Posts Tagged ‘alternative energy’

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

“The Ascension of Jerry” book coverage and May environmental news of note

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

“Jerry Schneiderman: The Rabble-Rouser you’ve never head about but should know” - L.A. Weekly, May 22, 2012. Author Q&A

Jerry Schneiderman was not your ordinary real estate developer. For years, he was a rabble rouser who took on the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority after tunneling for the Red Line subway collapsed parts of Hollywood Boulevard.”You can never stop a government public works project entirely,” Schneiderman told me last summer for the L.A. Weekly cover story “Beverly Hills Versus the Westside Subway.” But “you can starve it.” Schneiderman died in December 2011, but years earlier, in 1979, his business partner had been murdered by a hit man. Schneiderman was never the same, and was always on the lookout for his own safety. Los Angeles journalist Chip Jacobs has written a gripping book about Schneiderman’s story – The Ascension of Jerry – which took years to research and write. Jacobs and I recently talked about Schneiderman, who struck up a friendly working relationship with me back in the late 1990s…

L.A. Weekly: I talked with Jerry a few months before he died. He said you were working on a book with him for years. Why did you decide you wanted to spend so much time and write a book on a man the average person has never heard of?

Chip Jacobs: Having written only about a half-dozen crime stories during the course of my career, I had no outward business devoting myself to a book about a whacked murder triangle in ’79 L.A. — one bubbling out of real estate greed — that scared Jerry so badly. I might as well have applied to the Navy SEALs, experience-wise.

But the more I learned about his past, not just the spectacle of lame hit men and violent, blue-collar embitterment in an angry age reminiscent of today, the more I realized that people who survived such terrible ordeals frequently had no one who’d believe their psychic damage and few avenues to release it.

So though Jerry was hardly a household name, even during his prolific political shenanigans of the 1990s, the dark pain fueling his activism was extraordinary, if not gigantically entertaining. Come on: a brilliant, former space planner-turned-developer-turned-civic-prankster dressing up like a corpulent councilwoman, or spreading rumors of a vapory creature busting the MTA for subway safety violations. Jerry was unique and invisible all at once, perfect, too, because he was a smirking contradiction …

Also about The Ascension of Jerry …

“Author Chip Jacobs details Jerry Schneiderman Murder Triangle in New Book” - KCBS-KCAL TV, May 17, 2012 Author Chip Jacobs visited the KCAL9 studios Thursday to talk about his new non-fiction murder mystery book, The Ascension Of Jerry: Murder, Hitmen and the Making of L.A. Muckraker Jerry Schneiderman.

*      *     *
And now for some things completely environmental 

“L.A. OKs BAN ON PLASTIC BAGS AT CHECK-OUT”Los Angeles Times 

“DIRTY AIR IN CALIFORNIA CAUSED $193 MILLION IN HOSPITAL-BASED MEDICAL COSTS DURING 2005-2007″ - Rand Corp.

“SOLAR PLANE TAKES OFF FOR ITS FIRST TRANSCONTINENTAL FLIGHT”MSBNBC.com

“U.S. ORDERS TARIFFS ON CHINESE SOLAR PANELS”Los Angeles Times  

“A PULITZER FOR ECLIPSE COVERAGE? IT HAPPENED”Los Angeles Times 

Hold that drum roll! More green than greenhouse progress here.

Monday, September 26th, 2011

California’s big deal, carbon cap-and-trade auction program—you know, the one that put Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on the front cover of Time in his elevator shoes—has boiled down to this: It’s going to be run by a consultant for the next two years for maximum compensation of $750,000. (See the California Air Resources Board’s recent presentation to interested consultants here.) CARB, which invented the program and has been rushing to finalize applicable rules, now even has to hire a consultant to train its own staff how to monitor and account for which companies hold which emissions rights allowing them to spew greenhouse gases into the air.

It all goes to show how Schwarzenegger’s big-muscle program has boiled down to little more than flab over the last five years.

It was 2006 when Arnie and former California Speaker of the Assembly Fabian Nunez swaggered onto a stage to announce that the golden state planned to lead the nation in tackling the global warming problem under AB 32, its climate protection law. The former muscle-man envisioned a gleaming carbon trading market that other states in the West and provinces in Canada would join. Soon, Schwarzenegger even raised the prospect that Northeast and Midwest state would join in.

But the more other states looked and watched, the less inclined they became to partner with California. Eventually, it became apparent that Schwarzenegger’s pumped up dream of California being the new financial headquarters for carbon trading had collapsed, leaving the state on its own today.

