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