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