 Even in the America’s eco-bellwether state, a lawsuit by environmental justice activists and the deepening economic recession have whittled down the grand policy scheme to the point where it’s a relatively minor player in the state’s plan to cut greenhouse gases. It’s been overtaken by new approaches like a 33-percent renewable energy standard for electric utilities; cars that are lightweight, fuel efficient and employ hybrid vehicles to get almost 55-miles per gallon in another five years; and investments in insulation, shade trees, modern lighting, and tighter windows and doors to make buildings use less energy.

 Other states are following California in such measures, seeing them as better and surer ways to cut greenhouse gases. Yet, California regulators remain stubborn as a dog with a bone about plunging ahead with a California-only carbon market. So on October 20, CARB plans to adopt final amendments to its cap-and-trade rules and to quickly hire consultants to run the first carbon emissions rights auction in 2012.

 One glaring fact about the program is that companies will be able to meet some half their emissions reductions through offset projects—such as planting trees in Indonesia to take carbon dioxide out of the air, or capturing methane emissions from hog farms in Latin America. CARB plans to rely on privately-funded, third party entities to police these operations (no doubt, with a wink and a nod) to make sure the resulting emissions reductions are real and permanent.

 Meanwhile, CARB’s staff will be trained by private industry consultants on how to fully carry out the program they’ve invented. Let’s just hope the consultants doing the training can get to Sacramento since the governor won’t let state employees travel to get training, much less to inspect forestry projects or hog farms along the equator. He’s even taken away their cell phones due to the state’s budget mess.

 In the end, CARB, no doubt, is being realistic. Since it can’t carry out the carbon market program it’s unleashing by itself—starved nearly to death by legislators and company lobbyists that prevent any tax increases—it’s got little choice but to hand most of it over to the private sector, sort of like toll roads and charter schools. Cap-and-trade: another capitalist idea.

(Shameless sales pitch, since we’re on the money theme. Many of these controversies and issues are covering in our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.)

April news-bite showers

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Unused Ferris wheel near the abandoned Chernboyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine

* It’s official! California must generate one third of its power from alternative sources by 2020. Notice, in this L.A. Times post, that our acceleration into green power may help California reclaim its lofty perch as environmental lodestar. Wait, there’s truth in them there words.

“… The new law, known as a renewable portfolio standard, is the most aggressive of any state. Several attempts to introduce a federal version have stalled in a divided and preoccupied Congress. California had previously required investor-owned utilities such as Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric to generate 20% of their electricity from clean sources by 2010, with a three-year grace period. The law signed Tuesday will also apply to municipal utilities such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which manage about a quarter of the state’s electricity load. Energy activists hope the mandate will lead to even more ambitious requirements. “California can power itself entirely on clean energy resources,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, clean energy advocate with Environment California. “Mandating that the state generate a third of its electricity from renewable energy is a big down payment toward that ultimate goal …”

* And, yet, you want to qualify exuberance for wind energy retaking other alternatives before the Ice Cap re-freezes. Turbines are not having the best year, and you can wager whether it’s cost skepticism, declining subsidies or something to do with oil prices and/or NIMBYism.

Also from the L.A. Times:  “The 5,116 megawatts of wind power installed in the U.S. in 2010 was just half the amount put in during the record year before, but the industry still grew 15%, according to an annual report from the American Wind Energy Assn. To some, the trade group’s data illustrate a young industry’s resiliency amid hostile economics and inconsistent government regulations and incentives. But to others, it’s a worrisome harbinger that wind, which has boomed at an average of 35% each year for the last five, might be headed for a slowdown. The 35,600 wind turbines in the ground nationwide can now produce 40,181 megawatts – enough to supply electricity to 10 million homes, according to the report. That’s 2.3% of all the electricity generated around the country, compared to roughly 2% from solar, geothermal and biomass sources …”

* In what may be the most under-played local enviro news, California’s landmark greenhouse gas cap and trade is expanding into the Great North. Good grief, I say.

“California officials announced Tuesday that the state will expand its newly adopted carbon-trading program to three Canadian provinces, creating the largest regional cap-and-trade system in North America. California will be joined by British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario in a cap-and-trade program aimed at limiting planet-heating greenhouse gases from industrial plants and transportation fuel, and that allows companies to buy and sell emissions allowances among themselves to cut their costs. The Western Climate Initiative, launched by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was originally designed in 2008 to engage seven Western states and four Canadian provinces in a trading program. That program, it was hoped, would eventually fold into a broader federal cap-and-trade system to be enacted by Congress. But since then, support for curbing global-warming emissions has ebbed, and the economic downturn has cut into business profits. Federal cap-and-trade legislation was passed by the House in 2009 but stalled in the Senate. Arizona, New Mexico Washington, Oregon, Utah and Montana had signed on to join the initiative but have pulled out of the trading plan …”

Now, the things people do without considering their consequences.

