Wednesday, December 12, 2007

California Wins Global Warming Case Brought by Auto Industry

In a significant victory in the fight to reduce global warming pollution, today the Federal District Court in Fresno dismissed the auto industry's claims that federal law barred California from enforcing it own motor vehicle greenhouse gas regulations. In a 57-page decision, Judge Anthony Ishii held that these regulations did not in any way conflict with either federal fuel economy laws or with the President's power to conduct foreign policy. Emphasizing that the Clean Air Act expressly authorizes California to regulate emissions that affect human health and the environment, Judge Ishii found that Congress did not intend that this authority be curtailed by federal fuel economy laws. Sierra Club intervened in the case, on the side of the California Air Resources Board, which had set the clean-car standards ordered by Assembly Bill 1493 of 2002, authored by Fran Pavley.

Once again a judge has found the auto industry’s desperate attempts to stay mired in outdated, dirty technology completely without merit. Today’s decision is just one more reason why EPA should stop dragging its feet and grant the waiver California needs to move forward with this vital tool to combat global warming.

Just as we said earlier this year when we celebrated a similar victory in a Vermont court, instead of the automakers thinking of excuses, it’s time for them to put their immense know-how toward solving some of our most pressing problems. This ruling should compel the U.S. automakers to make the kind of clean, efficient cars Americans want--the kind that foreign automakers have used to surge to record profits as the U.S. auto industry buckled under the weight of its gas guzzlers. This ruling is good for the environment, good for America, and, ultimately, good for the automakers.

It’s now time for the Bush Administration’s EPA to get out of the way and grant California the waiver it and other states need in order to move forward with these landmark protections.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Big Victory for National Forests

Sierra Club Victory in Ninth Circuit Deals Blow to Bush Administration’s So-Called "Healthy Forests" Initiative

Court Rules That Administration Cannot Ignore Environmental Laws to Log Forests

San Francisco, California--In the case of Sierra Club v. Bosworth, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the U.S. Forest Service erred when it conducted logging projects nationwide without prior analysis of their effects on the environment.

Sierra Club and Sierra Forest Legacy (formerly named Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign) filed the suit in October 2004 challenging the Bush Administration's "Healthy Forest Initiative" rule that eliminated a 30-year-old Forest Service practice of analyzing the environmental effects of timber sales up to 1,000 acres and prescribed burns up to 4,500 acres
before allowing such projects to proceed.

Today’s ruling from the Ninth Circuit said the U.S. Forest Service erred because it:

  • Exempted from the National Environmental Policy Act a huge class of logging classified as "fuels reduction" first, and then later gathered the environmental impact data
  • Failed to assess the cumulative effects of logging 1.2 million acres per year nationwide
  • Failed to assess highly controversial and uncertain risks of impacts
  • Failed to put more specific constraints on what can be logged

Statement of Eric Huber, Senior Staff Attorney, Sierra Club

"This victory is a blow to the Bush Administration's cynical "Healthy Forests" initiative and will help protect millions of acres of national forest each year from destructive and unnecessary logging projects. This ruling will help ensure that vast swaths of our national forests are not logged without environmental reviews under the guise of forest management or fuel suppression. The Sierra Club supports forest management practices that actually seek to protect communities and our precious wild forests and minimize the risk of wildfires, but this case is just one more example of the Bush administration's disastrous overreach on environmental issues.

The courts have once again had to tell the administration that it simply cannot ignore laws--environmental and otherwise--simply because it finds them inconvenient."

Statement of Craig Thomas, Executive Director of Sierra Forest Legacy
"In California, since the adoption of the Bush Administration rule, we have witnessed the gross abuse of discretion and ramp-up of logging with limited environmental review that we feared. Logging without environmental safeguards damages our forests and the public's trust in Forest Service management."

The full opinion can be viewed here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Vote yes on Prop 93

Sierra Club California has endorsed Proposition 93, the Term Limits and Legislative Reform Act, on the Tue., Feb. 5, ballot.

Prop 93 would allow a legislator to serve up to 12 years in the Senate, the Assembly, or a combination of both. California’s current term limit allows 14 years, but these must be divided into a maximum of six years in the Assembly and eight in the Senate.


Legislators need time in Sacramento to learn about environmental issues and the legislature's sometimes arcane rules. Today, in the Assembly especially, even committee chairs and top leadership have limited experience. Often they are appointed after only two years in Sacramento; sometimes even brand-new legislators are appointed. Prop 93 will give them more time to gain experience and expertise—essential for dealing with complicated environmental issues with long-term consequences.


With less turnover of members, there will be fewer of the novice legislators most vulnerable to industry lobbyists’ false arguments and lies. Consider the history of global-warming legislation. In 2002, first-term Assemblymember Fran Pavley authored California’s first important global-warming law, AB 1493, the clean-cars bill. In 2006, in her final term, Pavley authored her landmark AB 32, but only a small minority of the assemblymembers serving then had been in the legislature in 2002. This year, when Assemblymember Ruskin’s clean-car-discount bill, AB 493, lost on the floor, not a single member had been in the Assembly in 2002, and many members bought some of the same bogus arguments the auto industry had made in 2002.


Committees chaired by experienced lawmakers will be better able to oversee state agencies and bureaucrats. With more time to serve in one house, legislators can gain knowledge of the inner workings of agencies. We need lawmakers with the institutional memory to follow the implementation of environmental laws by state agencies. Consider again AB 32. Like many bills, this requires state agencies to undertake a complex process of decisions on how to carry it out. Largely due to today's term limits, Fran Pavley is no longer in the legislature to help watch over the implementation of her landmark bill.


Under the current limits, once members are elected to the Assembly and come to Sacramento, they immediately start to eye their next elective office. With the possibility of 12-year careers in the Assembly, they will feel less need to raise money--and therefore less reliance on special interests. They will be able to devote more time to governing and policy-making. Prop 93 could also slow the revolving door that sends many former members into lobbying jobs–usually for industry, since public-interest jobs mean a big pay cut.
The Sierra Club urges you to vote yes on Prop 93--to bring more experienced legislators to Sacramento.

Transportation Commission Turns Toward Clean Air

Yesterday I joined other clean-air advocates from around the state in asking the CA Transportation Commission to reinstate air quality as one of the key factors to consider when bond money to improve trade corridors is doled out. The CTC had previously removed air quality from the list of criteria compiled by its own staff, but after public testimony yesterday the commissioners restored it to the list. Breathers who live near busy ports and rail and truck routes now can have some hope that the public's money will be spent on transportation projects that make the air cleaner, not dirtier.

This decision may signal the beginning of a new and much-needed integration of transportation and air-quality policies at the state level. Dale Bonner, Secretary of Business, Transportation & Housing, kept an open mind and met with all the interested parties, including state and local air quality advocates. The Air Resources Board also deserves credit for speaking up at yesterday’s meeting.

Bill Magavern, Senior Representative, Sierra Club California

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Proponents of a ballot measure to repeal California's 1976 nuclear safeguards act -- which prohibits new reactors until there is a permanent solution to the problem of disposal of high level radioactive waste -- yesterday quietly withdrew their proposed initiative from circulation. Apparently having trouble getting sufficient signatures to qualify, and enough financial backing and public support to pass, they pulled the plug on the effort.

