Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

Last post here on L.A. Smogtown blog. Sure has been a gas.

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

1950s Optimist Club meeting with guys in gas masks


We’re shutting down this blog and moving on up! Actually, we’re just sliding over to a new environmental/political blog called Please pack your bags and visit it there. We promise it won’t be more boring.

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

Monday, March 3rd, 2014


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

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

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

People’s Republic of Chemicals – Preparing for liftoff

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014


- 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 …






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

Friday, January 3rd, 2014



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

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

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

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

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

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

The student’s goal was to shoot.

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

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

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

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


* 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

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!

Al Gore’s Apple core and “new” linkages between smog and crummy health

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

* Oh, Al. Here’s a story you probably haven’t seen about the man who might’ve been president in 2000 and the tech titan that at one point had more money in its kitty than the U.S. Treasury. We are big supporters of Gore here. At the same time, human nature can make hypocrites out of all of us. Interesting life for an anti-global warming crusader when he becomes an entrepreneur.

- From Newsweek’s Daily Beast: ” … Gore promises to be a topic of debate when shareholders gather in Cupertino on Thursday for Apple’s annual meeting. The issue, however, won’t be his compensation as an Apple board member or the atrocious, shameful treatment of those assembling Apple products on the former vice president’s watch. Instead, Apple shareholders are being asked to consider a resolution sponsored by a conservative, D.C.-based think tank that is accusing the company of letting Gore manipulate its policies for his own personal gain. The initiative is being championed by Tom Borelli, who wears the title of Free Enterprise Project Director at the National Center for Public Policy Research. Gore’s supposed crime? Near the end of 2009, Apple resigned from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over the chamber’s high-profile opposition to “cap and trade” legislation then being debated in Congress—legislation that would have used economic incentives to cap carbon emissions. The chamber also fought the EPA’s efforts to (finally) limit greenhouse gases and ran a series of ads questioning the science behind global warming.

* From the U.S. Department of Duh: Latinos as a whole face a disproportionate share of air pollution health effects. Let’s see. It couldn’t have anything to do with general poverty that hamstrings where many Hispanics can live or go to school, could it? Freeways, factories and other places that cough up emissions are unsalutory to say the least. Anyway, somebody was paid to write up a study, or summarize a bunch of them, and promulgate the findings and this is a smog blog. Posionous air and health effects have been linked at the hip for half a century and counting now.

- From Emgazine: ” … According to the National Coalition of Hispanic Health & Human Services Organizations (COSSMHO), 80 percent of U.S. Latinos (compared with 65 percent of non-Hispanic U.S. blacks and 57 percent of non-Hispanic U.S. whites) live in so-called “non-attainment” areas where ambient air quality is worse than what the federal government considers safe. “Although Hispanics in general live as long as or longer than non-Hispanic whites, what morbidity data are available reveal that the quality of that life is severely impaired by a variety of chronic conditions, such as asthma,” adds the coalition …”

* Here’s a related story correlating exposure to diesel fumes with cancer. This subject, in our opinion, deserves a lot of scientific attention considering the ongoing debate about fuels in a warming world.

- From Ecowatch: ” … The investigators selected underground mines for their study setting because the heavy equipment used in these mines frequently runs on diesel fuel. In the fairly enclosed environments of these mines, exhaust builds up in the air to levels considerably higher than those found in other occupational settings—like trucking depots or shipyards—and many times higher than the air inhaled by the general population. The investigators selected only non-metal mines because of their characteristically low levels of other exposures that may be related to lung cancer risk, such as radon, silica, and asbestos. Health outcomes associated with exposure to diesel exhaust were reported in two complementary papers. The first documented the risk of dying from any cause, with an emphasis on lung cancer, using data from the full study population (the cohort study). The second (the case-control study) reported on the lung cancer deaths in the cohort study. In the case-control study, investigators obtained detailed information on lung cancer risk factors, including smoking, employment in other high-risk jobs, and history of other respiratory diseases. Both papers reported an exposure-response relationship with higher risks at increased exposure levels …”

If you want to check our cynical meter, please do by reading our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles. Pages there are splashed with furrowed brows from the 1950s on about the biological consequences of breathing toxic-laced air.




Sierra Club wants big changes in Schwarzenegger-originated West Coast cap and trade … and other green shoots

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

* From the L.A. Times:

“The Sierra Club of California, the state’s oldest and largest environmental group, called on Gov. Jerry Brown this week to substantially rewrite the cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases that former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger considered to be his greatest legacy.