* Does the word carcinogenic matter to energy engineers? It should, but it didn’t as much as it should. Link.

“Millions of gallons of potentially hazardous chemicals and known carcinogens were injected into wells by leading oil and gas service companies from 2005 to 2009, a report by three House Democrats said Saturday. The report said 29 of the chemicals injected were known or suspected human carcinogens. They either were regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act as risks to human health or listed as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act … The chemicals are injected during hydraulic fracturing, a process used in combination with horizontal drilling to allow access to natural gas reserves previously considered uneconomical. The growing use of hydraulic fracturing has allowed natural gas production in the United States to reach levels not achieved since the early 1970s. However, the process requires large quantities of water and fluids, injected underground at high volumes and pressure. The composition of these fluids ranges from a simple mixture of water and sand to more complex mixtures with chemical additives … The report said that from 2005 to 2009, the following states had at least 100,000 gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluids containing a carcinogen injected underground: Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Wyoming, North Dakota, New Mexico, Montana and Utah. States with 100,000 gallons or more of fluids containing a regulated chemical under the Safe Drinking Water Act were: Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Mississippi and North Dakota …”

* Japanese nuclear situation got you down? Well, you can only sign up for a tour of Chernboyl if you’re headed toward the Ukraine and have an appetite for tragedy and history, and are confident about your health. Story.

“For the visitor, Chernobyl makes heavy demands on the imagination — much of what’s important can be seen only in the mind’s eye. From the outside, the building where a reactor blew up April 26, 1986, in the world’s worst nuclear disaster mostly looks like an ordinary, dull industrial building. Only an odd addition supported by buttresses — the sarcophagus covering the reactor — hints that anything unusual happened here. The imagination struggles, too, to repopulate nearby Pripyat with the 50,000 people who lived there. Once a busy town built especially for the plant’s workers, it’s now a silent husk of abandoned apartment towers and scrubby brush slowly overtaking the main square. And inevitably, the visitor tries to picture the radioactive contamination that’s everywhere in the 19-mile area around the plant. The dosimeter clipped to a visitor’s clothes and occasional meters around the site are the only visual clues, flashing numbers that are mostly meaningless to the layman …”

Now, this is a big deal – California cementing its commitment to green energy

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

 

– From the L.A. Times story: “A mandate that California utilities increase their use of renewable energy sailed through the state Assembly on Tuesday and is headed for the governor’s desk. Environmental groups say the legislation is the most ambitious of its kind in the country. It would require the state’s electricity companies to provide 33% of power from renewable resources by the year 2020. State law now sets a 20% goal. Supporters made their case by invoking the nuclear plant problems in Japan and conflict in the oil-rich Middle East, as well as the struggling California economy: Environmentalists have said the mandate could create 100,000 jobs. The bill aims to lessen dependence on coal and natural gas in favor of wind, solar and geothermal energy. It would also protect ratepayers from large new costs, and “provides flexibility to utilities,” argued Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata).”

Very heartening news. Too bad it didn’t come a generation earlier.

– More on California and energy.

* It looks like California’s under-reported and provocative bid to run a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade will go forward after all once officials conduct further studies about alternative plans. Color us skeptical about market-based approaches after covering the Anne Sholtz case involving the AQMD, EPA, DOJ, and, yes, even the CIA, and hearing about Europe’s rampant cap-and-trade scandals. We’ll see.

* From the L.A. Times: “California’s effort to curb global warming, which was put on hold by a court decision, will be able to proceed on schedule once officials conduct a new environmental review, according to attorneys analyzing the case. A San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled that the California Air Resources Board failed to properly evaluate alternatives to the so-called cap-and-trade program, which would allow industries to purchase pollution allowances rather than cut their own carbon emissions. The court said that measures such as a carbon tax or direct regulation of greenhouse gases were not given enough consideration. Air board officials said Tuesday that they would meet with environmentalists who filed the lawsuit in an effort to narrow the scope of the court injunction, which is expected to be issued in about a week …”

* Wave energy and the future: a truly untapped source to meet our insatiable needs or a quick path to disrupt the marine ecosystem we need to live? Read it here. :”The waves off San Onofre have for generations beckoned surfers and sport fishermen to a wild stretch of coastline in the shadow of domed nuclear reactors. Now, an Orange County entrepreneur wants to tap the power of that legendary surf in a novel but highly controversial plan to build one of the nation’s first hydrokinetic wave farms …”

– For those convinced it’s no big deal to shave provisions of the Clean Air Act to shore up the wobbly recovery, take a read through these EPA-generated public health statistics from the Environment News Service. “Last year, the reductions in fine particle and ozone pollution from the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments prevented more than 160,000 cases of premature death, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates released Tuesday … By 2020, the benefits of reducing fine particle and ground level ozone pollution under the amendments will reach approximately $2 trillion while saving 230,000 people from early death in that year alone, the report concludes.”