"Nuclear power is the most dangerous technology on earth, with risks of meltdowns, terrorist attack, proliferation, and leaking long-lived wastes." said Dan Hirsch, President of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, one of the initiative's opponents. "This humiliating reversal for a proposed initiative to revive it in California is a great victory for common sense. Now the state can focus on safe and sensible renewable solutions to global warming."

Bill Magavern, Senior Representative for Sierra Club California, said, “California has much cheaper, safer and quicker solutions to our electricity needs. We should be moving forward with 21st century clean energy technologies instead of pouring more money down the nuclear rathole.”

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Conservation Groups Sue State to Block Effort to Streamline Killing of Endangered Coho Salmon

With coho salmon teetering on the brink of extinction, the California Board of Forestry recently adopted new rules to make it easier to kill the remaining coho, without addressing the well-known shortcomings of the state’s logging rules.

The Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) and Sierra Club brought suit against the salmon-killing rules in San Francisco Superior Court today, arguing that the Board has a legal responsibility to protect fish, wildlife and resources, and that rules focused exclusively on making it easier to kill endangered salmon are beyond the Board’s authority.

California’s logging rules have long been identified by state and federal wildlife agencies as allowing harm to endangered salmon. See declaration of Joe Blum, NMFS. In the summer of 2006, the Secretary of the Resources Agency proposed a broad statewide rule package to address the shortcomings of California’s Forest Practice Rules as they relate to salmon. Shortly thereafter, the Governor’s Office apparently intervened on behalf of the timber industry, and the proposed habitat protection approach was abandoned.

The coho salmon rules being challenged in this lawsuit make no improvements to logging rules to protect salmon habitat, and only apply when coho will actually be killed by the logging operation. If the logging plan will kill coho salmon, the rules require only certain limited mitigations – regardless of site conditions, nothing more can be required.

“The Board of Forestry should be tightening lax logging rules that allow even more habitat damage. Instead, they’re giving away permission to kill threatened salmon,” said Scott Greacen, Executive Director of EPIC.

Sierra Club California’s forestry advocate Paul Mason observed, “We need to protect and restore salmon habitat, not limit environmental protections and make it easier to kill endangered coho.”

The suit also seeks to overturn new Road Management Plan (RMP) regulations that do not provide for independent review, implementation, monitoring, approval, or amendment. The importance of correcting roads that adversely impact salmon and steelhead habitat with sediment is well known. Richard Gienger, long-time salmon and watershed advocate, points out that "The existing rules, if properly implemented, will prevent sedimentation from roads. Without an independent process or adequate standards, the Board of Forestry's RMP is an unwarranted and confusing duplication and a travesty compared to a real Road Management Plan that would actually have utility and long-term positive effects."

Monday, October 29, 2007

Oppose Initiative Effort to Skew Electoral College for Partisan Advantage

Sierra Club opposes an initiative proposal currently in circulation that would change California’s method of apportioning its electoral votes in presidential elections. The Golden State, like 47 other states, awards all of its electoral votes to the winner of the state’s popular vote. The initiative would award one electoral vote to the leading vote-getter in each congressional district, as is currently done in Maine and Nebraska.

While reforming the electoral college is a very legitimate topic for debate at the national level, this particular initiative is a transparently partisan ploy undertaken by Republican political operatives who are trying to offset the Democratic advantage in California without doing anything to address the Republican advantage in other big winner-take-all states, like Texas. As an environmental advocacy group that engages in the electoral process, we urge our members to decline to sign petitions for the measure, which is entitled Presidential Electors. Political Party Nomination and Election by Congressional District.”

Monday, October 15, 2007

2007 Legislative Session Wraps Up With Some Progress, But on Many Key Issues It’s “Wait ‘til Next Year”

After a highly productive session in the 2006 election year established key new safeguards for the global climate and human health, this year has seen far fewer major new laws enacted to protect California’s environment. Although some key measures found success, on many vital issues our elected officials seem to be echoing the eternal refrain of Chicago Cubs fans: “Wait ‘til next year.”

Bright spots included flood protection, clean air, and endangered species protection. A package of bills negotiated by the Legislature and Governor finally starts to bring some sense to development in flood-prone areas. SB 5 (Machado) requires the state to prepare a Central Valley Flood Protection Plan by 2012. AB 5 (Wolk) reforms, restructures and renames the state Reclamation Board, which is the agency in charge of flood protection in the Central Valley. AB 70 (Jones) would provide for limited shared contribution between the state and local governments when local governments approve new developments in previously undeveloped areas that can increase property damages resulting from a flood for which the state is liable.

The Healthy Heart and Lung Act, AB 233 (Jones), sponsored by Sierra Club California and American Lung Association of California, will improve enforcement of rules that limit toxic diesel emissions, and SB 719 (Machado) will, at long last, reform the San Joaquin Valley’s lackluster Air Pollution Control District by adding expertise and urban representation. AB 118 (Núñez) will raise about $150 million annually for clean fuel and clean air programs.

Governor Schwarzenegger surprised many observers by signing AB 821 (Nava) to require the use of non-lead bullets when hunting big game within the range of the endangered California condor. This state icon is suffering from lead poisoning, because the birds eat bullet fragments when scavenging carcasses.

Speaking of poisons, the Governor has opened a Green Chemistry Initiative to reduce human exposure to toxic chemicals, most of which currently come into our homes and workplaces without being required to demonstrate safety. Legislation to reduce toxic threats fared poorly this year on the whole, but Schwarzenegger’s signing of the Toxic Toys bill, AB 1108 (Ma), will invigorate the Green Chemistry process by keeping hazardous substances away from the youngest Californians. The bill bans pthalates, a plastic softener, from products meant for infants and toddlers.

Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed important bills to make our buildings and fuels greener. AB 888 (Lieu) would have set green building standards for commercial buildings, starting in 2013. AB 1058 (Laird) would have set green building standards for new residential construction, and AB 35 (Ruskin) would have required CAL-EPA to set sustainable building standards for the construction and renovation of state buildings. SB 210 (Kehoe) would have required the adoption of a low-carbon fuel standard by 2010 that achieved at least a 10 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and maintained or improved upon air quality benefits gained by current gasoline and diesel fuel standards.

The Legislature deferred until next year the vital tasks of spurring smart growth, requiring utilities to generate more power from renewables, and cleaning up the filthy air at the mega-ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland. Sierra Club California and our allies had pushed the Legislature to act in these vital areas, but many key bills stalled toward the end of session due to opposition from powerful special interests. SB 974 (Lowenthal), the Clean Ports bill, was deferred until January at the request of Governor Schwarzenegger. Both SB 375 (Steinberg), which seeks to reduce vehicular emissions through smarter land use patterns, and SB 411 (Simitian), which would require utilities to generate 33% of their power from renewable sources, failed to clear the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and AB 558 (Feuer), which would have generated information on the use of toxic chemicals, died by a close vote of the Senate Appropriations panel.

