Archive for June, 2009

Pasadena Museum of History focuses on Smogtown

Monday, June 29th, 2009


From Sunday’s write up in the Pasadena Star News chain.

“Smogtown” is the name of a recent book by Chip Jacobs and Wiliam J. Kelly that outlines the history of air pollution in the Los Angeles area. Professor Arie Haagen-Smit of Caltech, pictured here, found out that smog was formed by photochemical reactions of unburned hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and ozone. Haagen-Smit’s demonstrations like the one seen here were convincing to laymen who could see smog made and smell its unmistakable odor.

Researched and written by volunteer Sid Gally at the Pasadena Museum of History. Open to the public Wednesday through Sunday at 470 W. Walnut St. Exhibit halls and museum store open noon to 5 p.m.; library and archives 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.; mansion tours at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m; (626) 577-1660;; e-mail

Monday melange — President Obama’s greenhouse gas market/energy revolution debated, and new revelations about the toxic qualities of good, old smog

Monday, June 29th, 2009


From the L.A. Times story about the House’s passage of the so-called Waxman-Markey bill:

” … It’s the most important environmental and energy legislation in our nation’s history,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “A huge achievement.”

Passage is far from certain. Democrats are balking. Read this Wall St. Journal story.

But passage could prove trickier in the Senate, where many Democrats hail from coal, farm or factory states, and where the bill probably would need 60 votes to advance. The Senate product is likely to emerge from a combination of bills passed by the energy and the environment and public works committees, further complicating the negotiations.

After the House vote, Obama expressed confidence that the Senate would rise to the challenge, portraying the debate as one between supporters of the status quo and those who want to position the United States as a leader in the 21st century economy.

Less-aggressive climate bills have failed in the Senate in recent years, but Democratic leaders in the chamber have promised to move swiftly this year, debating a measure as early as September or October. And they cheered Friday’s vote as an important step.

How it’s supposed to all work: a Q&A

Smog and auto emissions and public health …

Fetal brains and carbon monoxide: the UCLA study.

Premature babies and freeway emissions: the story.

Air pollution and cancer risk. Link.

Us — Jacobs and Kelly, that is — discussing Smogtown and air pollution’s influence on L.A.’s identity at the Google book club in Santa Monica this spring. The event was “Youtubed.”

Monday, June 29th, 2009

To learn more about Google’s author/speaker series, click here. They have a tremendous program.

Greenhouse gas cap-and-trade part II: avoid handing out too many credits or you’ll achieve nothing

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

From the L.A. Times Op Ed by filmaker/activist Todd Darling:

” … USCAP’s carbon-trading plan, which became part of the Waxman-Markey plan, shares key details of the European system — most importantly, it gives 85% of the pollution credits to the biggest polluters for free.

The European experience shows the critical weakness of this plan. In Europe, the distribution of free pollution credits to industries failed to establish a strong carbon market. In turn, the weak market in carbon credits failed to generate the money needed to fund new technology. And because there was a glut of free credits, polluters that went over the emissions limit could buy the necessary credits cheaply. So important states, such as Britain, continue to exceed the pollution limits.

Faced with disappointing results, Europe began auctioning off more of the credits in 2006. But the damage was done. The arrival of the recession caused the “carbon price” to plummet further. Critics point at companies that cut back their production 20% — and therefore pollute 20% less because of the recession — and now sell their unused pollution credits to prop up their bottom line. Money that was supposed to be generated from pollution credits to fund clean technology goes elsewhere.

The complex European trading scheme, started with free pollution credits, has not produced dramatic cuts in pollution or dramatic developments in technology or a robust market in carbon credits. The Financial Times of London was blunt: “Carbon markets leave much room for unverifiable manipulation. [Carbon] taxes are better, partly because they are less vulnerable to such improprieties …”

Meanwhile, a majority of Americans support carbon-cutting, even if means higher energy costs, according to the Washington Post. The enthusiam wanes, though, when it comes to achieving emission cuts using cap-and-trade.

