauts, agribusiness and the country’s smartest entrepreneurs has died off faster than dial-up. Look at the latest population numbers showing that since 1980 four million more people have left California than have come in from other states.

Fighting Smog

This story line of a Green Hulk run amok in a state whose economy is in the top-10 in the world would be essential reading, an SOS even, if only our past didn’t trample it.

In 1955, a dozen years into the Los Angeles campaign to eradicate eye-watering smog, air pollution generals realized they needed an emergency plan in case ozone and other airborne poisons approached life-strangling levels. (A year before, a frighteningly thick haze led officials to seal the harbor, redirect planes from the airport and deploy the California Highway Patrol in case of evacuation.)

Industrialists, embittered by years of being scapegoated for pollution that mainly puffed from cars, revolted against this crisis planning, including a last-gasp contingency that they idle their plants for days to let the atmosphere cleanse itself.

An executive of Richfield Oil Co. announced that its refinery would only halt operations on written orders from the Air Pollution Control District. If the shutdown was later found to have been overkill, Richfield expected the district to write it a check for lost income.

Hollywood, meantime, desired a return of blue skies for its backdrops. The chemical air was costing showbiz millions. “Every morning before we leave the studio we say a few Indian prayers that the smog will have blown away,” said an actor in the Western drama “Brave Eagle,” filmed in the San Fernando Valley in the mid-1950s.

So they all vamoosed, right, showbiz and Big Oil, to Seattle or Phoenix or Kansas City, where breathing wasn’t painful and where regulations were relatively pain-free? No! In the murky 1950s, roughly 100 polluting industries a year relocated to Southern California. Behind them caravans of family station wagons entered the state, with occupants dreaming of jobs. By the time of the first Earth Day in 1971, with every car, truck and smokestack in California under the sternest regulations on the planet, the populace had doubled, to 20 million, since 1950.

Voter Support

The defense companies, whose many smokestacks and machines disgorged any number of scary chemicals, remained as well. Fine- print-loving bureaucrats didn’t crush their business. Superpower peace eventually did much of that.

Today, 40 million souls live in California, not all of them heel-clicking, but few packing their suitcases with green- migraine syndrome, either. Even during the Great Recession, when manufacturing swooned, Californians trounced by an edge of 2 to 1 a 2010 ballot initiative to delay the state’s global warming law until the jobless rate dropped.

This is not to suggest that all companies adore inspections, permitting and fees, or are embracing carbon markets. But CEOs certainly know, if only in the abstract, that the estimated $28 billion in health costs from dirty air would explode to gargantuan levels without rules on the books. That’s why they are CEOs, not window-washers.

No, the trouble isn’t the existing green ethic. Only about 50,000 out of more than 7 million homes in the state have solar panels. The problem is a lack of leadership imagination. Brown & Co., for all their gallant intentions, have yet to inspire Californians by connecting environmental problems with what could be a rejuvenating, self-sustaining economy that electrifies California cleanly while shopping its products to an energy-parched globe.

At a speech to 200 energy experts at University of California, Los Angeles, last summer, Brown floated a goal of the state creating enough clean local energy to support 3 million homes. Developing those 12 gigawatts is “going to take all manner of investment, risk taking and collaboration,” he said. Some idea of collaboration! Instead of chin-wagging inside a university lecture hall, Brown should park a Prius in front of small-business leaders and just about anybody he can buttonhole, to solicit their ideas.

About 430,000 Californians, or roughly 4 percent of wage- earners here, work in clean-energy production, new-generation batteries, recycling and green education. Brown should be hollering that we must do better.

In Perspective

Yet, too often, the skeptics are doing the talking about our eco-obsessions as if they were the indulgences of an insufferable diva. Remember Solyndra, the solar-panel maker that went belly up, despite a half-billion dollars in federal support? Tell me which is more vital for our national security: public investments to harness solar rays in a world bloodied by oil, or the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor project, where each jet fighter is estimated to be $269 million over budget, meaning that overspending on two of them exceeds the taxpayer loss for Solyndra?

Just as the state once engineered carbon-graphite bombers during the Cold War, Brown 2.0 should man the bully pulpit to speak directly to average Californians. The UCLAs and NRG Energies and Wal-Marts of the world can book the messianic one another time.

With an honest spirit of green invention, perhaps some of those who left the state will flip a U-turn, plugging their ears to the opinionated cluckers on the drive home.