The Legislature’s failure to pass these important bills, along with the Governor’s vetoes of some of the bills passed by lawmakers, leave substantial unfinished business to be taken up next year. Since 2008 is an election year, and our elected officials know that protecting our health and ecology is very popular with voters, we have reason to expect more progress next year.

By Bill Magavern

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Special Session on Water coming to a Boil: SBX2 3 - Governor Schwarzenegger’s Water Bond Proposal is all Wet

SBX2 3 by Senator Cogdill is Governor Schwarzenegger’s recently introduced water infrastructure proposal for the Second Extraordinary Session. It includes $5.1 billion that could be used to fund all or some of the following projects: the construction of Sites Reservoir, the construction of Temperance Flat Reservoir, and the expansion of Los Vaqueros Reservoir. It also includes $1.9 billion for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem programs.

The Governor’s Water Bond Proposal focuses on expensive water projects for big farms and to accommodate big growth in the Central Valley. Sierra Club California urges the Governor to focus state money on programs for water conservation, water recycling, and the cleanup of underground water basins. We also believe that the state must have a completed long-term strategy for protecting the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta before making major investments there or for new dams upstream of the Delta.

New dams are not needed. Water conservation and recycling can easily meet our future water needs at a fraction of the cost. The 2005 California Water Plan by the Department of Water Resources states that four million acre feet of water could be saved by additional water efficiency and recycling programs.

New dams and large reservoirs are wasteful. California’s major reservoirs loose 500,000 acre-feet of water in a year from evaporation (about the same amount of water produced by the Governor’s new dams).

Dams are not a solution to global warming. Experts agree that our existing comprehensive system of dams can be operated to adjust for global warming. Large reservoirs created by new dams will produce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Why should the taxpayers pay for these dams? Not one water agency in California has offered to pay even a small share of the multi-billion dollar cost to build these dams.

Dam studies are not completed. We don’t really know yet how much these dams cost, how much water they will produce, who will receive and pay for the water, and their environmental impacts.

A copy of Sierra Club California’s letter of opposition can be found here.

The Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee will hold a hearing on SB2X 3 on Monday, October 8th, at 1:00 pm or upon the call of the Chair in room 4203 at the State Capitol.

September 27, 2007

Senator Darrell Steinberg, Chair
Senate Natural Resources & Water Committee
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

RE: Second Extraordinary Session: Oppose SB 3 XX (Cogdill)-Governor’s Water Bond

Dear Senator Steinberg and Members of the Committee:

Sierra Club California opposes SB 3 XX (Cogdill & Ackerman), The Water Supply Reliability Bond Act of 2008. This proposal has many flaws but we focus specifically on the provision of the bond that includes $5.6 billion proposed for water storage. Sierra Club California does not support any proposal that provides funding for the construction of new dams or surface storage in California.

SB 3 XX is Governor Schwarzenegger’s recently introduced water infrastructure proposal for the Second Extraordinary Session. It includes $5.1 billion that could be used to fund all or some of the following projects: the construction of Sites Reservoir, the construction of Temperance Flat Reservoir, and the expansion or Low Vaqueros Reservoir. SB 3 XX also includes $500 million for funding other local surface water storage projects.

First, more dams or new surface water storage in California is unnecessary. Even with predicted economic and population growth, if investments are directed toward water efficiency, water reclamation and recycling, and additional groundwater storage, water demand will decrease. Already in the past 40 years, per capita consumption of water has been cut in half. Scenarios analyzed in the 2005 California Water Plan have shown that by conserving and reclaiming water the overall demand for water will fall, as there will be more water available. The 2005 plan also detailed how another four million acre feet of water could be saved by additional efficiency and recycling programs. One more preferable alternative that has already begun to be established is underground water storage, which has already gained 6 million-acre feet of storage in the last 20 years. Surface storage also degrades the natural flow of water and effects ecosystems in irreparable ways which can be avoided simply by using less of the water we already have.

Another reason why surface storage is unwise is that it is too wasteful. The Sites and Temperance Flat facilities for surface storage were projected to produce less water than is lost through evaporation in a year from California’s major surface storage reservoirs. The two projects would have produced about 470,000 acre-feet of water annually. In comparison, a DWR study found that the current major surface storage projects in California lose approximately 500,000 acre-feet in a year through evaporation. More evaporation loss can be expected as new surface storage reservoirs are built.

Additionally, the costs of surface storage are increasing which is an important aspect when considering the debt California is presently attempting to eliminate. Costs of these huge projects will continue to rise when taking into account environmental mitigation and interest is added into the price.

Moreover, the best and most cost effective dam sites in California have already been used. New additional dams produce much less water at a higher cost than more environmentally beneficial alternatives such as urban water use efficiency and recycling. Due to lack of funding, we unfortunately currently achieve about 20% of the reasonable water savings target that could be met if more money was invested into water use efficiency. Investing billions of dollars in environmentally damaging and inefficient new surface storage is irresponsible when limited state funds could be spent on less costly and more effective efficiency and reclamation programs.

Finally, despite arguments by proponents of these projects, dams are not a solution to global warming. Most experts agree that California’s 1,200 existing major dams can be operated in a manner to adjust to possible changes in run-off caused by global warming. The single largest use of electricity in California is storing and moving water to where it is needed. Building new surface storage will most likely result in increased energy use and greenhouse pollution to run these facilities and transport water. Also, existing large surface storage reservoirs are known sources of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane. To build more surface storage to preserve water supply seems unwise when it will simply add to the pollution that causes global warming. One precious resource cannot be traded for another, especially when there are better solutions to preserve both.

During this Second Extraordinary Session, the state can choose to invest millions in efficient water use technologies and programs that we know will reduce demand or we can choose to invest billions in costly and environmentally destructive dams. Sierra Club California asks that the Legislature invest in water use efficiency, water reclamation and recycling, and underground water storage rather than building new dams. These investments will produce more water at less cost and with fewer impacts to the environment. We oppose SB 3 XX and will encourage voters throughout California to reject any water bond that substantially funds new dams. Therefore, we urge you to reject any funding for dams or surface water storage and provide a more economical and environmental approach to sustaining California’s water system.


Jim Metropulos
Legislative Representative

cc: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
Senate President pro Tem Don Perata
Speaker Fabian Nunez

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Healthy Heart and Lung Act, AB 233 (Jones) awaits the Governor's Signature

Sierra Club California and the American Lung Association of California have sponsored AB 233, the Healthy Heart and Lung Act, because of the need to reduce emissions of hazardous diesel exhaust. Assemblymember Dave Jones, Democrat of Sacramento, continues his impressive record of clean-air advocacy by authoring the bill.

Soot from diesel-fueled engines is an extremely dangerous air pollutant that has been linked to lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, asthma episodes, heart attacks and strokes, hampered lung growth in children, and premature deaths. The California State Air Resources Board (CARB) has linked diesel particulates to approximately 3,000 premature deaths each year as well as thousands of hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses. Recent research in Southern California found pronounced deficits in attained lung function for children living within 500 meters of a freeway. A recent study of women’s health found that particulate pollution substantially increases the risk of heart disease in older women.

