Posts Tagged ‘California’

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

Book awards and beyond Smogtown … heading east.

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

* 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.

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.

 

 

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?

 

 

 

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.)

AQMD chairman representing smog-smothered China in a deal with the Dodgers, Obama caving in on a critical ozone rule: just another jaded day in Smogtown

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

* Bill Burke, longtime chairman of Southern California’s regional smog-fighting agency, is leading a group that includes the Chinese government, to purchase the L.A. Dodgers for $1.2 billion from beleaguered owner Frank McCourt. Burke, who founded the L.A. Marathon and is the husband to former congresswoman and County Supervisor Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, has given no official comments. But we have a couple: first, representing an ownership group with funding from China is incendiary, given Burke’s job with the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the fact that China has ghastly air pollution problems far beyond anything us current Westerners can imagine. (Folks who lived through the “great” L.A. smog crises might be about the only ones with damaged lungs and psyches who could relate). What message is Burke sending by aligning himself with a dirty, industrial powerhouse like that? That green (thimk dollars) counts more than brown, as in brown, crusty, noxious air pollution? Also, Burke has some questions to answer, and we’re not talking about the L.A. Marathon. In our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, we discover the smelly deal he cut with then state Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. Let’s just say it involves political promises, a taxpayer-funded P.R. contract that produced no P.R. and a mistress.

- From the L.A. Times:

“In an international twist in the Dodgers’ ownership saga, Frank McCourt has been offered $1.2 billion to sell the team to a group indirectly financed by the government of China. The bid is headed by Los Angeles Marathon founder Bill Burke, according to a letter sent to McCourt on Tuesday. The letter was disclosed to The Times by two people familiar with its content but not authorized to discuss it publicly. The proposed sale price would set a record for a Major League Baseball team. However, the bid was received with skepticism within MLB, where executives wondered whether the proposal might be used by McCourt to stir negotiations with other potential buyers or to persuade a Bankruptcy Court judge to keep McCourt in charge of the team …”

Stay tuned.

* There’s a great bumper sticker out there that says, in effect, if you’re not cynical enough, you’re not paying attention. Optimists that we are, we’re also realists and pollution historians and we know that when the economy goes into the crapper, health-protecting environmental rules we all figured we’re mainstream and untouchable are suspended and put on ice. Well, one of the holy grails of enviromental protections against pernicious smog is about to spend time in regulatory purgatory. L.A. anti-smog crusaders like Ken Hahn must be rolling in their graves at the rollback built on so many people’s suffering. Then again, none of us are president of a hurting country. Ozone: what hath you done? We smell clusmy backpedal.

- The New York Times hits it on the head:

“The Obama administration is abandoning its plan to immediately tighten air-quality rules nationwide to reduce emissions of smog-causing chemicals after an intense lobbying campaign by industry, which said the new rule would cost billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs, officials said Friday. “If he continues to represent Republican interests, he should open the door for Democrats to choose a candidate who represents them, rather than the opposing party.” The Environmental Protection Agency, following the recommendation of its scientific advisers, had proposed lowering the so-called ozone standard from that set by the Bush administration to a new stricter standard that would have thrown hundreds of American counties out of compliance with the Clean Air Act. It would have required a major effort by state and local officials, as well as new emissions controls by industries and agriculture across the country. The more lenient Bush administration standard from 2008 will remain in place until a scheduled reconsideration of acceptable pollution limits in 2013, officials indicated Friday …”

- More about this from the L.A. Times:

“President Obama announced Friday that he has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to drop controversial rules to cut smog levels, a move welcomed by the business community that has long decried them as onerous but one sure to alienate the president’s environmental base even further as his administration backs away from key anti-pollution initiatives. In a statement issued by the White House, the president said: “I have continued to underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover. With that in mind, and after careful consideration, I have requested that Administrator [Lisa] Jackson withdraw the draft Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards at this time. Work is already underway to update a 2006 review of the science that will result in the reconsideration of the ozone standard in 2013. Ultimately, I did not support asking state and local governments to begin implementing a new standard that will soon be reconsidered,” the statement concluded …

* As if this wasn’t demoralizing enough, here’s a story emblematic of the collossal missed opportunity to jump start an alternative enery industry in the face of global recession and global warming because politicas interfered. From ABC News

“Solyndra, a renewable energy firm that became the darling of the Obama Administration, shut the doors to its California headquarters today, raising sharp questions from the administration’s critics about political favoritism in the federal loan program. “We smelled a rat from the onset,” Republican House Energy and Commerce Committee members Rep. Cliff Stearns and Rep. Fred Upton said in a statement to ABC News of the the $535 million government loan guarantee awarded to Solyndra in 2009. The manufacturer of rooftop solar panels opened in 2005 and in 2009 became the Obama administration’s first recipient of an half-billion dollar energy loan guarantee meant to help minimize the risk to venture capital firms that were backing the solar start-up. Obama made a personal visit to the factory last year to herald its bright future.