Bloomberg View link to Op-Ed

Evolving tactics, local fracking, communist solar panels and fatalistic gimmickry: a Smogtown stew

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

  

* When it comes to major California solar projects, these are not your parents’ environmental watchdogs anymore. From outside agitators to inside-the-system players, the green world is shifting, or shrinking. From the L.A. Times:

“April Sall gazed out at the Mojave Desert flashing past the car window and unreeled a story of frustration and backroom dealings … “We got dragged into this because the big groups were standing on the sidelines and we were watching this big conservation legacy practically go under a bulldozer,” said Sall, the (Wildlands Conservancy) director. “We said, ‘We can’t be silent anymore.’ ” Similar stories can be heard across the desert Southwest. Small environmental groups are fighting utility-scale solar projects without the support of what they refer to as “Gang Green,” the nation’s big environmental players. Local activists accuse the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, the Wilderness Society and other venerable environmental groups of acquiescing to the industrialization of the desert because they believe large-scale solar power is essential to slowing climate change …”

* Hydraulic fracturing is greatly understated here in California, according to the Times:

“State regulators say existing environmental laws protect the state’s drinking water but acknowledge they have little information about the scale or practice of fracking in California, the fourth-largest oil producing state in the nation. That has created mounting anxiety in communities from Culver City to Monterey, where residents are slowly discovering the practice has gone on for years, sometimes in densely populated areas. “The communities have been left on their own to figure this out,” said Lark Galloway-Gilliam, executive director of Community Health Councils, a health advocacy group that sued a Texas oil company and Los Angeles County over oil extraction near Baldwin Hills. “We are looking to our regulatory agencies to protect us, and they are scratching their heads and turning a blind eye …”

The Obama Administration isn’t ignoring the potential air pollution effects of fracking. It’s enacted rules … that will be applied post-election in a few years. MSNBC article.

* Shot across the bow in a looming, green-energy trade war or political theater designed for domestic consumption. You decide. From the New York Times:

“In a significant decision involving one of the world’s most sought-after industries, the U.S. is gearing up to impose duties on imports of Chinese solar panels after finding evidence that China’s government provided illegal subsidies to its export manufacturers. In a preliminary finding released Tuesday, the Commerce Department said it would start levying duties ranging from 2.9% to 4.73% on Chinese imports of solar panels, as well as panels made in other countries that have Chinese-made solar cells …”

* In case you missed the nostaligic, KCET article about “Smog in a Can” that yours truly appeared in, read on:

“ … In 1957 the “Smog in a Can” was introduced by Hollywood actor Carleton Young, best known for his line from the movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “This is the West sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Establishing the Los Angeles Smog Corporation, Young and associate Hal Tamblin set about canning smog in colorfully designed labels for mass distribution. According to the label: “Genuine Los Angeles Smog. This is the smog used by famous Hollywood stars. Contains hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, sulfer dioxide, organic oxides, aldehydes, formaldehydes. “Made in Los Angeles by Angels. To insure freshness and purity keep container tightly sealed. Beware of imitations! Accept none but the pure Los Angeles Smog. “No pollutants or irritants removed. Packed for Los Angeles Smog Corp,, Los Angeles 28, California …”

Of course, you don’t a story to learn about the sociological despair bottled up in those cans. You can just read our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles. What’s a gimmick like packaged air pollution without the context, after all?

 

 

 

Is it time to retire our smog control police, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, for a re-imagined effort at corraling pollution? A Smogtown editorial.

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

 

 As the Los Angeles region’s smog control agency this year begins to   update its plan to meet health standards for air pollution in this sprawling metropolis, there’s scant interest from the press or public for that matter.

 Lack of interest may well be warranted, even though the remaining health  toll of smog—as many as 23,000 deaths per year in California, most of them in the Los Angeles region—point to as much need to meet health standards today as at any time during the region’s historical effort to cleanse its skies. Throw global warming into the mix and cutting emissions from cars, buses, trucks, trains, planes, ships, power plants, and oil refineries is even that much more important.

While the regional smog control agency—known as the South Coast Air Quality Management District—can write plans, it can do little today to enforce them. After almost 70 years of ratcheting down allowable emissions from stationary sources—largely consisting of industries—today more than 70 percent of the remaining pollution comes from cars, trucks, and other mobile sources over which the agency has practically no power. Add shipping, refining, and pumping the petroleum products needed to fuel mobile sources, and you’re close to 75 percent of the pollution. Much of the rest comes from homes and small businesses not really capable of following complicated regulations, but that instead need to use clean paints, cleaning fluids, and other products that meet clean air standards.