AB 233 would reduce public exposure to dangerous diesel emissions by improving enforcement of diesel control regulations, increasing penalties for violators, and increasing education and outreach to vehicle owners regarding state idling requirements. The bill would require CARB to develop a plan for consistent, comprehensive and fair enforcement of diesel control regulations, including education and outreach efforts. AB 233 would also raise the penalty for violation of CARB diesel idling limits to $300 per violation, in line with penalties for other diesel violations. In addition, operators of commercial motor vehicles would be required to clear their citations for violating emissions rules before having their registrations renewed.

CARB has recently adopted major new diesel control regulations affecting off-road diesel engines and idling limits on all diesel vehicles and sleeper cabs, and soon will adopt additional regulations for on-road diesel engines. Expanded enforcement staff is needed to ensure consistent enforcement and public health protection.

Governor Schwarzenegger’s signature on the Healthy Heart and Lung Act would add some necessary enforcement muscle to the state’s aggressive program of reducing Californians’ exposure to toxic diesel exhaust.

Bill Magavern
Sierra Club California

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Will the California Building Industry Continue to Attack CEQA?

For a number of years, the California Building Industry Association (CBIA) has roamed the halls of the Capitol, shouting “Housing Crisis, Housing Crisis.” This was part of their well-planning campaign to weaken California’s environmental protection and planning laws. Of course, with the median house price in California going through the roof, it was easy to get the attention of legislators who were well aware that more and more of their constituents were being priced out of the housing market.

And because of this valid concern, the developers saw their opportunity. They introduced a series of bills to solve the “housing crisis” by blaming the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the “red tape” a builder had to go through to get new housing approved.

But Sierra Club California was not buying that argument. We testified that CEQA was not the problem, and that industry has perpetrated a myth that the law is used neighbors and environmental groups to relentlessly sue applicants of proposed projects. In reality, hardly any CEQA actions go to court. But that fact did not deter the developers. They kept blaming CEQA and argued that if this law was “reformed” they could build housing in numbers that would make it more affordable to Californians.

The CBIA philosophy is that we can build ourselves out of the housing “crisis.” They imply that if they build lots of houses, more and more families will achieve the “California Dream” of home ownership. But their roadmap is highly flawed. It’s not just about how many homes are built, but where and how. In their world, environmental and social considerations are secondary to home ownership (and builders profits). However, Californians care a lot about quality of life issues, with their number one concern (above crime, pollution, and education) being traffic congestion. It’s a fact that building traditional low-density sprawling subdivisions far from jobs is significantly contributing to commute times and traffic congestion. This exacerbates global warming by increasing vehicle miles traveled and making a permanent commitment to these auto-centric developments, while eating up farmland and open space at an alarming rate.

The vast majority of builders also do not give potential homebuyers much choice in housing. When was the last time you saw a new home for sale in one of these subdivisions that was “only” 1,500 or 1,800 square feet, thereby making the house more affordable? Save for a few infill builders, the industry has promoted the bigger is better model.

We know that the period of 1999-2005 saw the industry build a lot of homes. But did prices go down? No -- they skyrocketed, with double-digit increases in the median house price every year in nearly all corners of the State. The industry made record profits during these years and the stocks of the publicly traded companies went through the roof. They used some of these profits to fund their lobbying efforts at the State Capitol. They also produced a “road show,” traveling around the State holding news events, often with a concerned locally elected official at their side, citing the awful statistics about housing prices and what the Legislature should be doing about it (pass the BIA’s sponsored bills). It was all an orchestrated effort to have CEQA rolled back and to see if they could get the Legislature to neuter local government’s authority over housing approvals.

We fought the legislation they sponsored and at every hearing testified that CEQA had not been made tougher in its 35 years of existence, and that the real culprit behind the huge rise in housing prices was historically low interest rates. We urged the Legislature to not let the CBIA get the upper hand during this period when there was panic about housing prices. Thankfully, the Legislature did that, rejecting almost all of the bills the CBIA backed; with some damage being done around the edges.

While not an economist, I think my arguments about interest rates make sense. But, let me bring in Alan Greenspan, who is an economist. In a recent interview with an Austrian magazine, he said that low interest rates in the past 15 years were to blame for the house price bubble, and that central banks were powerless when they tried to bring it under control. He went on to say that deregulation and the introduction of market economies in the Communist bloc after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 had caused a global boom and a worldwide reduction of interest rates, which both helped fuel the property bubble.

In a Yahoo News story Greenspan said "There is no doubt about the fact that low interest rates for long-term government bonds have caused the real estate bubble in the United States. The Federal Reserve began a series of interest rate increases in 2004. We were hoping to bring the speculative excesses in the real estate sector under control. We failed. We tried it again in 2005. Failure; nobody could do anything about it, neither us nor the European Central Bank. We were powerless."

So, it remains to be seen if the CBIA will attack environmental and planning laws again. If they do, they will be particularly brash given what has happened since July of 2005 when the bubble started to burst. In the aftermath of their record profits, developers all over the State are leaving building permits on the table, not wanting to bring more units into a very slow market. I guess I can’t blame them – if I was a builder, I would bring yet another 2,800 square foot home for $600,000 into the market today?

But let’s hope they don’t point their finger at CEQA once again. Instead, I hope they sit down with environmental groups, local government, and affordable housing advocates and seriously tackle true streamlining of the planning and building process and making new development more efficient. And, I hope that the issue of global warming is front and center in these discussions, as this is the issue that truly trumps all others. The current climate change path we are on will lead to economic chaos in California and not just in the housing sector.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Bush Administration Secretly Lobbied to Block California's Clean Car Law

Today, Rep. Henry Waxman, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, uncovered that the White House worked directly with Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters to engineer a secret campaign--using taxpayer resources--to lobby Congress and governors to help block the waiver California and more than a dozen other states need to proceed with landmark standards that would reduce global warming emissions from automobiles 30 percent by 2016. This comes as the administration bypasses serious international discussions on global warming in favor of a summit of the world’s major emitters whose sole purpose appears to be obfuscation and delay in forging a binding international agreement on global carbon emissions.

Documents relating to the Congressional investigation can be found at:

Friday, September 21, 2007

Sierra Club California Letter to Governor Schwarzenegger on Highest Priority Legislation

September 21, 2007

The Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger
Governor, State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

Highest Priority Legislation for Sierra Club California

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:

First, Sierra Club California would like to thank you for your continued leadership on the fight to slow global warming, the issue that in most respects, trumps all other environmental issues. Meanwhile, we respectfully request your signature on the following highest priority pieces of legislation.

AB 5 (Wolk)/SB 17(Florez) reforms and restructures the Reclamation Board.

AB 35 (Ruskin) requires the California Environmental Protection Agency to adopt regulations establishing sustainable building standards for the construction and renovation of state buildings.

AB 48 (Saldana) – Prohibits the sale of electronic devices if they contain toxic heavy metals.

AB 70 (Jones) – requires local governments to share liability for flood damages with the state if local land-use decisions lead to damages.

AB 118 (Nunez) – establishes new state programs to invest in projects that improve air quality and support development and deployment of clean alternative fuels and technologies.