Debate over the price of President Obama’s proposed greenhouse-gas market – a.k.a. “cap and trade” – heating up

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009


From acclaimed economist columnist Paul Krugman in the New York Times:

“A while back I wrote about anti-green economics — the insistence, by opponents of policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, that the economic cost of cap-and-trade would be immense and unsupportable. I cited Robert Samuelson, who ridiculed the Environmental Defense Fund for suggesting that major action on greenhouse gases would only cost a dime a day per person …”

Congressional Budget Office assessment of the costs of President Obama’s proposed cap-and-trade:

“… The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the net nnual economywide cost of the cap-and-trade program in 2020 would be $22 billion—or about $175 per household. That figure includes the cost of restructuring the production and use of energy and of payments made to foreign entities under the program, but it does not include the economic benefits and other benefits of the reduction in GHG emissions and the associated slowing of climate change. CBO could not determine the incidence of certain pieces (including both costs and benefits) that represent, on net, about 8 percent of the total. For the remaining portion of the net cost, households in the lowest income quintile would see an average net benefit of about $40 in 2020, while households in the highest income quintile would see a net cost of $245. Added costs for households in the second lowest quintile would be about $40 that year; in the middle quintile, about $235; and in the fourth quintile, about $340. Overall net costs would average 0.2 percent of households’ after-tax income …”

An energy revolution is coming to America. It’s important to bone up on it, and here is a summary of the plan Obama wants in the form of the so-called “Waxman-Markey” legislation.

Lastly, a terrific Op-Ed in the L.A. Times by local writer Greg Critser about “inhaling a heart attack,” a subject we cover in detail our social history of the “great” Southern California air pollution crisis, Smogtown

EPA to the rescue, right, and alarming news about particulate matter

Thursday, June 18th, 2009


From the MSNBC story about the asbestos situation in Montana, where the government declared, for the first time, a public health emergency. If you read our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, you’ll see how close Southern California was for asking for that same designation, even if the EPA was decades from being created.

“… Asbestos contamination from a now-closed vermiculite operations near Libby has been cited in the deaths of more than 200 people and illnesses of thousands more. Vermiculite is used to make insulation material but the ore found in Libby was eventually found to be contaminated with a toxic form of naturally-occurring asbestos …

Miners carried vermiculite dust home on their clothes, vermiculite once covered school running tracks in Libby and some residents used vermiculite as mulch in their home gardens …”

Here’s another recap of what’s happening with a renewed federal effort in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, where the mining of uranium ore on Najavo lands “left a legacy of disease and death.”

“The federal government plans to spend up to $3 million a year to demolish and rebuild uranium-contaminated structures across the Navajo Nation, where Cold War-era mining of the radioactive substance left a legacy of disease and death.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its Navajo counterpart are focusing on homes, sheds and other buildings within a half-mile to a mile from a significant mine or waste pile. They plan to assess 500 structures over five years and rebuild those that are too badly contaminated …”

Finally, in our last item of environmental news catchup, comes this health study by USC, UCLA and the California Air Resources Board that shows particulate matter drifts signifcantly and dangerously farther than once assumed.

“Environmental health researchers from UCLA, the University of Southern California and the California Air Resources Board have found that during the hours before sunrise, freeway air pollution extends much further than previously thought.

Air pollutants from Interstate 10 in Santa Monica extend as far as 2,500 meters — more than 1.5 miles — downwind, based on recent measurements from a research team headed by Dr. Arthur Winer, a professor of environmental health sciences at the UCLA School of Public Health. This distance is 10 times greater than previously measured daytime pollutant impacts from roadways and has significant exposure implications, since most people are in their homes during the hours before sunrise and outdoor pollutants penetrate into indoor environments …”

SMOGTOWN book discussion — courtesy of Chip, Bill, Tom Hayden, Kevin Roderick and Martin Schlageter — coming to the L.A. Public Library’s ALOUD program this Tuesday. Should be a robust event. We can’t wait.

Thursday, June 4th, 2009


If you’re interested in making it for this panel discussion, Q&A with the audience and signing at the downtown Central Branch, click here for details. They put on a wonderful program. Ours will be in the Mark Taper Auditorium.

Here’s the promo:

Tuesday, June 9 7:00 pm

SMOGTOWN: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles How did smog help mold the modern-day culture of Los Angeles? Join this discussion about pollution, progress and the epic struggle against airborne poisons.

A panel discussion with authors Chip Jacobs and William J. Kelly; Tom Hayden, author and former state legislator; and Martin Schlageter, Coalition for Clean Air. Moderated by Kevin Roderick, Editor,

CENTRAL LIBRARY • Mark Taper Auditorium
Fifth & Flower Streets, Downtown L.A.
PARKING: 524 S. Flower St. Garage. $1 until 8:45pm with LAPL Card validation which must be obtained.
FREE, RESERVATIONS: (213) 228-7025 or
Limited Seating, Reservations Recommended.

P.S. Apologies for the non-existent posting of late. Chip has been on assignment.