At the state level, the California Air Resources Board largely has power over these consumer products and over many mobile sources—particularly cars, trucks, and off-road equipment used in construction and farming. Yet, it finds itself mostly in the same boat as the SCAQMD. It has reduced the amount of allowable pollution from these sources to levels that are unlikely to get much lower, without moving to electric cars, which is the board’s plan.

But here’s the rub. Given the nature of the economy, work, and how Californians live, electric cars are not very practical for many folks. They cost too much and have a limited driving range, generally no more than 100 miles on a charge, and that’s being generous. Most people just can’t afford to have an electric car to commute in and a gasoline-powered model for weekend trips to see Grandma and get the kids to soccer tournaments.

Enter the plug-in hybrid vehicle, which combines the two technologies under one hood, with batteries and an electric motor for short-range driving and a gasoline engine for longer trips. That gives hope, but yikes it sure is expensive. The Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid is priced at more than $40,000. No wonder sales have been disappointing. I don’t know about you, but with kids to educate and a mortgage to make I’ll cut my emissions by taking public transit or walking before shelling out that kind of money. Evidently, I’m not alone.

And that’s reality, which points to another reality about political organization in Smogtown.

SCAQMD and CARB can talk and throw money at clean-fueled and electric vehicles, but that alone will never meet air quality standards or achieve the 85 percent reduction in greenhouse gases needed to stabilize the world’s climate. Instead, the major drivers of these emissions are land-use patterns, transportation, and the way the economy is organized. Components made hither and yon are shipped around the world for assembly on the global production line and then shipped to market by a network of ships, trains, planes, and trucks, emitting air pollutants and greenhouse gases all the way. Same goes for food. Most of us still have to commute to offices or travel to meetings, despite the miracle of modern telecommunications and information technology.

So the question is not what the agencies should put in their clean air plans, but instead whether they are the ones that should be writing the plans to begin with? Circumstances have changed and that requires rethinking how government is organized.

Indeed, the history of Smogtown shows that at various points achieving future progress on air pollution necessitated reorganizing government agencies. First, county air pollution agencies were formed. Then lawmakers created the statewide Air Resources Board to tackle Detroit automakers who for almost two decades eluded local cleanup efforts. Then regional air pollution control agencies—like the SCAQMD were formed—to broaden power over air pollution sources. Each of these reinventions of government brought some progress.

Here in Smogtown we posit it’s time for more reinvention. Here’s the plan.

First, move control of air pollution from stationary sources to newly formed county air pollution control offices, which would be closer to the people and guided by elected rather than appointed and unaccountable officials. Counties could run air pollution control monitoring networks as well.  Samples of air needed to monitor compliance with health standards and to enforce rules for factories and other businesses could be analyzed by one of the four counties in SCAQMD’s jurisdiction on a contract basis after that county assumes control of the SCAQMD’s lab under this reorganization plan.

Second, shift the rulemaking function for stationary sources to the California Air Resources Board. There are not many more rules left anyway, and the state Air Board already is developing rules for greenhouse gas emissions that can and should go hand-and-hand with any additional air pollution control rules that are possible.

Third, transfer clean-fuel vehicle monies administered by the SCAQMD to the transportation authorities in each county, as well as other funds doled out for so-called mobile source projects. These agencies are closer to the people than the unelected officials at SCAQMD in Diamond Bar and are in a better position to integrate clean-fueled vehicles and related fueling facilities into the transportation infrastructure.

Finally, hand over to the Southern California Association of Governments the job of developing future air pollution cleanup plans. It has broader participation from local governments and more expertise when it comes to land-use, transportation, and economics—the major remaining drivers of air pollution and key factors influencing greenhouse gases.

In reorganizing air pollution control in Smogtown, Sacramento lawmakers should reiterate that SCAG needs to develop plans that will cut greenhouse gases, as well as air pollution. They also should give the state Air Resources Board clear oversight authority over SCAG and the power to cut off state money to cities that do not follow the regional planning organization’s blueprints.

This will get attention from city halls, the media, and residents when it comes to land-use and transportation in a way that today’s SCAQMD doesn’t. In fact, I bet most people in city halls across SCAQMD’s area—as is the case with most residents and news reporters—barely know the agency’s name, much less what it does.

Time to get busy! Let’s get organized for the new realities of air pollution and global warming to improve life in Smogtown!