AB 162 (Wolk) – requires flood-risk identification in local general plans.

AB 188 (Aghazarian) expands information required to be included in the state’s central public registry of conservation easements.

AB 233 (Jones) – Strengthens enforcement of diesel emission control rules for heavy-duty on-road and off-road vehicles and engines.

AB 548 (Levine) – Requires the owner of a multifamily dwelling (5 units or more) to provide recycling services consistent with any local or state requirements or agreements.

AB 609 (Eng) would allow energy conservation measures and energy service contracts for existing state buildings to be approved if cost savings will be realized through a life-cycle cost.

AB 821 (Nava) – bans lead ammunition when hunting big game within the range of the condor.

AB 833 (Ruskin) – Requires California to maintain toxics release inventory requirements as they existed prior to the federal weakening of reporting requirements by US EPA.

AB 888 (Lieu) requires the adoption of green building standards for new commercial buildings.

AB 1058 (Laird) Requires HCD and ultimately the Building Standards Commission to adopt best practices and building standards for green building in new residential construction.

AB 1108 (Ma) – Prohibits the use of specified phthalate chemicals in toys and childcare products designed for children up to 3 years old.

AB 1109 (Huffman) would require the state to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to increase the energy efficiency and reduce the pollution associated with current lighting technology.

AB 1420 (Laird) would condition state funding for water management grants and loans to the implementation of water conservation measures by urban water suppliers.

AB 1470 (Huffman) creates a $250 million incentive program to encourage the installation of solar water hearing systems that offset natural gas use in homes and businesses throughout the state.

AB 1613 (Blakeslee) requires the PUC to establish pay-as-you-save pilot programs to finance all the upfront costs for the purchase and installation of combined heat and power systems.

SB 5 (Machado) requires the state to prepare a Central Valley Flood Protection Plan by 2012, and establishes flood protection requirements for local land-use decisions consistent with the plan.

SB 210 (Kehoe) -- Codifies & strengthens the Governor's Low-Carbon Fuel Standard by requiring ARB to adopt that standard to achieve at least a 10% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

SB 220 (Corbett) Enhances the Department of Public Health's regulatory process governing water dispensed from water-vending machines and the labeling requirements for bottled water.

SB 719 (Machado) – Reforms the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District board by increasing the number of city members and adding two public members.

SB 990 (Kuehl) – Requires the Santa Susana Field Lab site to be thoroughly remediated for both chemical and radioactive contamination.

We also ask that you veto the following bill:

AB 809 (Blakeslee) would weaken California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard for energy and discourage investments in new truly renewable energy.

While these 25 bills are our highest priorities, there is additional significant legislation we urge you to sign and have submitted separate letters for each of these bills. We appreciate your consideration of this request and your commitment to restoring and protecting California’s environment.


Bill Allayaud, State Legislative Director

Friday, September 14, 2007

2007 Legislative Session Wraps Up With Some Progress On Energy, Air And Flood Protection, But Puts Off Important Work On Land Use, Ports And Toxics

The California Legislature has sent to the Governor some important bills to make our buildings and fuels greener, save condors and guard against floods, but deferred until next year the vital tasks of spurring smart growth, requiring utilities to generate more power from renewables, reducing toxic chemical hazards and cleaning up the filthy air at the mega-ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland.

Bright spots of the 2007 session for the environmental cause included:

• Cleaner Fuels: SB 210 (Kehoe) would require the adoption of a low-carbon fuel standard by 2010 that achieves at least a 10 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and maintains or improves upon air quality benefits gained by current gasoline and diesel fuel standards; AB 118 (Núñez) would raise about $150 million annually for clean fuel and clean air programs.

• Greener Buildings: AB 888 (Lieu) would set green building standards for commercial buildings, starting in 2013. AB 1058 (Laird) would set green building standards for new residential construction. AB 35 (Ruskin) would require CAL-EPA to set sustainable building standards for the construction and renovation of state buildings. AB 1109 (Huffman) would require the adoption of energy efficiency standards for all general purpose lights.

• Flood Protection: SB 5 (Machado) would require the state to prepare a Central Valley Flood Protection Plan by 2012. AB 5 (Wolk) would reform, restructure and rename the state Reclamation Board, which is the agency in charge of flood protection in the Central Valley. AB 70 (Jones) would provide for limited shared contribution between the state and local governments when local governments approve new developments in previously undeveloped areas, and thereby increase property damages resulting from a flood for which the state is liable.

• Clean Air: The Healthy Heart and Lung Act, AB 233 (Jones), sponsored by Sierra Club California and American Lung Association of California, would improve enforcement of rules that limit toxic diesel emissions; SB 719 (Machado) would reform the San Joaquin Valley’s lackluster Air Pollution Control District by adding expertise and urban representation.

• Endangered Species: The endangered California Condor is suffering from lead poisoning, because the birds eat bullet fragments when scavenging carcasses. AB 821 (Nava) would require the use of non-lead bullets when hunting big game within the range of the condor.

We are now asking Governor Schwarzenegger to sign these and other green bills. He has until October 14 to sign or veto the measures on his desk.

Sierra Club California and our allies had pushed the Legislature to act in other vital areas, but many key bills stalled toward the end of session due to opposition from powerful special interests. SB 974 (Lowenthal), the Clean Ports bill, was deferred until January at the request of Governor Schwarzenegger. Both SB 375 (Steinberg), which seeks to reduce vehicular emissions through smarter land use patterns, and SB 411 (Simitian), which would require utilities to generate 33% of their power from renewable sources, failed to clear the Assembly Appropriations Committee, and AB 558 (Feuer), which would have generated information on the use of toxic chemicals, died by a close vote of the Senate Appropriations panel. The Legislature’s failure to pass these important bills leaves substantial unfinished business to be taken up next year.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Governor Schwarzenegger Sacks His Own Fish and Game Commission Appointee

5:00 UPDATE:
Well, Despite our earnest hopes that the Governor would stand with his conservation-oriented appointee to the Fish and Game Commission, it appears that he has throw Mr. Hanna under the proverbial bus. Much like Governor Schwarzenegger firing former Air Resources Board chairman Dr. Robert Sawyer for being too independent and committed to improving air quality, it appears that Judd Hanna's inclination to actually address critical conservation issues was too much for this Governor.

When push came to shove, the Governor sided with the National Rifle Association and crippled the Fish and Game Commission. This is particularly bad news for the California Condor - the Commission is discussing whether to restrict the use of lead bullets within the range of the condor, because the birds are eating the lead and getting seriously poisoned. Hanna has been an outspoken proponent for requiring non-lead ammunition within the range of the Condor.

The Governor currently has Assembly Bill 821 (Nava) sitting on his desk, awaiting his signature or veto. This bill would require non-lead ammo within the Condor's range. The Administration has previously indicated that this issue should be addressed at the Fish and Game Commission. Today's action dramatically reduces the likelihood that the Commission will take this overdue and appropriate action, and leaves the Condor stumbling, poisoned, toward extinction.

Perhaps the Governor thinks that putting the Condor on the Quarter is good enough - at least you'll be able to show your children the magnificent birds that used to live in California. But we had hoped that he would have stood behind his own good appointee...