…  Among the club’s complaints: industrial plants would be allowed to avoid curbing their own pollution by purchasing offsets from out of state, and possibly foreign-nation projects that reduce carbon dioxide emissions in other ways. “Excessive reliance on offsets could open up loopholes that undermine the very purposes of California’s AB 32 cap on emissions,” the letter said. “Curbing global warming will require a fundamental transformation of our energy economy, a task that cannot be outsourced to other countries.

“Requiring California’s largest polluters to reduce their own emissions will spur technological advances that can be exported to the rest of the world, bringing green jobs to the Golden State. If polluters are allowed to outsource their emissions reductions to other sectors and jurisdictions, the clean-energy revolution will be delayed,” the club declared … ”

We agree!

* Also from the Times:

Two of Southern California’s busiest general aviation airports were thumped as major lead polluters in a finger pointing exercise that wends all the way to the beginnings of L.A. smog in the 1940s.

“The Center for Environmental Health on Tuesday announced impending legal action against more than 40 suppliers of aviation fuel containing lead, often used in piston-powered aircraft engines, at California airports.

The Oakland-based group blames ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell, AvFuel Corp. and 38 other suppliers for water and air pollution around 25 airports in California, including Van Nuys Airport, Long Beach/Daugherty Field and LAX.

“The oil and aviation industries need to know Californians will not tolerate lead pollution that threatens our health and healthy environments,” Michael Green, executive director of CEH, said in a statement. “We expect the industries to take immediate action to eliminate pollution that endangers children and families who live, work and play near airports across the state.”

Van Nuys, which handles a lot of civil aviation using piston-engine aircraft, had the highest levels of lead emissions among 3,413 airports nationwide, according to EPA …”

* We recently wrote about how a Washington was shocked and alarmed during a recent visit to still air-polluted Los Angeles. Well, the good old Northwest has a toxic problem of their own, and their getting out the sealants and protective boots and taking it to the asphalt produced with disease-causing industrial waste in it.  As MSNBC reported:

“Washington state has become the first in the nation to ban toxic asphalt sealants made from cancer-causing industrial waste that have been spread over vast swaths of the nation’s cities and suburbs.

The toxic ingredients in coal tar-based sealants are turning up in ordinary house dust as well as in streams, lakes and other waterways at levels that concern government researchers. The chemicals have been found in driveways at concentrations that could require treatment by moon-suited environmental technicians if detected at similar levels at a toxic-waste cleanup site. The sealants are also applied on playgrounds and parking lots …”

One way or another, either directly or tangentially, all these issues are explosed in our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.

Our mad green world – a mini tour behind the velvet ropes

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

* From the New York Times story: The U.S. armed forces beginning to weam themselves from good old petroleum.

“… Last week, a Marine company from California arrived in the rugged outback of Helmand Province bearing novel equipment: portable solar panels that fold up into boxes; energy-conserving lights; solar tent shields that provide shade and electricity; solar chargers for computers and communications equipment …”

* When green advertising becomes greenwashing. From an MSNBC piece,

” … Aiming to clear up confusion for consumers about what various terms mean, the Federal Trade Commission has revised its guidelines for making claims about so-called “eco-friendly” products. The proposed new version of the agency’s Green Guides was released Wednesday, with recommendations for when to use words like “degradable” and “carbon offset,” in advertisements and packaging, and warnings about using certifications and seals of approval that send misleading messages …”

* From the law of unintended consequences file, wind turbines may be sleek and nifty and economical if you live in a high-wind, high-energy-cost area, but they aren’t doing your neighbors’ or your own eardrums much good. New York Times piece:

“… Now, the Lindgrens, along with a dozen or so neighbors living less than a mile from the $15 million wind facility here, say the industrial whoosh-and-whoop of the 123-foot blades is making life in this otherwise tranquil corner of the island unbearable.

They are among a small but growing number of families and homeowners across the country who say they have learned the hard way that wind power — a clean alternative to electricity from fossil fuels — is not without emissions of its own.

Lawsuits and complaints about turbine noise, vibrations and subsequent lost property value have cropped up in Illinois, Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Massachusetts, among other states. In one case in DeKalb County, Ill., at least 38 families have sued to have 100 turbines removed from a wind farm there. A judge rejected a motion to dismiss the case in June.

Like the Lindgrens, many of the people complaining the loudest are reluctant converts to the antiwind movement …”