In the year 2010, the reductions in fine particle and ozone pollution from the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments prevented more than:

  • 160,000 cases of premature mortality
  • 130,000 heart attacks
  • 13 million lost work days
  • 1.7 million asthma attacks

For more about the landlmark Clean Air Act, click here.

– Will the prolonged and alarming Japanese nuclear-plant crisis mean fresh opportunities for more exotic alternative energy ideas? Geothermal: get ready for your close up. LA Times Greenspace Link. Here’s my L.A. Times’ story on this general subject. And here’s my New York Times online Op-Ed that underscores how few Californians in supposedly America’s greenest state have largely eschewed solar power and our governmental hypocrisy.

– More about those Robert F. Kennedy photographs that my older brother took not long before RFK was assassinated in the kitchen of the old Ambassador Hotel nearly 43 years ago. L.A. Times Daily Mirror blog (note to self: type slower when commenting) and L.A. Observed, which produced a hysterical headline.

* For the record, my brother a couple of years ago emailed me these photographs and told me I could do with them what I pleased, as long as nobody stole the images. They sat idly on my hard-drive until I did a little file organizing recently and decided to post them. Both of us had completely forgotten about them, and so the idea we were seeking our 15 minutes — or 15 seconds in the blogosphere — of fame out of such a gruesome tragedy makes me want to laugh for about 15 hours. These were just a couple of poignant and significant photos taken by a then-21-year-old USC undergrad who stumbled upon one of his heroes. In broken record cadence, I believe the timing of the images pales next to the fact that Paul could get so close to a presidential candidate whose brother was assassinated in Dallas less than five years earlier!

More environmental pot-luck for you while we fine-tune some things

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

gm-volt-jpeg-lasmogtown

Can the GM Volt really get 230 MPG? Story

If you’re skeptical about that, how do you feel about carbon sequestration. Count us as skeptics here, until that “ah-ha” moment of truth in science and consensus in D.C. Link.

The public’s de-prioritizing environmental cleanup during hard economic times is both common sense and old hat in Los Angeles, where anti-smog campaigns often were killed, delayed or made all marshmellow-like whe those jobless numbers went up and the booster types snarled that detoxifying the air was polluting the California business cliimate. Read our book Smogtown for a stroll down memory lane. This latest poll is pretty insightful about the American mind right now.

Idealab and solar power. What a marriage! Story.

Of all the recent enviro stories, this one from the New York Times about how climate change may wind up being a national security threat might be the most important.

Another election, another stab at smogless engines. California has a rich history of marshaling citizen power for the environment.

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Trouble is, nobody can ever really predict what net benefits will result. What if oil prices keep sinking, and Californians slide back toward SUVs and other gas gulpers as they have before in the post-Earth Day, stay-green era? Legendary billionaire Texas oilman-cum-investor-cum-energy-hero is championing Proposition 10 on the Nov. 4 ballot. Under it, the state would borrow $5 billion to invest in alternative energies, notably natural gas, to help wean us off those foreign sources — you know, the ones that tend to drag us into deadly conflict in the Middle East. Pickens certainly has his principles and pocketbook harmonized here: he owns Seal Beach-based Clean Energy Fuels Corp. that supplies natural gas to vehicle fleets. Don’t forget that before gas prices soared to the $5/gallon range, “green cars” were the domain of believers and futuroligists. As much as General Motors’ and other carmakers political clout hamstrung California’s effort some years back to introduce electric cars into the consumer mainstream, it was motorists’ overall lack of interest that really killed the notion you could have hundreds of thousands of vehicles humming on something other than the fossil fuel engine.

Using the ballot box as a shock troop to spur whole new ways of thinking and living without poisoining ourselves on our toxic emissions has been a Golden State tradition dating back to the early 1970s. Striving to pressure Detroit’s Big Three (previously the Big Four and now maybe headed to the Big Two) is another state legacy. If you want to understand the context of where we are today with alternative-fueled vehicles and audacious ballot initiatives, our just-released book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, brims with perspective. Or so we hope. In the Internet age, there’s no excuse for ignorance when it comes to election choices. Here’s the official voter guide description of Prop 10: link. Get educated or no bellyaching if the air gets brown-orangish again.