No Shame.

That’s all I can think of when I see that 34 Republican legislators sent a letter to the Governor demanding the removal of a conservation-oriented Republican from the Fish and Game Commission. Their letter lacks any real, substantive reason for wanting the removal of Judd Hanna, and appears to be at the behest of the National Rifle Association, which adamantly opposes a proposal pending before the Commission to force the use of non-lead ammunition within the range of the California Condor.

Commissioner Hanna is a 66-year old, Harley riding, former fighter pilot, former developer, rice farming, Republican. And he’s a really nice, thoughtful, guy. Yet his support of removing lead from large-caliber ammo – at least within the range of the condor – apparently is enough to get him banished from the good-ole-boy club.

We strongly urge Governor Schwarzenegger not to be bullied by this group of anti-environmental extremists. As the Governor noted at his address to the GOP Convention last weekend, Republican Legislators need to come back into the mainstream. The majority of Republican voters support environmental protection, and are far closer to the positions of the Governor and Commissioner Hanna.

The Governor has established that he’s perfectly willing to buck his party when they are wrong. This is one of those times. The Governor appointed Judd Hanna, and should retain him. Capitulating to the demands of the Anti-Environment faction of the party would send exactly the wrong message.

Governor, you have tried to bring your party back in from the cold, and to reclaim the party of Teddy Roosevelt. Judd Hanna is cut from the same piece of cloth – he’s a Republican who believes in conservation. Please don’t throw him under the bus.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Cleaning the Central Valley's Air: Over the Objections of Nicole Parra (& the Republicans)

Senate Bill 719 by Senator Mike Machado would add new members to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to represent the largest cities in the region, and add a doctor and air pollution expert to the Board. This area of the Central Valley has some of the worst air quality in the country - for example, one in six kids in Fresno has asthma.

The bill was brought up on the Assembly Floor this afternoon, and engendered a lively debate. Notably, the first two people to speak in favor of the bill - Assemblywoman Lois Wolk and Assemblyman Juan Arambula - both represent the Central Valley (as does the bill's author, Senator Machado). Predictably, a number of Republican Assembly Members spoke in opposition to the bill.

Perhaps most strikingly, Assemblywoman Nicole Parra (D - Hanford) absolutely railed against the bill, arguing the the air quality in the San Joaquin Valley is getting better, and there is no need for a more representative body with better technical and public health expertise. Given that the air in her district is making children sick at a very high rate, her opposition to this measure is . . . disappointing.

A large group of activists from the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition were doing last-minute lobbying in the Capitol today. Given that the bill passed off the Assembly Floor with 41 votes, our congratulations go out to them. And our thanks to all the Assembly members who voted for better representation of urbanites, public health and science on the San Joaquin Valley Air Board.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Arnold and the Republicans

We're rapidly reaching the end of this year's legislative session, expected to end next Tuesday. This is the time of year when things are happening fast and loose in the Capitol, with last minute hearings being called "off the Floor," meaning that there is no advance notice of hearings. This is the time when you simply have to be in the Capitol to keep on top of these last minute actions. So, we'll be pretty busy between now and Tuesday night.

We'll blog more on the last minute actions at the Capitol when we get a minute, but in the meantime, you may enjoy today's column from Bill Bradley's New West Notes blog where he discusses the schism between Governor Schwarzenegger and the increasingly isolated and insular Republican party. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Will Parra Block Effort to Clean Up the Valley’s Air?

Assemblymember Nicole Parra represents people who breathe the filthiest air in the nation, and she seems determined to keep it that way. Once again, Parra is point person for Big Oil and Big Ag in opposing Senator Mike Machado’s legislation to reform the governing board of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. Sure, oil and ag are big industries in Kern County, but not all Kern electeds do whatever the polluters tell them – Senator Dean Florez, in fact, has joined Machado as joint author of the bill.

Senate Bill 719 would improve the Valley’s air board by adding representatives from 2 large cities, along with a doctor and an air pollution expert, which might make the board actually willing to crack down on big polluters for a change. Parra not only opposes the bill, she also is working her Assembly colleagues, asking them to join her in opposing this common-sense reform.

SB 719’s supporters, a clean-air coalition including Latino Issues Forum, Fresno Metro Ministries, Sierra Club California and the Union of Concerned Scientists, are urging the rest of the Assembly to do what Parra has never done – stand up for the breathers in the Valley.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Positively Environmental

For more than 5 years, my high school and college experiences had led me to believe it would be a constant uphill battle to change other’s views and practices to sustain the environment, but participating in Lobby Day 2007 as a student intern for Sierra Club California has finally altered that discouraging view to pure positivism.

The life of a conservationist is difficult to lead as a positivist when the only thing you seem to say to others is “Stop!” Sierra Club California’s annual Lobby Day, which occurred August 27, 2007, attracted over 50 Sierra Club members. That day, for the first time, I saw and participated in environmental conservation that is positive and says to others “Keep Going!” The 52 Sierra Club members, grouped geographically, advanced upon the State Capital to “lobby” by themselves and directly impress upon their local Senators and Assemblymembers the importance of voting “yes” on four bills important to furthering smart growth and air quality in California.

Two factors from Lobby Day were extremely important in altering my prior negative views. The first is that I am not alone, there are at least 52 Sierra Club members dedicated enough to the environment to travel to Sacramento and prove there are real people who the professional staff lobbyists represent. Second is that all four bills are themselves positive in that they create new ways to conserve instead of negatively demanding industries to stop. In the case of Lobby Day, I was allowed to watch first-hand everyday conservationists asking those in power to continue on the path of sustainability, and was delightfully surprised at the increasingly positive responses from legislators. By prompting legislators positively to “keep going!” and provide more alternatives for environmental change in California the Sierra Club members proved to me the answer to conservation has to move past just the negative approach of telling others to “stop!”

A Sierra Club lobbyist said to me once “a positive environmentalist is often an oxymoron because there is always another negative environmental battle ahead to fight;” this common thought was altered too on Lobby Day at the ceremony in the State Capitol honoring Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez. Núñez was awarded the National Sierra Club’s sole Distinguished Achievement Award for 2007 for his work leading to the passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, AB 32. This ceremony was an unusual gem in conservation history because it was a celebration of what has already been achieved and what there is to look forward to. Much of environmentalism looks at what must be done next but awarding Núñez for his work gave me the opportunity to think about what the politician, the Sierra Club lobbyists, the Sierra Club members and I have been doing in our lives. What I found through Lobby Day and the individuals involved is that there is no need to be discouraged because every singular person convinced to conserve, and every singular action conserving the precious environment, is one less battle to fight, and that is a positive thought.

Abigail May
Sierra Club California Intern

Monday, August 27, 2007


Sierra Club California was honored today to present the national Sierra Club’s Distinguished Achievement Award for 2007 to Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez for his work leading to passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, AB 32. This award recognizes a single act of particular importance to the environment by a person in government.