* Lastly, not so Greenland anymore.

Save the EPA from Republican bomb-throwers with a Smogtown Op-Ed in the NY Times, and other green news

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

* A snippet from my editorial in today’s New York Times “Room for Debate” online roudtable about whether Republican presidential candidates calling for the EPA’s dissolution have a point or are just giving red-meat to a fatigued, job-hungry people:

” … In national politics, California may be seen as Exhibit A for over-regulating the environment. But anyone making that argument must ignore what the state was like before the Environmental Protection Agency. Its rules and enforcement have made California a livable, thriving state. Now, if you’re a Republican presidential candidate irate about America’s wheezy economy, it’s easy to go Red Queen and call for guillotining the E.P.A. Scapegoating regulators as job-killing obstructionists can pump up the faithful, but it doesn’t reflect well on America’s environmental maturity. None of the White House hopefuls mention the expected $2 trillion in health and environmental benefits from the Clean Air Act by 2020. Few of the greenhouse skeptics, in fact, even broach fresh air at all, perhaps because they hail from states where it was never toxic …”

Read our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, and you’ll see just how instrumental California’s smog epidemic was in galvanizing an environmental ethos that led to creation of the EPA itself. The effects of those untamed, brown-exhaust-blowing tailpipes spawned a bureaucracy.

And now for something completely greener, we think.

* San Joaquin Valley toxic dump agrees to spend $1 million to better manage hazardous waste. From the L.A. Times:

“A toxic waste dump near a San Joaquin Valley community plagued by birth defects has agreed to pay $400,000 in fines and spend $600,000 on laboratory upgrades needed to properly manage hazardous materials at the facility, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday. The penalties were part of a consent decree that capped an 18-month investigation by the EPA and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control into the Chemical Waste Management landfill about 3 1/2 miles southwest of Kettleman City, a community of 1,500 mostly low-income Latino farmworkers. Company records revealed at least 18 instances over the last six years in which toxic waste had to be excavated from the landfill after it was learned that the laboratory had mistakenly concluded the material met treatment standards, EPA officials said …”

* The California-led greenhosue gas cap-and-trade was supposed to be a shiney achievement of former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration. It’s turned out to be something much more complicated, divisive and legally perilious than anyone believed. Still, the state Air Resources Board remains behind it through the court challenges and liberal backlash. Having covered the Anne Sholtz caper with the smog cap and trade here in Southern California, color me skeptical about how much a green market will achieve. Then again, this is the West Coast where we build the future day by day. From the L.A. Times:

“The California Air Resources Board voted to reaffirm its cap-and-trade plan Wednesday, a decision that puts the nation’s first-ever state carbon trading program back on track, for now. The on-again, off-again rules have been years in the making and are meant to complement AB 32, California’s landmark climate change law that mandates a reduction in carbon pollution to 1990 levels by 2020. The air board adopted a preliminary carbon trading plan in late 2008 but was sued by environmental justice groups in 2009. A San Francisco judge in March ordered the air board to more comprehensively analyze alternatives to the market-based trading system, such as a carbon tax or fee. In a unanimous vote in Sacramento on Wednesday, the board adopted the revised environmental analysis while still affirming its original decision. But the board’s vote may not forestall another legal challenge. The original plaintiffs argued in Wednesday’s hearing that the revised analysis still failed to adequately consider other options. UCLA law professor Cara Horowitz said “most assuredly” the matter would be back before the court. Board chief Mary Nichols said she has not always supported cap and trade in part because it would be difficult to administer. “I had my doubts,” she said, adding that many details remain to be hashed out. “It is a form of California leadership that involves some risk. This is still the most viable of the alternatives to achieve the goals of AB 32.” Originally scheduled for implementation next year, industry compliance with the cap-and-trade program will now take effect in 2013 …”