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."