Assemblymember John Laird joined Sierra Club California’s Bill Allayaud and Bill Magavern in presenting the award to Speaker Núñez in front of an appreciative crowd of dozens of Sierra Club volunteer activists. The volunteers from around the state were in the Capitol for Sierra Club California’s annual Lobby Day.

More pictures from Lobby Day.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

We’ve Got A Budget Now, So What Else is Going On In The Capitol?

After months of acrimony, the Legislature finally approved the budget on Tuesday. There will undoubtedly be additional wrangling and protests in the coming days, as various groups try to dissuade the Governor from slashing their programs to achieve the additional $700 million in cuts promised to Senate Republicans. But legislators and advocates are largely turning their focus toward the hundreds of bills remaining either in the Appropriations Committees or on the floor of the Senate and Assembly.

At this point in the Legislative process, most of the bills that would have undermined environmental protections have been blocked in committee. Most of the environment-related policy committees have conservation-oriented majorities, and provide a good opportunity to weed out the bad bills. This is a very good thing, from the standpoint of preventing environmental damage, but it also means that most of the good bills that we’re working on face their biggest hurdles later in the process, when we need to get a majority of the Senate and Assembly to vote for the bills. Garnering a majority of votes invariably involves persuading some of the members for which “the environment” is not a top-shelf issue, and is generally the hardest part of the process.

There are a handful of exceptionally important bills that we will blog about in greater detail in coming weeks, such as SB 375 (Steinberg) which would promote more sustainable growth patterns, and SB 974 (Lowenthal) which would address the serious pollution associated with our ports. But, in the meantime, here is a list of a couple dozen of the environmental bills we’re working on at this stage of the game. It's not an exhaustive list, but highlights some of the most significant environmental bills currently in play. This list represents the consensus priorities of the various groups working on environmental and public health issues in the Capitol, working under the umbrella moniker of "Green California".

Note that you can search for the text, analysis and prior votes on these bills at

SB 210 (Kehoe) – Requires the Air Resources Board to adopt and implement a low-carbon fuel standard by 2010 that achieves at least a 10 percent reduction on greenhouse gas emissions and maintains or improves upon air quality benefits gained by current gasoline and diesel fuel regulations.

SB 220 (Corbett) – Improves oversight and regulation of bottled and vended water. Increases inspection, labeling and consumer right to know requirements.

SB 375 (Steinberg) – Establishes financial and California Environmental Quality Act incentives for local governments to conform their general plans to a preferred growth scenario in regional transportation plans that incorporates smart growth principles, including housing for all within a region, greenhouse gas emission reductions as required by the ARB, and protection of farmland and habitat.

SB 411 (Simitian) – Requires retail seller of electricity to increase total procurement of eligible renewable energy resources so that at least 33% of retail sales are procured from eligible renewable energy resources no later than December 31, 2020.

SB 412 (Simitian) – SB 412 requires the California Energy Commission to complete an Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Market Assessment in advance of the approval of any LNG terminals in the State, and requires that an Environmental Impact Report contrast and compare environmental impacts of proposed LNG terminals and technologies to ensure that the safest project with the fewest impacts is considered as a preferred alternative

SB 456 (Simitian) – Prohibits the manufacture or use after 2008 of diacetyl, a powdered artificial butter flavoring that exposes workers to potentially fatal inflammation and scarring of the lungs.

SB 719 (Machado) – Will expand the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control Board membership from 11 to 15 members, to include additional representation from urban areas, rural areas, and public health experts.

SB 862 (Kuehl) – Reforms state water planning and reporting: establishes sanctions for failure to report on water diversion or use; requires the California Water Plan, after 2013, to report on the amount of energy produced and used under different water management strategies; changes requirements of urban water management plans; requires every agricultural water supplier to adopt an agricultural water management plan.

SB 966 (Simitian) – Requires retailers of pharmaceutical drugs to have in place a system for acceptance and collection of unused pharmaceutical drugs for proper disposal

SB 974 (Lowenthal) – Collects $30 per shipping container processed at the ports of LA, Long Beach and Oakland, to be used to mitigate air quality impacts and improve infrastructure.

AB 5 (Wolk) – Requires the Department of Water Resources to prepare a Central Valley Flood Protection Plan and creates incentives for sound local planning by 1) prioritizing state flood protection funds for local agencies that have adopted a local flood protection plan and 2) prohibiting a local agency that fails to adopt a local flood plan from approving new development within a flood hazard zone.

AB 48 (Saldana) – Prohibits the sale in California, after 2010, of electronic devices, consistent with the European RoHS (Reduction of Hazardous Substances) directive, if they contain lead, mercury or other toxic heavy metals.

AB 70 (Jones) – Makes a local government jointly liable, with the state, for property damage if it increases the state’s risk of liability by allowing new development in a previously undeveloped area that is protected by a state flood control project.

AB 118 (Nunez) – Creates new air quality and alternative fuel programs at the Air Resources Board and California Energy Commission, respectively, and transfers specified funds and increases various fees to fund the programs.

AB 233 (Jones) – Strengthens enforcement of diesel emission control rules for heavy-duty on-road and off-road vehicles and engines, including by increasing the minimum fine on violators from $100 to $300 and by prohibiting the registration of a commercial diesel-powered vehicle manufactured before 1994 or if the owner has been cited for violating diesel emission rules. The ARB has only 18 field inspection staff statewide to inspect more than 500,000 diesel trucks.

AB 236 (Lieu) – Requires each state office, agency, and department that has flex fuel vehicles in its fleet to use the respective alternative fuel in those vehicles to the maximum extent possible. Requires a city, county, city and county, and special district including a school district and a community college district, when awarding a vehicle procurement contract to consider evaluating and scoring fuel economy.

AB 515 (Lieber) – Requires the CalOSHA Standards Board to adopt permissible exposure levels (PELs) for workplace hazardous substances that are equal to the health-based occupational exposure standard set by CalEPA.

AB 548 (Levine) – Requires owners of a multifamily dwelling to provide recycling services in accordance with the local jurisdiction’s recycling plan.

AB 558 (Feuer) – Requires businesses that use large quantities of chemicals known to be toxic to prepare a Toxics Use Reduction Plan to meet statewide toxic chemical use reduction targets. Provides technical assistance and reduced fees to businesses that undertake toxics use reduction.

AB 706 (Leno) – Bans brominated or chlorinated fire retardants from all seating, bedding, and furniture products.

AB 821 (Nava) – Enacts the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act to require the use of nonlead centerfire rifle and pistol ammunition when taking big game and coyote within the range of the condor, to stop the rampant problem of lead poisoning in California condors.

AB 828 (Ruskin) – Requires the Wildlife Conservation Board to investigate, study and determine what areas in the state are most essential as wildlife corridors and habitat linkages and to make that information available to other agencies and the public.

AB 888 (Lieu) / AB 1058 (Laird) – Requires CalEPA to develop and the CA Building Standards Commission to review “green building” best practices for commercial and residential buildings. The best practices become adopted standards by 2012 and 2013 respectively.

AB 1108 (Ma) – Prohibits the use of specified phthalate chemicals in toys and childcare products designed for children up to 3 years old; prohibits the use of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity as a replacement for banned phthalates.

AB 1358 (Leno) – Requires that the legislative body of a city or county, upon any revision of the circulation element of the general plan, modify the circulation element to specify how this element will provide for the routine accommodation of all users of the highway, defined to include motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, individuals with disabilities, seniors, and users of public transportation.

AB 1470 (Huffman) – Establishes a $250 million program to install solar hot water heaters as a means of reducing our dependence on natural gas, cutting global warming pollution and saving Californians money.

We’ll be working hard on these bills in the coming weeks, and if you’re signed up for our Action Alert network, we’ll email you and make it easy for you to help at opportune times. You can sign up here:

California Budget Finally Approved – Environmental Law (Mostly) Dodges a Bullet

The California Legislature finally approved the 2007-2008 State Budget yesterday – 51 days into the fiscal year and more than two months past the legal deadline of June 15. As has been discussed here and in many other forum’s, one of the biggest hurdles to completing the budget was the demand by the minority party in the Senate to weaken the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), particularly as it relates to global warming pollution.

So how’d it turn out? Though the language affecting CEQA is complicated, and will undoubtedly be litigated, it appears that little damage was done. There is a good post on the California Majority Report blog by Steve Maviglio, Assembly Speaker Nunez’s Deputy Chief Staff responsible for communications, which explains the CEQA deal in plain English.

There is also a particularly good post over at Bill Bradley’s New West Notes blog, which discusses more of the political context of this climate change skirmish.

Both of these articles are worth a read if you’re looking for more details about what played out over the past month.

** UPDATE** If you want to read the actual language of the CEQA exemption (SB 97 - Dutton) including the floor analyses and the vote count, you can find all that information here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Gang of 14 Keep Moving the Goal Post on California’s Budget

In what has become the signature negotiating style of the ‘Gang of 14’ – the Senate Republicans blocking approval of the State budget – the Gang members added a new non-budget demand last night (after earlier indications that they had reached agreement). In addition to seeking to block the use of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to mitigate global warming pollution, they now want additional language to eliminate environmental review of levee repair projects.

Holding out the approval of the budget based on these non-budget demands is just wrong. And continually adding new demands, months after the budget should have been completed, makes it impossible to reach closure on the budget.

Their most recent demand is to eliminate environmental review for levee repair projects, which is particularly ironic given that legislation signed by the Governor last year, AB 1039 (Nunez) already exempts levee repairs from CEQA, provided that the repairs are on the same footprint as the existing levee.

The Democratic Leadership is caught between a rock and a hard place – the budget needs to get approved so that the most vulnerable among us don’t suffer undue hardships, but Senator Perata et. al. need to deal with a Republican Caucus in the Senate which has handed the keys to the most extreme, recalcitrant aspects of their party.

We continue to urge Senator Perata to resist the Gang of 14’s demands for additional rollbacks of environmental protections. These demands have no place in the budget debate, especially at this late date. We hope that at least one member of the Gang of 14 comes to their senses, and decides to put the good of Californians before the desires of their campaign contributors and party zealots.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Environmentalist Pressure Removes Water Board Member

Sam Wakim with vitriolic conservative commentator Ann Coulter, at the 2004 National GOP Convention.

He’s a right-wing Republican activist who lives in the Central Valley. So what’s he doing on the North Coast Water Board?

Sam Wakim is the Chair of the Siskiyou County Republican Party and is a leading candidate to replace Doug LaMalfa in representing the Second Assembly District, which encompasses the Northern Central Valley, plus Modoc and Siskiyou counties. He was appointed to the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board in November of 2006.

Wakim currently resides in the town of Mount Shasta, and runs a dental practice in Yreka. Though he does maintain a business office that is (just barely) within the boundaries of the North Coast Water Board region, one has to wonder how you can serve on the North Coast Water Board and simultaneously seek to represent the Central Valley in the Assembly.

Residency requirements are not Wakim’s only problem. His ideological perspective comes through at Board meetings, with belittling comments such as referring to the Karuk Tribe’s sacred World Renewal Ceremony (which requires ritual cleansings in the Klamath River for 10 days) as their “little festival”, and pushing back against staff (and other Board members’) efforts to address the public health concerns of toxic algae blooms in the Klamath River system. The toxic algae blooms are among the worst in the world, exceeding World Health Organization standards by more than 100 times.

Sample driver's license from Sam Wakim's web site.

Wakim also runs his own personal blog (under the pseudonym Abu David) which provides additional insights and concerns about his politics. For example, his post lambasting Senator Gil Cedillo for carrying a bill to provide driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants includes this intemperate mock license.

Sierra Club California opposes the confirmation of Sam Wakim’s appointment to the North Coast Water Board, which is scheduled to be heard before the Senate Rules Committee next Wednesday. We believe the Governor can, and should, do better. Though we have been quite critical of a few of Schwarzenegger’s appointments, he has generally made many quality appointments, and we are frankly perplexed at how Wakim ended up in an important environmental post.

The North Coast has many complex water quality challenges, and the public deserves a better appointment to this important seat. The Water Board should not be used as a political stepping-stone, nor as a venue for exerting right-wing ideology. We call upon the Senate to reject his confirmation, and the Governor to make an appointment better suited to represent the interests of the public on the North Coast.

UPDATE: Sam Wakim resigned on Thursday. Please see this Sacramento Bee story for more details. We look forward to working with the Schwarzenegger Administration on appropriate appointees for this and other vacant positions on the North Coast Water Board.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Gang of 14 Republican Senators Holding Budget Hostage at Behest of Oil and Developer Lobbies

Sierra Club California’s Bill Magavern speaks at August 8 press conference with Senate leaders on budget impasse and global warming.

Today I induct the new members of the California Hall of Shame. Senators Aanestad, Ackerman, Ashburn, Battin, Cogdill, Cox, Denham, Dutton, Harman, Hollingsworth, Margett, McClintock, Runner, and Wyland are holding hostage the entire budget for the state of California.

This Gang of 14 privileged white men is obstructing the funding of schools, hospitals, parks and other vital services because the oil and developer lobbies that fund their campaigns want to weaken our keystone environmental law, the
California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Forget about the fact that this is a policy issue 8 that should be addressed through the normal legislative process -- because of California's bizarre requirement for a 2/3 majority in each house to pass a budget, blocking the budget is just about the only leverage the Republican Caucus has, so the needs of the people who depend on state services will take a backseat to the wishes of polluters.

These 14 Republican senators (their 15th colleague, Sen. Maldonado, broke with the pack and supported the budget passed by Assembly Democrats and Republicans) want to delay for years the Environmental Quality Act's application to global warming pollution. They're clearly not listening to the people of California, who, according to last month's poll by the Public Policy Institue of California, believe in large and growing numbers that it is necessary to take immediate steps to counter the effects of global warming. Eight in 10 Californians believe global warming will be a very (54%) or somewhat serious (28%) threat to California's future economy and quality of life.

Fortunately, Senate President pro tem Don Perata, backed by the entire Senate Democratic caucus, declared today that he will staunchly defend environmental quality and refuse to flinch in the face of the hostage-taking by the Gang of 14.

Bill Magavern
Senior Representative
Sierra Club California